Vickie Johnson: A True Pioneer
It doesn't get more "veteran" than Vickie Johnson. In fact, the Silver Stars guard has played in the WNBA since the start, one one of only seven players remaining from the WNBA's original season. But in that decade, she has evolved from a quiet 23 year-old rookie to a 34 year-old team leader. Yet, Johnson, now entering her 11th season, still does not consider herself a "true" women's basketball pioneer.
|Vickie Johnson would like to coach when she finishes her playing career.|
D. Clarke Evans/NBAE/Getty Images
"Of course I consider myself a WNBA pioneer because I started in the league, but I think the true pioneers are the players who gave up going overseas and made the sacrifices to play in the WNBA," Johnson said. "I'm talking about the players like Teresa Weatherspoon, Jennifer Gillom, Michelle Timms, Kym Hampton and Sue Wicks. Players who had been getting paid overseas for ten or twelve years suddenly had to make a choice and they chose the WNBA even though they had the opportunity to make a hundred thousand dollars overseas. They are the true pioneers."
Johnson began her WNBA career a year after finishing a successful college tenure at Louisiana Tech, where she was a First Team All-America selection following her junior and senior seasons. She was selected 12th overall by the New York Liberty in the 1997 WNBA Elite Draft and spent nine seasons with the Liberty before signing with the San Antonio Silver Stars prior to the 2006 season.
For most of her time with the Liberty, the 5-9 guard was one of the younger players on a team of experienced veterans. But now she is a veteran on one of the league's youngest teams.
"We always had vets on (the Liberty) and this year in San Antonio, we has much younger players," she said. "Everyone's 25 and under, and then Shannon Johnson and myself are both 30. Having been a younger player in New York, those older players guided me. Now I'm leading the San Antonio team."
As one of the oldest and most experienced players not only on the Silver Stars roster but in the entire league, Johnson feels that her role has changed both on and off the court. The two-time All-Star has become more of a vocal leader and learned to focus more on the overall team and less on her individual performance.
"I have to look to create more for my teammates, and lead the team, not so much in my game but just communicate more. That's the biggest thing in that my game has changed," said Johnson, who helped lead the Liberty to four Eastern Conference championships. "My personality has changed. In the past, I really didn't speak a whole lot because I was the same age or younger, but now with the younger players, I have to show them and tell them how to approach the game."
That said, she does have quite a lot of experience to draw on. After all, she does rank in the top ten in WNBA history in total points, field goals made and assists. No one in the history of the league has played more games (316) or minutes (9,949). She also ranks at the top or near the top of many postseason records.
Despite playing on a team that features rising stars in Sophia Young and Kendra Wecker among others, Johnson, who considers herself "old school," still waxes poetic about the retired and older players. She names Cynthia Cooper and Sheryl Swoopes as her favorite players to watch, but still keeps an eye on younger players such as Connecticut's Lindsay Whalen, Indiana's Tamika Catchings and her former teammate, Becky Hammon.
Don't be surprised if you see Johnson take her on-court leadership to the sidelines when her playing days are over. Johnson's former college coach, Leon Barmore, former Liberty coach Richie Adubato and current Silver Stars coach Dan Hughes have inspired her to pursue a coaching career someday. Hughes is currently guiding her to a coaching career the same way she is guiding the younger players to success on the basketball court.
"Dan Hughes is a great coach and a great person. I've really learned a lot from him. He is teaching me not only about basketball but also about life because I want to make the transition to coach. And I see the way he coaches and gets the players to respond to him, and I'm really appreciating that part of it."
As Johnson prepares for yet another season, she will continue to grow as a player, teammate and leader. She will look to guide the young Silver Stars to their first playoff appearance in the five years since the franchise moved from Utah. Perhaps then, with or without that elusive championship, she will finally realize that she is, indeed, one of the "true" pioneers of the game.