This past week was full of celebration for WNBA legends Tina Thompson and Katie Smith. A few days after both were announced as members of the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame’s 2018 class, the two were named 2018 finalists for the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass.
Thompson and Smith will find out their fates on March 31, when this year’s inductees are officially announced. Enshrinement weekend is in Springfield from September 6-8.
The pair makes up two of the WNBA’s all-time top five in scoring – Thompson is second, Smith fifth – and both were recognized as members of the league’s Top 20@20. WNBA.com spoke to some fellow greats about their impact on the game and why they should indeed be enshrined.
Sparks forward Candace Parker, who played alongside Thompson in Los Angeles and with USA Basketball, had nothing but positive things to say about her former teammate.
“I idolized her as a child, trying to recreate her turnaround jump shot,” Parker said. “As time went on, she became undersized, but she still could get that turnaround jump shot off. It was fun as a child to go out in the driveway and try to recreate that.”
Thompson was the first draft pick in WNBA history, taken by Houston with the top selection in the inaugural 1997 draft. She won four championships with the Comets, was named an All-Star nine times and ranks fourth all-time in rebounds.
“One of my favorite teammates,” said Storm guard Sue Bird, who played with Thompson in Seattle, overseas and with USA Basketball. “You could sit here and talk about all the things she accomplished on the court. But to me, what really separates her and stands out the most – a quality of somebody who should be a Hall of Famer – is that she really helped evolve a position.
“She changed that power forward position. She turned it into, not only somebody who could score on the block, but somebody who could shoot threes, extend the floor and beat you off the dribble. That was really one of the first post players we saw who could do all of that. She was a trailblazer in that way. So as far as I’m concerned, what else do you need to do to be in the Hall of Fame?”
Bird also had high praise for Smith, another former teammate. The two also happened to share the floor with Thompson in Seattle for one season (2012).
“When I think of Katie, I think of her competitiveness,” Bird said. “She was a dog out there. She was always extremely difficult to play against, and great to play with. People fell in love with her three-point shot, with the way she could score, and what she could do off the dribble, how she could finish. But really what probably set her apart was that, combined with the fact that she was one of the best defensive players ever to play the game. She was the full package. And at her size, with her strength, we really hadn’t seen anybody like that, and haven’t seen it since.”
Smith won two championships of her own, both with the Detroit Shock. She was named to seven All-Star teams and ranks second all-time in three-pointers.
Parker and recently-retired Swin Cash, who played with Smith in Detroit and Seattle, reiterated Bird’s comment about her competitive spirit.
“One of the things I can say, having played with and against Katie is that you knew every time she stepped on the court, it was going to be a physical battle,” Cash said. “She’s one of those players that embraced contact, whether she was on offense or defense. She could shoot the ball, lights out, and she just competed on every single possession. Never took a play off. Never took a night off. And that’s the kind of teammate you love to play with.”
Added Parker: “As a big, when you’re hedging on screens, and she’d come off that, you kind of think twice about hedging as hard as you do. You had to be willing to deliver the blow, otherwise she was going to hit you.”
Smith is now entering her first season as head coach of the New York Liberty after spending several years as an assistant. On March 31, we will find out if she and Thompson can add “Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame” to their list of accomplishments.