Just before the final buzzer sounded late Sunday afternoon at the Target Center, a Los Angeles Sparks shot rippled through the net to give the visitors Game 1 of the WNBA Finals. But it wasn’t the recently-named MVP who let the shot fly, nor the Sparks’ other two-time MVP, nor even their sharpshooting specialist. It was the veteran lefty, Alana Beard, who exuberant teammates mobbed in celebration.
On a team with the likes of Nneka Ogwumike and Candace Parker, Alana Beard doesn’t receive much attention–at least from the media. Opposing guards, however, are well acquainted with the defensive specialist, who earned her third appearance on First Team All-Defense this season. She’s been strong defensively since she entered the league, but her work on that end of the floor has become her calling card since she moved to Los Angeles.
Beard averaged just 7.1 points this season, and hasn’t averaged double figures since 2012. Her late winner was changed to a two, she’s not usually much of an outside threat, having made just 24 three-pointers in the last four seasons combined. There’s a reason why she told reporters today she was, “the fifth option” on the Sparks’ final play. “You got the 1, 2, 3, 4, and I’m perfectly fine being the fifth option,” she continued. “Everyone has their role, and I accept it, and it’s cool.”
Being an afterthought on offense hasn’t always been the case for Beard, however. Just take it from Chelsea Gray, who made the dish on the game winner, and went to Duke just like Beard.
“I’m younger so I wasn’t able to be around Duke when she was at Duke. But going there that’s all I heard about. ‘Alana Beard, Alana Beard,'” Gray said following practice today. “She could flat out score. I loved it cause she was a lefty. She brought so much swagger when she was out there and I loved it.”
Gray isn’t lying. Beard is Duke’s all-time leading scorer, finishing her collegiate career with 2,687 points; she holds the top two single-season point totals, and has made the most field goals and dished out the most assists in Duke women’s basketball history. She’s was also named to the Associated Press’s All-America First-Team three times. For her accomplishments, Beard was the first women’s basketball player to have her number retired by Duke.
That scoring ability didn’t leave Beard when she came to the WNBA, as she put up 13.1 points in her rookie season in Washington. In 2006 she turned in a career year, averaging 19.2 points on 49.5 percent shooting.
But then came the setbacks. “It’s been a long journey for me,” Beard reflected today before practice, referring to the two full seasons (2010-2011) she missed with foot and ankle injuries. “Yeah, injuries, I had ’em. It was a tough journey for me just as it would have been for any other athlete. But right now it’s this moment and it’s something that I’m relishing and enjoying with the special people that we have.”
Since her return from such difficult injury trouble, Beard has become well-regarded around the league. As Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve noted, “You know Beard is one of those players you can be happy for because she does things the right way.”
Sunday, after years of hard work that flew under the radar, Beard finally got her moment in the limelight. “It’s one of the best feelings,” Beard said Monday. Something you replay over and over in your mind, and now that moment has come. It felt good, and we won the game and that’s the most important thing.”
But if you think one shining moment changed her, think again. Even amongst countless congratulatory texts and calls, Beard remained grounded.
“Everyone reached out, congratulated me, but at the same time, you keep everything in perspective, understanding that that’s just one game.”
The veteran guard may be in her first WNBA Finals, but she doesn’t have time to focus on the past, no matter how sweet it may have been. “We all understand that’s one game,” Beard said. “We have to win three out of five so we’re moving on.”