Burse Caught Between Two Worlds

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Kevin Pelton, storm.wnba.com | August 31, 2005
For the past several days, Seattle Storm center Janell Burse has found herself caught between two worlds. Professionally, Burse is experiencing new highs. The WNBA Most Improved Player candidate helped the Storm to a crucial Game 1 victory at Houston Tuesday night. Personally, however, Burse is dealing with the immense tragedy dealt to her native New Orleans this week by Hurricane Katrina.

The two sides intersected as Burse's family, which lives minutes from the French Quarter, traveled to Houston, where her sister lives, to avoid Katrina's destructive path at about the same time Burse was flying to Houston with the Storm to take on the Comets. Together, they watched the destruction of New Orleans.

"I just couldn't believe it was happening," Burse told the Seattle media after the Storm's brief practice Wednesday. "I couldn't believe this was the place I grew up, looking at it on the news, seeing it like that. Seeing the area my family lives and seeing it covered with water. It was a little devastating when I first saw the actual pictures and footage."

"Sometimes you feel overwhelmed because there's so much that needs to be done. But you can't think like that. I'm just going to give as much as I can."
Chris Graythen/Getty Images
Burse, who purchased her own home in Slidell, Louisiana - just north of New Orleans - last year, appears to be one of the lucky ones. A neighbor called today and told her that her neighborhood was not flooded and had suffered only wind damage. Her parents' house, however, is almost certainly destroyed.

"They're trying not to bring me down, but my mom, I know she's pretty upset about it," said Burse.

Burse has the relatively unique perspective of having experienced other hurricanes, though certainly not ones as powerful as Katrina.

"That's why I feel so bad for people who stayed," she explained, "because we stayed for a lot of hurricanes and rode out the storm, but we never stayed for a Category 5 storm. A lot of people are watching the news and thinking, 'That's so stupid they stayed,' but if you're from New Orleans, you understand 90% of the time you can ride out a hurricane. Nobody expected it to be this devastating."

Given the weighty circumstances, the WNBA cannot be as important to Burse right now. At the same time, the importance of the playoffs demands her attention.

"I kind of wish it was regular season, because the playoffs are so, so important," said Burse. "I don't like having something this big on my mind, but what can you do?

"It's tough, it is, but as soon as I step on the floor I try not to think about it at all. It's tough because everybody wants to know about it. At chapel we pray about it, so it's constantly getting brought up to me."

"She's been watching TV constantly," said Storm Coach Anne Donovan. "Every waking minute is spent in front of the TV, finding out about her family, her own residence and friends. You can imagine it's just total devastation. It impacts all of us, and I don't have people there. So I can imagine what she's dealing with from a mental standpoint."

Burse has thrown part of her energy into helping the Sonics and Storm T.E.A.M. Foundation direct relief efforts to New Orleans. The Storm will collect money for the New Orleans-based Franklin Avenue Baptist Churchís hurricane relief efforts at tomorrow night's game (7:00 p.m., , NBA TV). Burse selected the recipient of the organizationís combined fundraising efforts.

"It's huge, because we need so much help right now," said Burse. "The city is pretty much destroyed and thousands and thousands of people have no place to call home. It's a ton of help and it's blessing. I'm so glad they're doing it.

"It definitely helps. I think about it a lot - what can I give? What can I do? Sometimes you feel overwhelmed because there's so much that needs to be done. But you can't think like that. I'm just going to give as much as I can."

"If we can help in any way, be a vehicle in any way to give people relief and some kind of help, we're all happy to do it," added Donovan. "Especially when we know somebody who's so closely touched by that."