LOS ANGELES – This past May, the L.A. Sparks received their championship rings prior to a win over the Washington Mystics. One by one, WNBA president Lisa Borders congratulated members of last year’s Sparks, who had all won the first championship of their careers in 2016.
As her teammates celebrated, Riquna Williams sat on the bench and watched.
Williams, who was acquired by the Sparks via trade last year, suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon while playing overseas in the 2016 offseason. Knowing she wouldn’t be able to play, L.A. removed her from the active roster while still maintaining her rights. Williams had to wait more than a year to make her Sparks debut, and she didn’t get a ring because she wasn’t on the roster for the 2016 season.
Instead of sulking that night in May, she used the moment to think about what it would take for her team to reach that goal again.
“No regrets. Control what you can control, and the rest just let it be,” Williams told WNBA.com on Saturday. “Just imagining us getting back to where we are now, and knowing it’s going to take an even better season than last year to get back to the Finals.”
With Williams back in the fold, the Sparks are now in the same position as last year, leading 2-1 in the WNBA Finals against the Minnesota Lynx. They have a chance to clinch their repeat at home on Sunday (8:30 PM ET, ESPN).
In the first Finals of her five-year career, Williams has played a minor role coming off the bench. She scored her first points of the playoffs in Friday’s Game 3, sinking a three-pointer in the third quarter to help L.A. maintain its lead.
Williams was an All-Star as recently as two years ago. She won Sixth Woman of the Year in 2013, and the 27-year-old holds the league’s all-time record for points in a game. She dropped 51 on San Antonio in her second WNBA season, making a record-tying eight three-pointers.
After sitting out all of last season, just playing in the Finals is enough.
“It was bittersweet,” Williams said of watching last year’s title run. “I wasn’t on the roster but I was still part of the team. Every week I would talk to [GM] Penny [Toler]. I watched our entire playoff run through the Finals. It was almost like I was there, because moments before Nneka [Ogwumike] hit that last shot and they went on the stage, Penny and I were texting back and forth the entire time.”
It was far from the first time she’s been sidelined due to injury.
In 2014, Williams played just 11 games for the then-Tulsa Shock before undergoing knee surgery. Even this season, she appeared in only 23 of 34 regular-season games. Williams suffered a knee strain in early August and didn’t get back to the court until Game 2 of the semifinals on Sept. 14.
All of which only amplifies why this championship would be rewarding.
“She’s had a lot of injuries throughout the course of her career, and she’s battled it very well,” said fellow Sparks guard Odyssey Sims, who played with Williams in Tulsa. “For her to win a championship, I think it would mean a lot. Nobody wants to be injured, come back and not be able to play. So she’s had a lot of ups and downs this season, but I’m glad she’s back healthy. That’s the main thing.”
Sims and Williams both had success in the backcourt in Tulsa, but now one is the clear backup to her younger counterpart in L.A.
Williams started five games early in the season when Sims, acquired via trade in the offseason, was still finding her footing. Sims has been on a tear since the beginning of August, including a stellar WNBA Finals thus far. Backcourt mate Chelsea Gray emerged as an All-WNBA player this season.
The Sparks say Williams has been nothing but supportive of her teammates.
“She’s one of the main people I listen to when it comes to the heat of the moment,” Sims said. “We just have a great connection. She’s a great teammate and a great person. She’s always encouraging. She doesn’t really talk a lot, but when she does talk, she encourages us.”
“Great individual. Tremendous teammate,” Sparks coach Brian Agler added. “She wants to play and work hard, and she’s very supportive. So we’re looking forward to working with her in the future.”
At practice on Saturday ahead of Game 4, Williams was running with the second unit, emulating Lynx offensive sets for the starters to defend. She probably won’t play more than 10 minutes on Sunday as the Sparks aim to capture the trophy.
But that ring she missed out on last season could finally become a reality.
“Whether I’m playing five minutes, 10 minutes or 30 seconds, I’m still part of this team,” Williams said. “That’s why every time I go in, I give everything that I have in me.”