If I Could Turn Back Time

UNCASVILLE, Conn., August 7 - My mother taught me that it is not polite to remind a woman of her age (She is 61. Oops. Sorry, Mom.) But those who have followed the WNBA over these past 11 seasons do not need to be reminded that many of their favorite players are starting to get up there in trips around the sun. (Enjoy them while you can.) The young, fresh stars of seven and eight years ago are now the mature, elder stateswomen of an evolving league. But as Cher knows, there's no turning back.

(If I could turn back tiiii-iiime...)

The disparity between young and old(er) in the WNBA is more evident than ever as only a scattered handful of 30-plus-aged women remain in the league (like the scarce number of people at a retirement home that have a full set of teeth). At most, there are maybe one or two players on a roster who were born before President Ronald Regan's first term in office (or Prime Minister Bob Hawke's run, for you Australians out there).

In fact, four of the top five scorers in the WNBA right now are under the age of 26 (though Becky Hammon, who turned 30 earlier this year, is averaging a career-best 19.4 ppg). Storm foward Lauren Jackson is leading the way, followed by recent top picks Seimone Augustus, Diana Taurasi and Alana Beard. Taurasi and Beard, the top prizes from the 2004 WNBA Draft, were named the most recent Players of the Week. The new guard (and a forward) has found its way to forefront.

(If I could find a waaaaa-aaaaay...)

Throw in the fact that we might also see Sophia Young, Candice Dupree and Cappie Pondexter making their playoff debuts in just a few weeks and it's hard not to get excited. But as bright as the future (and present) is, we should also take the time to relish and enjoy the performances of those who might not be around much longer (that really sounds morbid when I go back and read that sentence).

(I'd take back those words that hurt yooooo-oooou...)

Monarchs center and seven-time All-Star Yolanda Griffith is 37 years old (and we all remember how she was none too pleased with me for calling her out as the oldest player last season) and might be playing out the final season of her brilliant career. She averaged a double-double over her first three seasons in the WNBA (granted she had already been a professional basketball player for six or seven years by then) and was even an MVP in her first season in the league. She finally won a championship back in 2005 and returned again to the Finals in 2006.

But Griffith is no longer the dominant player she had been during those early years, instead sharing the spotlight on a team of athletic sharpshooters and defensive stalwarts. (Even she wouldn't argue that point.) A look at her numbers over the past two seasons indicates that her career has begun its slow descent (she is averaging a career-low 8.5 points per game this season) and she has hinted at retirement on more than one occasion.

(And you'd staaaaaaaay...)

In the past couple of years, Griffith has taken on a new role, similar to that of a team mother to younger players like Kristin Haynie and Chelsea Newton (she is several years older than her coach, Jenny Boucek). But she still has some fuel left in the tank and has stepped up her game a bit down the stretch (12.8 ppg, 5.2 rpg in her last four games). And with the Monarchs having clinched a playoff spot for the fifth straight year, these final few weeks of the season and postseason may be our last chance to see Griffith play professional basketball.

(If I could reach the staaaa-aaars...)

Griffith is just one of the older core of "founding" or "establishing" players that have carried this league for a decade. They are (or were) stars in their own right, but they also aren't getting any younger. A pair of three-time Most Valuable Players in Lisa Leslie and Sheryl Swoopes have been kept off the court this season (Swoopes has missed all but three games while Leslie gave birth to a baby girl earlier this summer) and it is highly likely that neither Tina Thompson nor Taj McWilliams-Franklin, two staples in the WNBA postseason, will be playing in this season's Playoffs.

Their veteran teammates, Sparks forward Mwadi Mabika and Comets guard Tamecka Dixon, are two of the few remaining original players left in the league (Dixon was signed midseason, is playing 27 minutes per game and stands second on the team in scoring with 12.3 ppg.) All are still capable of performing at a very high level and have more great moments to give us... if they choose to.

(I'd give them all to yooooo-oooou...)

Former All-Star and U.S. National Team point guard Shannon Johnson has not played in the WNBA postseason since 2003 (with the Connecticut Sun). We do know that she will be back this season with the Shock, trying to do what her current teammate, Katie Smith, did last season (WIN!). Johnson, who will turn 33 next week, signed with Detroit in the offseason with the full understanding that she would have to accept a different role than she was used to: reserve.

Yet Pee Wee went to Detroit to win a ring and the Shock will be among the championship favorites once again when the Playoffs begin on August 23 (check your local listings).

(Then you'd love me, love me...)

We will also have another chance to see one of Johnson's former teammates, San Antonio Silver Stars guard Vickie Johnson, back in the Playoffs again as well. Johnson has played in four WNBA Finals in her career, but came up on the short end every time with the Liberty (sorry, New York fans). Johnson will be looking to add to the regular season and postseason records that she currently holds.

(Like you used to dooo-ooooo...)

None of these women have decided to call it a career and retire just yet... but rumors and unconfirmed reports are starting to surface about several of them. True or not, they can't play forever. Dawn Staley was the first of her generation to step away and retire. She was hailed for her accomplishments and contributions to the game (and rightly so). Within the next few years, many of the aforementioned names will be out of the game as well. It may not be today, but the opportunities to see these great players perform are starting to run out. Take advantage of them and go see a WNBA game or two this week.

While we may refuse to accept the mortality of our favorite players, instead denying certain inevitable truths, our heroes (and heroines) cannot stay young forever. In the history of sport, the one opponent no superstar has ever been able to beat is the passage of time.

(Ohhh, If I could turn back tiiii-iiiime...)

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