The WNBA’s elder stateswoman and first pick of the inaugural draft, who had played in as many seasons as the league itself, is retired.
After 17 seasons, Tina Thompson, who holds the WNBA career scoring record along with four championships, is fulfilling the promise made months ago that she would retire at the season’s end.
Thompson and the Seattle Storm lost to the top-seeded Minnesota Lynx, 58-55, and were eliminated from the Western Conference semifinals Sunday at the Tacoma Dome.
The Storm was forced south to the Dome instead of their usual home at KeyArena in Seattle because of a scheduling conflict.
“I would be very dishonest if I said I didn’t want to have this moment in the Key,” Thompson said with a laugh, “But it’s not the place, it’s the experience.”
Thompson’s score underneath the basket with
about a minute remaining in the game completed a Storm rally and gave it its first lead of the second half at 55-54. But Minnesota’s Seimone Augustus scored on a pull-up jumper to put the Lynx back on top with 25 seconds left.
Storm guard Tanisha Wright, who scored a team-high 16 points, missed off the front iron from the free-throw line on the next possession. After two Lynx free throws put them ahead 58-55, Seattle’s Noelle Quinn missed a shot. The Storm grabbed the rebound, and Thompson got the ball for a potential tying 3-pointer. She couldn’t get the shot off before the final buzzer.
“I thought the game was played the way we wanted to play,” said Storm coach Brian Agler. “I felt like we played our best defensive game.”
After the game, the 3,457 Storm fans in attendance continued to chant Thompson’s name.
Thompson huddled with her team one last time on the court and gave words of encouragement. After she finished, Lynx players asked Thompson to take a picture with them.
“I think it was just kind of a reality check,” said guard and MVP candidate Maya Moore, who led Minnesota with 22 points. “Like this is a bigger than basketball moment. So we were like, ‘Hey Tina, can we get a picture?’ It was kind of childlike and beautiful.
“Then she said, ‘Go ahead and win the whole thing guys.’ Truly a classy competitor.”
“I’ll probably try to get that picture from them,” Thompson said.
It was a day Thompson had thought of for months as she planned her exit from the sport of basketball — leaving as the WNBA’s career leader in points, minutes and field goals, and second in rebounds.
“It wasn’t that tough,” said Thompson, who shot 6-of-15 from the field for 13 points. “I always knew there was going to be an end. I couldn’t predict what game that was going to be, but I knew it was going to happen.”
Now the WNBA torch passes to its young up-and-comers such as Moore, MVP Candace Parker with Los Angeles, and Chicago’s Elena Della Donne.
“I’m a WNBA junkie,” Moore said. “I was 8 when the league started and I watched every game I could. To be here now and watching the WNBA players who were around at the start of its existence retire is kind of emotional for me. Just thinking, ‘Wow, it’s in our hands now.’”
Thompson didn’t expect to be leading the Storm to its WNBA-record 10th consecutive playoff appearance. Not without franchise cornerstones Sue Bird (knee) and Lauren Jackson (hamstring), who missed the entire season.
But it provided her an experience of leading some young players and developing such a powerful chemistry with them, that she wouldn’t trade for anything.
“The talent or the expectations might not have lived up to the other team we were facing, but our hearts did and that’s why we were in that situation,” Thompson said. “I don’t believe any other team facing the odds we faced could have been in this moment with the exception of us.
“This is the first time I’ve ever been in a position where the appreciation, the love, genuine concern and want for everyone to do well was there consistently. It was real. It wasn’t fake. ... I wouldn’t have wanted to spend my final season any other way. I’ll cherish it because of that.”
Final season? Even with fellow legends Bird and Jackson set to return in 2014? Even though Thompson led the Storm with 14.1 points per game and the trademark red lipstick was still looking as good as it did in 1997 — the WNBA’s inaugural year?
“I always wanted to retire from the game, not the game retire from me,” Thompson said. “That I’m leaving on my own terms. It’s easy to settle with.”TJ Cotterill: 253-597-8677 email@example.com @Cotterill44