Katie Smith and Tina Thompson chat with reporters at Media Day. (Neil Enns/Storm Photos)
The Veterans: Smith and Thompson
Have Seen It All
Collectively, Katie Smith and Tina Thompson have scored more than 14,000 points as professionals. They've appeared in 15 WNBA All-Star Games, won five Olympic gold medals and eight championships between the ABL and the WNBA. Yet Smith and Thompson, who are both 37, are doing something for the first time this season with the Seattle Storm: playing together.
"It's awesome," Thompson said at the Storm's Media Day last week. "We relished the moments where we're in All-Star Games and playing USA Basketball. We definitely had a lot of conversations about, 'What if this was our team and what if we really played together?'"
Smith and Thompson conducted their interview with the Seattle media together, and just barely stopped short of finishing each other's sentences. They've shared so many experiences that the bond between them is unique on the Storm's roster.
Terrence Vaccaro/NBAE/Getty Images
Smith and Thompson have been teammates in All-Star Games and for USA Basketball, but this is the first time they've played on the same WNBA team.
"Whenever you interact - we could probably not see each other for a year and we'd smile because there's a good vibe," said Smith, calling Thompson by her full name - Tina Marie. "She's good people. She's somebody that's got a genuine way."
"Katie has a really cool sense of humor," said Thompson. "She does. It's a little Seinfeldish. She's a really funny person."
Despite their accomplishments, Smith and Thompson remain solidly grounded, whether they're discussing running into Storm fans at grocery stores (Thompson has heard from Storm Crazies happy to cheer for her after years as a rival, while fans were surprised to find Smith so easy-going last season after observing her intense, on-court persona) or bragging on son Dyllan, in Thompson's case, and Smith's cherished dog, Logan.
"I think that the fans really know who we are as people, as athletes," explained Thompson. "There is a true connection that you don't get in the NBA or in most professional sports in general. I think there is an idea that they could reach out and touch us in a way. I know that that's kind of cliche, but it's the truth. We're probably, in my opinion, one of the most fan-friendly, accessible leagues. To me, to know us is to love us as a league."
In different ways, both Smith and Thompson have been associated with women's professional basketball since the start of its modern incarnation. That gives them valuable perspective as they enter the twilight of their careers.
"I don't think Tina probably either grew up thinking this is what we'd be doing for this period of time in our lives," said Smith. "This has really been a surprise and a blessing."
At first, the two college stars took different paths to the professional game. Smith signed with the ABL, which allowed her to stay home in Columbus to play for the Quest. Thompson, who graduated a year later, opted for the WNBA because the league had the backing of the NBA. She was placed in the league's first college draft, and chosen by the Houston Comets with the No. 1 overall pick.
Both Smith and Thompson helped build their respective league's dynasties. Playing with the likes of Shannon Johnson and Nikki McCray under Storm Head Coach Brian Agler, Smith led Columbus to both championships in ABL history. Thompson was the baby on a star-studded Comets roster - teammates used to tease her that two-time league MVP Cynthia Cooper had played basketball longer professionally than Thompson had in any form - that also included Sheryl Swoopes. The trio, along with role player Janeth Arcain and Head Coach Van Chancellor, dominated the WNBA en route to winning the league's first four championships.
The collapse of the ABL made Smith, who joined Agler with the Minnesota Lynx, a Western Conference rival of Thompson's. Smith emerged as the Lynx's go-to player while Thompson assumed a more prominent role in Houston after Cooper retired following the 2000 season. The two players were fixtures on the West All-Star team, and both were part of the USA rosters that won gold at the 2004 Athens and 2008 in Beijing, when they each started all eight games.
Along the way, Smith and Thompson became synonymous with scoring, longevity and winning. Thompson is the last player left from the WNBA's inaugural season, while Smith and Minnesota's Taj McWilliams are the two remaining that helped found the ABL. Late in the 2010 season, Thompson passed former Los Angeles teammate Lisa Leslie to become the WNBA's all-time leading scorer with 6,751 career points. However, when Smith's ABL points are added to the 6,015 she's scored in the WNBA, she reigns as the combined leader with nearly 7,500 points as a professional.
Now, Smith and Thompson are ready to make way for a new generation. They don't mind the notion of watching at home as their replacements on the USA Women's National Team head to London this summer, or giving up spots on the All-Star team.
"I don't know about Katie," said Thompson, "but I remember the first All-Star Game that I didn't go to, there was a feeling like, 'Oh, man. I didn't go to the All-Star Game.' Then those three or four days, when I was in Florida, I was like, 'This rocks.'"
That's not to say the Storm's veterans are reading for retirement just yet. With so much other talent on the roster, the Storm does not need Smith and Thompson to be their former superstar selves to be successful. Instead, the team is looking for them to provide consistent production, leadership, and to make opponents pay for leaving them open. Thompson, who is two years removed from winning Western Conference Player of the Month in August 2010, averaged 9.9 points and 4.6 rebounds last season. Smith, though inconsistent as she dealt with an Achilles injury that has since healed, averaged 7.6 points and ranked 13th in the league by making 39.5 percent of her three-point attempts.
"We're going to do everything that we can to make sure it's long-standing, that we have longevity because this opportunity wasn't always there. I don't believe that we're at a state in the WNBA where we can take things for granted."
As they look ahead to the future, both Smith and Thompson want to see the WNBA continue to build on the successful base they helped to create.
"We're going to do everything that we can to make sure it's long-standing, that we have longevity because this opportunity wasn't always there," said Thompson. "I don't believe that we're at a state in the WNBA where we can take things for granted. We're continuing to grow and to build. There's a lot more work that needs to be done. So not being grateful - it's kind of not even a thought, not even an option to be able to take on that attitude.
"We're here, we have arrived, but we're still growing and having an impact. The impact so far has been huge. Women's basketball is the largest-growing sport for little girls in our country or in the world at this point, but we haven't topped off. The work is still going, for sure."
"There's a lot of ways you can affect it but I do think that we're ambassadors in a lot of ways," added Smith.
"Whether it's being a coach or a season ticket holder for a team, I do want to support women's basketball and also women's athletics because I do think it has provided me and given me opportunities. If somebody wants to do it, I want to make sure it's around as an opportunity."Comments blog comments powered by Disqus