The perfect word to describe Swin Cash’s career is right there staring at us within her first name: Win.
Swin Cash wins. It’s what she’s done her entire life both on and off the court.
With Tuesday’s announcement on The Players’ Tribune that she will retire from the game of basketball following the 2016 WNBA season, we reflect on her many accomplishments on the basketball court and some significant victories off the court, as well.
Cash was born and raised in the Pittsburgh suburb of McKeesport and after a stellar high school career she joined the University of Connecticut to play her college ball.
Keep in mind that UConn was not the superpower that it is today when Cash signed to play there along with fellow future WNBA stars Sue Bird, Asjha Jones, Tamika Williams and Diana Taurasi (who came along two years later). The Huskies had just one title under their belt and a fierce rivalry with the University of Tennessee for women’s college basketball preeminence.
Of course, we know how this all played out. Beginning in 2000, Cash’s sophomore season, UConn would win the first of 10 championships in this century. The 2000 title capped off a 36-1 season with a 71-52 win over Tennessee. While many expected UConn to repeat in 2001, the team was knocked off by Notre Dame in the Final Four. With that disappointment fueling them, the 2002 Huskies put together a perfect 39-0 season, capped off with another national title and a Final Four Most Outstanding Player award for Cash in her final college game.
The Huskies would then dominate the 2002 WNBA Draft, with Bird (1st), Cash (2nd) and Jones (4th) leading the way. While the UConn teammates were headed to different locations, they were not done winning titles.
Cash was selected by the Detroit Shock with the No. 2 pick in the Draft and her professional career could not have gotten off to a worse start as the team lost its first 13 games of the season and endured a coaching change along the way. The new coach, Bill Laimbeer, would engineer a remarkable turnaround in Detroit and Cash was a centerpiece of the transformation.
In one of many tributes to Cash on Tuesday, Laimbeer called her The Difference for the Detroit team that truly shocked the WNBA by going from worst to first, becoming the first American professional sports team to win the championship following a season that ended in a last place finish in the standings.
Cash would win two championships with the Shock in 2003 and 2006. While Cash has done plenty of winning throughout her career, it did not come without adversity. During her final years in Detroit, Cash suffered from a herniated disc in her back (and an undisclosed revelation that we’ll address later) that limited her ability on the court. That, coupled with a new team dynamic and a strained relationship with Laimbeer, led to Cash being traded to Seattle in February of 2008.
In Seattle, Cash was reunited with Bird along with an All-Star collection of talent that featured then two-time MVP Lauren Jackson (she would go on to win a third in 2010), three-time MVP Sheryl Swoopes and one-time MVP Yolanda Griffith. The Storm went 22-12 to earn a playoff berth but were eliminated in the first round by Los Angeles.
Prior to the 2009 season, Cash finally addressed her ailing back, having surgery to repair her herniated disc. She returned for the start of the season, but the Storm’s year once again ended in a disappointing first-round playoff loss. It was the fifth straight year – following their 2004 title – that the Storm made the playoffs and failed to advance past the first round.
Finally, in 2010, the Storm put it all together to not only make it out of the first round, but have one of the most dominant seasons in WNBA history. Seattle posted a league-best 28-6 mark during the regular season and went a perfect 7-0 during the playoffs, capped off with a sweep of Atlanta to win the title. For Cash, she put together her best individual season since her early years in Detroit. Her 13.8 points per game were her highest average since 2004 and throughout Seattle’s run to the title she made critical plays to push the Storm toward the title.
Read more from Sue Bird on the Swin Cash Experience as she remembers their time together from Storrs to Seattle and a few stops in between.
Two of those stops that Bird and Cash shared came in Athens in 2004 and London in 2012 as they teamed up to represent the United States during the Olympics. Cash owns two Olympic gold medals as part of her impressive basketball resume, but the goal was to have three. As has been a theme throughout Cash’s career, she had to face an obstacle to overcome in order to win more.
Amid an already tumultuous 2008, she received a phone call informing her that she was not selected as one of the 12 players that would be headed to China for the Beijing Games. It’s rare for a player of Cash’s stature to be told you’re not good enough to be on a team. She had been an athletic superstar since she was a child and now at the age of 28 she was being told that she didn’t make the team. Up to that point, not only had Cash always made the team; she was a star on the team.
