Starbird Enjoying Life, Basketball

When asked before last Thursday's game against the Seattle Storm whether her current situation with the Indiana Fever is the best of her WNBA career, Kate Starbird wasted no time answering to the contrary.

Starbird was a catalyst as the Storm made its first playoff appearance in 2002 against Los Angeles.
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty
"The best situation I ever had were those three weeks in Seattle when I got traded here and Lin (Dunn) was coaching and we went to the playoffs and everything," Starbird said. "That was probably the best period of my WNBA career."

Fittingly, Starbird made her first trip back to KeyArena since being waived by the Storm before the start of the 2003 season two years to the day after she was traded to Seattle on July 22, 2002. After languishing on the bench in Utah, playing just 88 minutes in 15 games during the first two months of the season, Starbird was dealt to a better situation to find playing time. Equally importantly, she got a chance to return to her native Seattle for the first time since playing for the ABL's Reign from 1997-99.

Starbird later called the deal, "the best thing that had happened to me in a long time, in terms of athletics."

To her surprise, Starbird emerged as a key bench contributor, averaging more than 20 minutes per game over the Storm's last nine contests. Starbird made the most of the opportunity, shooting a career-best 45.5% with a sparkling 55.2% true shooting percentage. The Storm responded by winning seven of its last nine games, one of the losses after the team had already secured the first playoff berth in franchise history.

And then everything changed. Days after the end of the season, Storm Coach Dunn, who was behind Starbird's acquisition, resigned and was replaced by Anne Donovan. The WNBA also lost two teams during the off-season, making jobs more scarce and competition more difficult. Specific to the Storm, the team added guard Sandy Brondello from defunct Miami as a free agent, moving Adia Barnes back to small forward and giving the Storm a crowd at the position with Barnes, Starbird and Amanda Lassiter.

Starbird battled hard to make the roster in training camp, but she ended up one of Donovan's last three cuts on the eve of the start of the regular season. After being released, Starbird came to something of a crossroads in her life, considering retiring from basketball. She traveled and indulged past passions like snowboarding, wakeboarding and skateboarding.

"I haven't been able to do those things as a basketball player," she told the Fever's Web site. "I realized, 'Oh, I'm free. I'm not a basketball player anymore.'"

By the fall, however, Starbird had started to miss the game that has dominated her life. In October, she joined a team - including WNBA veterans Leigh Aziz, Stacy Clinesmith (who attended the Storm's training camp this year), Kelley Gibson and LaQuanda Quick - that barnstormed throughout China. The experience helped reawaken Starbird's passion.

"I had a really great experience in China," she said. "I enjoyed being there, I enjoyed the games. I played pretty well, I was relaxed. It was like, 'I'm never seeing any of these people again, so I don't have to worry about things.' I just had a lot of fun on the court."

After joining some of the players from the traveling team on a college exhibition team that played against several NCAA teams, Starbird returned to professional basketball in Spain. She played 14 games for Adecco Estudiantes Madrid, averaging 18.1 points and 5.7 rebounds per game.

Starbird went from Madrid to Indianapolis, where she was invited to the Fever's training camp. Starbird was willing to give the WNBA another shot in large part because of her relationship with Indiana's coaching staff. Not only is Dunn an assistant for the Fever, Indiana's other assistant, Julie Plank, assisted Tara VanDerveer at Stanford during Starbird's first two years playing for the Cardinal.

Starbird has found a new home in Indiana.
Ron Hoskins/NBAE/Getty
"It was a 'Come try out', but it was, 'We have a spot. You can earn a spot,'" Starbird explained about the opportunity in Indiana. "Some teams will say, 'We need you to try out', but they don't really have a spot. I knew the assistant coaches well enough to know that when they said there was a spot to make, that they weren't lying to me. That definitely made Indiana the most attractive choice. I looked at some other teams, but knowing coaches on the staff is kind of huge, especially as a role player."

Starbird did make the Fever's roster as a backup wing, and has played 12 games, averaging 1.7 points per game. Her trademark shooting has been off thus far, as she's hit just 26.1% of her shot attempts this year, but Starbird has had her moments. On June 9, she scored nine points against Detroit, and she completed a four-point play (and handed out five assists) in the Fever's season opener against New York.

"The uniform is nice to have, I'll tell you that much," Starbird said. "I'm happy to be in the league, and I'm happy with the role I have. I go out and compete every day in practice. I'm trying to stay on the active roster, trying to get whatever minutes I can, and if I get minutes, to play well. I'm not worried about anything. I'm just happy to be on the team, and to be in a supporting role is absolutely fine with me."

Unfortunately, Starbird did not get into the Fever's 59-54 loss in Seattle last Thursday, but she enjoyed the trip home nonetheless.

"It's actually just been really sweet," Starbird said of her homecoming. "Saw my family, and there's no bitterness at all. I feel no bitterness towards anybody in the Seattle organization. They have a great organization, a great coaching staff, they have a great team. I'm just said I can't be a part of it, but I was never bitter towards anyone. It's nice to be back."

Starbird remains uncertain about her future. She knows she'll return to Spain next season, having immensely enjoyed the experience last year. Beyond that, a return to the Fever is a possibility if Starbird believes she really has a chance to make the team. Starbird turns 29 tomorrow, and retirement remains on the horizon.

"If it doesn't look like I have a chance to make the team, I'll probably stay in Spain and go do some tours, waste some of that money I make over there, come home broke and start a real life," Starbird joked.

With a degree from Stanford in computer science and some experience in the field - she founded a graphics design company, 3HC, that has since folded - Starbird will surely be able to find good opportunities in her post-basketball life. An avid traveler, she'd like to try writing about it for a living, and even got a lead on a connection while chatting casually with the media before Thursday's game.

No matter where she goes, however, Starbird will have a hard time topping her magical summer of 2002 at KeyArena.