Swoopes Makes Lasting Impressions
This off-season has been one of the busiest in Sheryl Swoopes’ WNBA career and this weekend was no different. The newest member of the Storm roster arrived in Seattle on Friday for a series of community appearances all while trying to identify housing options for the 2008 season.
Friday night she was at the Sonics game with Storm CEO Karen Bryant, visiting with Storm ticket prospects in two suites in between television and radio interviews. Her evening ended with a post-game Jr. NBA/Jr. WNBA event that included Sonics rookie Kevin Durant and hundreds of youth basketball players.
Saturday featured a series of three events in three cities. Storm.wnba.com was with Swoopes for each of the stops.
The first stop was Renton High School for the National Wheelchair Basketball Association Varsity National Championships. I arrived at the school at 11 a.m. and checked out the action on all three courts. I could not believe how amazing these players were. They were simply spectacular.
I bumped into Ed Tusca, a volunteer for the event from the local Kiwanis club who was eager for Swoopes’ arrival.
“You know what? She is new to the city, she is coming out and everybody is excited to see her,” he said. “She is well known and let’s face it -- she is an icon in ladies basketball. We are excited to have her and pretty fortunate that she is going to be here.”
Swoopes arrived a short time later. Wearing a black and white Storm shirt, she walked into both gyms and checked out the games in play. She then made her way to watch the remaining minutes of the San Diego Hammer vs. Stearling Heights game. At the end of the game she walked to center court and spoke to the players. She called it an “honor” to be at the tournament.
After she talked to the crowd, she was surrounded by players from both teams and other people who entered the gym. She posed for photos with several of the players. While taking photos, she asked the players about some of the rules while pointing back toward the court.
“I really got emotional,” Swoopes said later. “Just walking in the gym and everywhere you went everybody was in wheelchairs and they were on the court and they were playing. They do not look at it as a disadvantage or as being handicap. For them, I just saw the excitement in their eyes. They were very intense and very aggressive. I really have a lot of appreciation for what they do and how good they are at what they do.”
It was a new experience for Swoopes.
“I think lots of times people who are healthy and have all of their limbs, their legs, their arms, sometimes we take it for granted that we are able to get up and walk around and play and run and jump” she said. “I think for me it was really an eye-opener. I think we are all guilty of getting up and complaining about my knee hurts or my toe hurts or whatever and feel like we are just in so much pain and then you see something like the wheelchair game.
“I left there appreciating what I am able to do.”
Swoopes shared one of the special moments she had with the players following the game.
“I signed my very first prosthetic today,” she said. “It was a 13-year-old boy and he came over to me and he handed it to me and said: ‘Will you please sign my leg?’ I just looked and I did not know quite what to say. I was really speechless, I got it, and he was like, ‘Please, please sign it.’ I signed it and I really got emotional, because it was very touching to me that of all of the things he had for me to sign, he really wanted me to sign that.”
Cleveland High School in Seattle was the next stop for the fourth annual Queens of the Hardwood high school girls all-star game.
An auction table featuring sports memorabilia was set up to the right of the entrance. Two of the items included a Swoopes autographed jersey and basketball. All of the funds that were raised benefited the Teen Parent Programs of the Goodwill Development Association in Seattle.
Inside the gym, Sonics mascot Squatch was entertaining fans and providing the pre-game show, along with a DJ whose music blared through the school’s hallways. Both sides of the bleachers were packed with fans as the blue (north) and red (south) teams warmed up.
Swoopes was greeted with cheers the moment she entered the gym shortly before tip-off. Swoopes was introduced following the singing of the National Anthem and walked to the center of the court, where she told everyone how excited she was about the day and the upcoming Storm season. The blue and red teams formed lines at opposite sides of the gym, and after each player was introduced they were given high-fives by Swoopes.
While Swoopes was standing near the baseline, Sonics legend Shawn Kemp entered the gym with his wife, Marvina, who was one of the coaches. Swoopes and Kemp exchanged a friendly hug and briefly talked before she headed for her seat to watch the game behind the scorer’s table. During the middle of the first quarter, Swoopes headed outside the gym to the hallway, where fans lined up to get autographs and photos. While moving through the line, students told her how excited they were to see her.
“I love watching girls play who enjoy the game and appreciate the game and want to get better,” Swoopes said. “To be able to go out and watch the high school all-star game today just kind of took me back to my younger days and how excited I was to be there and to be playing. You know, really just appreciating it.”
POWER OF YOUTH
The next stop was the Boys and Girls Club of Snohomish County, where more than 50
kids were ready to participate in the Allstate Insurance NeighborHoops Clinic featuring Swoopes and Sonics rookie Jeff Green.
At each hoop around the gym, camp participants worked on different skills, including passing, dribbling, and shooting. They were helped out by volunteers who wore white Allstate T-shirts with the Sonics and Storm foundation logo on the back.
Some of the kids had on a Sonics or Storm jersey as they worked up a sweat. For one of the drills, the kids lined up as a group and worked on their sliding and footwork techniques. They formed lines that went to the back of the gym and they did the drills for 15 seconds while counting the time out loud.
At the end of the clinic, Swoopes received a loud ovation and then talked with the kids about what they had learned during the clinic. She talked about playing in the WNBA, about fundamentals, teamwork and how men and women basketball players have the same goals of wanting to win championships. She then reinforced to the kids how important practice is.
The kids then raised their hands, one after another, to ask questions. “Do you know Lisa Leslie?” … “Who is your favorite player in the NBA?” … “What is your favorite place to play?” Her answers: Yes, she knows Lisa; she enjoys watching Steve Nash in the NBA; and she likes to play at Madison Square Garden in New York.
After the clinic, Swoopes and Green sat next to each other at a table and signed autographs, The kids received Sonics and Storm Foundation basketballs, Allstate Insurance backpacks and tickets to a Sonics game.
“I think lots of times you have younger kids who see us on television or they read about us or they hear about us, but a lot of them probably never think or imagine that they would get an opportunity to see a WNBA or NBA player,” she said. “To be able to come here and for them to be able to see us in person is first of all like, ‘Wow, they are real, and they really do exist,’ so I think they get a lot out of it.”
Swoopes said her own life experiences have enabled her to communicate with kids more effectively.
“For me personally, I probably get as much or more out of it than they do,” she said. “Having a 10-year-old son myself, I think I have really learned to understand how to relate to kids. Just in talking to them and trying to get them to see (that) sports are important. I think it does a lot for a person, but even more than that the whole education part.
“Sports for me was a huge part of my life growing up,” she said. “I have been playing since I was 6 or 7 years old and I just really appreciated it and enjoyed it and got a lot out of it. The competition, the friends that I made, and for my self-confidence. Being able to play sports and in particular basketball did so much for my confidence. I think a lot of the kids that are here today are here because they enjoy it and it’s fun. Hopefully they will stick with it and they will learn that you can apply everything you learn on the basketball court to your everyday life. To me, that is one of the most important things that I try to teach kids when I come out and speak to them.”
BACK TO WORK
Swoopes’ weekend ended with a red-eye flight out of Seattle back to her home in Houston.
“I am going home and am going to be in the gym,” she said. “That is my life right now. I wake up, I get my son off to school, and I work out in the morning on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 12-3. Then I go back to the gym and I am in the gym from about 5-7:30. On Tuesdays and Thursdays I am lifting weights, running, and still playing.
“I am spending a lot of time in the gym and working out and getting in shape, getting ready for the season.”
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