Into the Sunset


I’ve always loved the sun.

I’m inspired by it. The way it nourishes. Soothes.

I have an insatiable need to be in it. The sun refuels me. I find guidance and answers in its warmth.

After a beautiful morning workout on the beach on March 2, I went back to mom’s house in the San Fernando Valley to journal. Writing is therapeutic for me, and has become a significant part of my life.

What I wrote initially shocked me. But at that exact moment, a ray of sunlight gracefully passed through my mom’s kitchen window and onto my face in a comforting, almost poetic way.

I took a deep breath, and felt overwhelming relief.

That wasn’t a coincidence, I thought. It was reassurance.

I knew what I’d written was final:

“I’m retiring from professional basketball.”

New York Liberty versus San Antonio Sparks on August 18, 2015. (Photo by Annie Flanagan/The Players Tribune)

My life is a dichotomy in a lot of ways. Through darkness, I’ve found light; through light, darkness.

When I was just four years old, my father passed away from AIDS. Learning about his strength and perseverance helped me have a greater appreciation for life. On the other hand, basketball — something that usually brought me so much joy — has been the source of some of my hardest moments.

I’ve had eight surgeries in the last 15 years — five on my knees, one on my Achilles and two on my feet (you probably didn’t know about those last two). That’s just been my reality. I’m proud to have come back from each one a better player and person. Adversity does that — it challenges you to grow.

I can’t explain how much respect I have for the women who play 11 months out of the year for a decade or more.

Women’s basketball is an absolute grind, and continuous rehab compounds it. To supplement income we receive in the WNBA, the majority of us play overseas during the “offseason.” That means that, in many cases, we’re off to another country to start a grueling training camp and season just days after the WNBA season ends.

It’s taxing on the mind, body and spirit — you have to love what you’re doing.

The true meaning of that word, love, is incredibly underappreciated. To me, love has never been a word to casually throw around. But if you want to be successful in the WNBA, you need to love professional basketball. I mean, really love it.

New York Liberty versus Atlanta Dream at Maddison Square Garden in New York City on August 21, 2015. The Liberty won 78 to 68. (Photo by Annie Flanagan/The Players Tribune)

I can’t explain how much respect I have for the women who play 11 months out of the year for a decade or more. You rarely see your family, and if you don’t take impeccable care of your body, you’re done.

I’ve been there, lived that.

For many, many years, I was in love with the game of basketball. I’m just not anymore.

And that’s O.K.

If I’m honest with myself, it’s been that way since 2011. I haven’t been playing professional basketball out of my own love, but instead, that of my fans, and all those who’ve supported me throughout a trying career.

There’s nothing I can do to express how thankful I am for the motivation. When times were difficult and I, again, found myself working to return to the court after an injury (but not knowing if I ever would), I’d think of my fans and how much they meant to me.

Like the sun, they kept me going.

NY Liberty player, Essence Carson, at home before the game against the Minnesota Lynx at Maddison Square Garden in New York City on August 28, 2015. The Liberty won 81 to 68. (Photo by Annie Flanagan/The Players Tribune)

One story I’d often reflect on happened during my time with the Minnesota Lynx back in 2011. It was a game day, and after shootaround I was a guest on a local radio station, discussing my long, arduous road to recovery after rupturing my Achilles the previous season. That injury and subsequent recovery was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever been through.

When the media interview me, I always want to be as real as possible. And no matter how difficult things were, I would always find a way to be positive and optimistic. It might sound corny, but I’d think of the sun and its brightness and try to personify that warmth.

My mom was in town for the game, and somehow the people sitting next to her at the Target Center discovered I was her daughter. They told her that they heard me on the radio that morning, and said my upbeat, never-give-up attitude about overcoming adversity inspired them to attend their first WNBA game.

They’ve been huge followers of women’s basketball ever since.

Right there … that’s why I played.

The NY Liberty lost to the Chicago Sky on 60 to 82 on September 3, 2015 at Madison Square Garden. (Photo by Annie Flanagan for The Players Tribune)

I’m incredibly thankful for everything basketball gave me. But I feel like my life’s calling goes beyond the court. I never wanted basketball to define me.

That wasn’t the case for my father, Alan Wiggins.

The similarities between my dad and I extend to nearly all facets of my life; I find it divinely ironic that we both were professional athletes for seven years.

When I think about the next chapter in my life, I can’t help but grin from ear to ear.

It’s my way of honoring him.

There’s one area, though, where we differ greatly.

When my dad was cut from the Baltimore Orioles in 1987, he thought his life was over. I mean that literally: He didn’t want to live. Being a professional athlete was his identity, so when he lost that part of his life, hopelessness consumed him.

The way I feel right now is the exact opposite. I’m happier than I’ve ever been. When I think about the next chapter in my life, I can’t help but grin from ear to ear.

The New York Liberty go to Six Flags Great Adventure on their day off, on August 16, 2015 in Jackson, New Jersey. (Photo by Annie Flanagan/The Players Tribune)

They say that an athlete dies two deaths — the first when she retires, and the other at the proverbial end of one’s life.

That’s not the case with me.

In fact, I feel reborn. And excited. Not having the same hopeless feeling as my father did when he walked away from baseball is my greatest victory; I’m doing this on my terms.

I’ve found that, sometimes, the greatest things happen after you say goodbye.

I Do This for a Living (Video)

New York Liberty players and WNBA veterans Swin Cash, Tanisha Wright and Essence Carson speak personally on race, gender and the visibility of all professional female athletes.

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