Curtain Call

We live many different lives throughout the course of the one we’re given.

I’ve had my own: a young girl in the Harrison Village projects of McKeesport, Pennsylvania. A TV personality. Recently, a wife.

The one I’m most known for — a professional basketball player — is coming to an end.

Basketball has given me the opportunities of many lifetimes.

It was truly my first love. It took my hand and pulled me beyond the pitfalls of my environment, and all over this country and the world — and then brought me back home again.

It showed me how I can touch people — people who may not know the game I love, but who know me because I play it. People whom I would never have met if I didn’t dribble a ball.

This game I love saved my life after a cancer scare. It’s provided for me and my family. It’s given me championships in college and the pros. And it’s asked me whether or not I had the tenacity and perseverance to compete with and against the greatest athletes in the world, and take home the prize of prizes: an Olympic gold medal. Twice.

This game brought me opportunities that I never thought possible: building a league, being a part of history. It has taken me back to my home to impact real change. It has helped me build my community, build families and build young women.

Basketball has allowed me to live a life that I am fiercely proud of.

And it has taken me to this moment — the beginning of my 15th and final season in the WNBA.

While my playing career will soon be coming to an end, I will never be able to completely walk away. I care so much about whether the league will be around for another 20 years — and more. We had to fight to get where we are. We had to fight apathy.

We still fight apathy, but with trust that change will come.

We — the players — had to fight for the union, and fight to make it better. This is critical to our success. Many don’t understand but those are things we don’t get paid for.

I’ve done all of this because many women before me sacrificed so that I could get my shot. And I did. So why wouldn’t I make damn sure that the generation behind me got theirs?

I remember coming into the league and seeing some of the players who helped launch the WNBA — players like Lisa Leslie, Sheryl Swoopes, Teresa Weatherspoon. They were playing not just for the love of the game, but because it was so important for the future. Futures that weren’t even theirs.

My future.

I was part of the generation of players right after that inaugural wave, and we never forgot their legacy. I’m so proud now when I see my nieces dribble a basketball. That’s something the women before me inspired. That’s something I inspired. I would live this particular life all over again to ensure young women recognize and embrace the queens they are within.

This wasn’t an easy decision.

It never is, no matter how well you’ve prepared.

Most people don’t get to wake up every day and do something they’re passionate about. You always feel you can give more, but at some point you have to do what’s right for yourself. Maybe every athlete goes through that when they retire. It’s hard to open up your hands and let go of what you know. You hold on because it’s so much a part of your routine — and your life. I’ve always been training for something. What happens when that’s gone? I’ve told that kind of story about other athletes in my broadcast work, but now I’m on the other side.

This is real.

At the end of your career, you do a lot of reflecting. I’ve played for multiple teams in the WNBA, and they’ve all felt like home: Detroit and Seattle, where I won championships, and Chicago, Atlanta and New York, my last stops. And the fans in each of those cities became something like family to me. They’re the reason I’m announcing my decision now. I want to spend this season showing my gratitude to everyone who’s been a part of this journey. It’s been rich not just because of the accomplishments and wins, but also because of the people in my life: family, teammates, mentors and fans.

I came into this game unapologetically fearless, as the woman I felt I was called to be. From the way I carried myself on and off the court, to using my voice for the union, to speaking out against discrimination, to fighting for all the kids in my Cash for Kids charity — all of this is bigger than me. It’s bigger than my career.

There’s no greater legacy than a legacy of lasting impact.

Basketball gave me the vehicle to inspire and empower. That was my purpose.

I have 27 regular season games left. I’ll be taking in every moment as I look to the future, whatever it may hold. I understand there’s a new life waiting for me after that last whistle.

May God allow it to be as blessed as this one has been — and a blessing to others, as well.