The disappointment of not making the 2008 Olympic team provided a fuel of Cash to rededicate herself to the game, to get back to the level of play that she knew she could reach again. She had to get healthy, she had to work extremely hard and make sure that four years later, she would be one of the 12 that got the good news phone call rather than the bad.
“When I got the call on my machine it was really emotional for me because I knew about the sacrifice and what it took to get back there,” Cash said after getting the news that she made the 2012 squad. Swin would win her second gold medal in London to cap off her USA Basketball career, adding yet another championship to her resume.
Read more from college rival and Olympic teammate Tamika Catchings as she describes her relationship with Cash and the decision they share in ending their WNBA careers at the end of this season.
In the years without an Olympics, the WNBA holds an All-Star Game as a mid-season celebration of the game and its top stars. Cash is a four-time All-Star and is one of two players – along with Lisa Leslie – to win the All-Star Most Valuable Player award more than once.
Cash won her first All-Star MVP in 2009, scoring what was then an All-Star record 22 points as she led the Western Conference to a 130-118 win over the East. The game featured five former UConn Huskies and was held in front of adoring fans at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut.
In 2011, Cash made a bit of history with her second All-Star Game MVP. Not only did she become the second multi-time winner, but she became the first player to win the award from the losing team. In a tightly contested game down the stretch, Cappie Pondexter led the East to a five-point victory, but it was Cash’s 21-point, 12-rebound performance that took home MVP honors in a bit of a consolation prize.
As Swin begins to prepare for life after basketball, she will have plenty of opportunities to choose from; she’s been more than just a basketball player for quite some time.
Cash has served as a basketball analyst for ESPN covering both the NBA and the college game. During the 2008 Olympics, while she was not competing on the court as she would have preferred, Cash joined the NBC crew that was covering the game by providing in-game commentary. This past NBA season, Cash joined MSG Networks as a New York Knicks studio analyst for select games throughout the season and the host of a bi-weekly show “Nothing But Knicks.”
There’s no doubt that she could have a seamless transition from the court to the analyst chair once her playing days are complete.
She’s also gained attention for her love of fashion, including a Sports Illustrated cover as one of their Fashionable 50 that was released in April.
Whatever avenue Cash decides to take in the next chapter of her life, you can expect to see the same drive that led her to be on the best basketball players in the world over the past 15 years.
“I’ll never tell you I was the best basketball player in the world, I’ll never tell you I had the best jump shot or I was the best defender, but I will tell you that I competed and I won,” she said in a 2013 interview with HuffPost Live. “And at the end of the day that’s what people really remember. Were you a winner? Because if you can win, on a team sport, you can always translate that into business, you can always translate that into other things that you want to do because you have the competitive nature and that edge.”
Cash earned one major victory last decade that she chose not to speak about for years, but finally opened up about when she released her book Humble Journey: More Precious Than Gold in 2013. In a life full of wins, none was bigger than beating kidney cancer, which she was diagnosed with back in 2007 when she was getting an MRI done on her ailing back.
Cash’s time in Seattle came to an end following the 2011 season as she was traded to the Chicago Sky in January of 2012. She would spend two seasons with the Sky before joining the Atlanta Dream in 2014. Midway through her first season in Atlanta, Cash was traded to the New York Liberty and reunited with Laimbeer.
She now plays the part of the veteran role player for a Liberty squad that is 4-3 early this season and among the favorites in the Eastern Conference to make some noise under the WNBA’s new playoff format.
The storybook ending for Cash would be a final title run to bring her up to four championships in her 15-year WNBA career. There are still 27 regular season games to be played before any of that can be determined and plenty of time to get out to see Swin play before she hangs up her sneakers.
When she does, she will conclude on of the most accomplished careers in WNBA history as she currently ranks in the top 15 all-time in points (4,978; 14th), rebounds (2,429; 10th) and assists (1,093; 15th).
She ranks sixth all-time in games played (452) and needs to play in 12 more games to climb to fourth on that list behind only DeLisha Milton-Jones, Tina Thompson and Katie Smith.
Wherever she finishes on the all-time rankings, the name Swin Cash will be remembered to represent a player that was relentless on the court, a player that would not be outworked or out-hustled, a player that would give her all for her team and would lead them to victories and championships.
Her full first name, Swintayla, means “astounding woman” in Swahili. Talk about living up to your name.