Starbird’s Travels Return Her to WNBA
By Rachel Pivarnik | June 15, 2004
A season away from basketball proved not to be the end of Kate Starbird’s WNBA career. Instead, it allowed her the freedom to rediscover her old passions and, in turn, a new love for the game.
The rejuvenated Starbird and the Fever (4-4) play host to Western Conference foe Sacramento (2-5) at 7:00 p.m. Wednesday at Conseco Fieldhouse.
When Starbird was released from the Seattle Storm before the start of the 2003 season she did not take it as a set back, but rather as an opportunity to pursue and rediscover the things she once loved. Starbird didn’t waste any time. Immediately after her release, she took a two-week biking trip through the Moab Desert. She then filled the rest of her new-found leisure time with long-lost pastimes she had been restricted from because of her commitment to basketball like snowboarding, wakeboarding and skateboarding.
“I haven’t been able to do those things as a basketball player,” she said. “I realized, ‘Oh, I’m free. I’m not a basketball player anymore.’”
Starbird, a 1997 Naismith Award Winner and all-time leading scoring at Stanford, didn’t touch a basketball for four months.
“I felt a lot of pressure in Seattle,” Starbird said. “My family was there and from playing in the ABL there were a lot of fans there who still remembered me. I felt a lot of pressure to make that team and I was very disappointed not to make the team.
“I think that kind of left me with a bad feeling which caused me to really want to take that time off.”
Starbird didn’t spend all of her time embarking on journeys through deserts and riding waves. She used the time to reflect on her future without basketball.
“It kind of scared me,” she said. “I started thinking, ‘Oh, I’m going to have to have a real job, sit in an office every morning and I won’t be able to work out every day.’”
But she soon became comfortable at the thought of her future without basketball and started to weigh out her options. Her conclusion -- travel writing.
“I really enjoyed being overseas… and not playing and just touring around overseas…[Travel writing] is something I want to pursue,” Starbird said.
Untroubled about a future without basketball, her journey soon took her back down a familiar path—back into the gym.
“At the end of the summer, I started to miss it again, and I had a feeling of wanting to be in the gym. It was a feeling I hadn’t had for a while, even before I got cut,” she said.
The road back to basketball began in China with a touring team. For three weeks Starbird toured China where she said she played her best basketball in years.
“I was like, ‘This is easy. Why has it been so hard?’” Starbird said.
Finding that spark again, she joined a touring team that played against colleges on the East Coast. Starbird then accepted an offer to play in Spain where she averaged 18.7 points and 5.1 rebounds in 14 games with Adecco Estudiantes Madrid. She decided she wasn’t done with basketball.
“I went over there and just started to enjoy basketball more than I had in the past few years,” she said.
Her excursions overseas fed her passion to write about a world basketball continues to help her discover. Starbird attempted to open the door for her possible future in writing, but was unable to make the proper connections before returning to the states, a return that landed her in Indianapolis. She was invited to join the Fever in training camp. She accepted, knowing that she was not being recruited as a starter playing 30 minutes a game.
“After sitting out a year, you’ll take anything. You just want the uniform,” Starbird said laughing.
“Coming off the bench is definitely a different experience. I think that is one of the things I bring to this team,” she said. “I am very comfortable coming off the bench. After five years of it, that’s something I can do…Now I am so used to it that when I get in there, I am ready.”
Fever Coach Brian Winters agreed with Starbird.
“With experience you learn how to play in any situation. And when you come off the bench and you are playing shorter minutes you have to get something done in a shorter period of time. The older and smarter you are and the more experience you have the easier it is to do that. And I think in [Starbird’s] case, that’s what she’s good at,” he said.
Starbird doesn’t see her role on the Fever as just a bench player, but a player who can offer experience and, through this, leadership.
“We have a lot of younger players on the team, and I do have experience. If someone is going through the ups and downs I have the experience to say, ‘It’s OK you didn’t play tonight. You’ll live to see another day,’” she said.
Winters said that he expects Starbird to bring leadership with her experience.
“I think on a team we have to have leadership from everybody and [Starbird] is one of the more experienced players. I expect [leadership] from the more experienced players…I expect that from her,” Winters said.
Starbird, however, is not taking her supporting role lightly. In her first appearance with the Fever she converted a four-point play against New York in the Fever’s home opener, becoming the fifth player in Fever history to do so. In the same game, Starbird added a career-high five assists. She scored nine points, her best as a member of the Fever, in a home loss against Detroit on June 9.
While Starbird accepts her role, the competitor within will not allow her to accept anything less than excellence when it comes to her level of play. Starbird said the players overseas are not the same caiber as those in the WNBA and wants stay competing at WNBA level. Stepping up her defense and rebounding is what she wants to hone in on to be competitive at this level. Being a part of the Fever, she is already seeing progress.
“We’re lucky here,” Starbird said. “We have three coaches with immense experience, each of them. And it’s all different kinds of experience so we can get all these different pointers on what we need to do.
“For me that has helped already. I think my defense is already improving because I am picking up new things that I haven’t learned before. And that is something that hasn’t happened in years, to have coaches that are teaching me something.”
Starbird’s travels are not complete. She will return to Spain this summer to play and retry her hand at travel writing. But for a woman who loves to travel and has gone from Seattle to China to Spain, she looks to Indianapolis and the Fever as a place to call home.
“I would love to stay with the Fever for a while,” Starbird said. “This is a growing team and a fun team and a young program and a young team. It’s got a great vibe compared to some of the other teams I have been on. So I would love to stay here as long as I can.”