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Tina Thompson's experience playing with Sue Bird and Lauren Jackson in the past was a key reason she signed with the Storm as a free agent. (Bill Baptist/NBAE/Getty Images)

Thompson Rejoins Familiar Faces in Seattle

Kevin Pelton, StormBasketball.com | Feb. 29, 2012

Over the first 15 years of her WNBA career, Tina Thompson has played for just two teams. She played for the Houston Comets for all 12 of their seasons, winning four championships, before the franchise ceased operations after the 2008 campaign. Then Thompson came home, signing to play in her native Los Angeles for the Sparks for the last three years.

When Thompson decided where to continue her career as a free agent, then, she wanted to make sure she found the right location. The Seattle Storm provided what Thompson was looking for, particularly because of the veteran core of Sue Bird, Lauren Jackson and Katie Smith - all former teammates of Thompson's outside the WNBA.

"(Familiarity is) very important, especially when I've played somewhere else for such a long time," Thompson said by phone Wednesday. "At this point in my career, I definitely don't want to start over. Playing with those guys is kind of starting midstream in my opinion."

Thompson played with Bird and Jackson for Sparta&K Moscow Region during the 2006-07 offseason, winning the Euroleague and Russian SuperLeague championships. Bird and Smith were teammates of Thompson's on the U.S. National Team for the 2004 and 2008 Olympics, winning the gold medal both times.

Knowing those players as well as she does gives Thompson a level of confidence as for what to expect in Seattle.

"I know Sue as well as Lauren and Katie, I know them as people," she said. "I think who you are as a person tells who you are in many cases as a professional and I know them well, so I took comfort in that. The level of respect and professionalism is something that was very important and they all have."

Of course, the ability of all three players and the rest of the Storm's roster was a factor too. Whether in the WNBA, overseas or in international competition, Thompson is used to winning and winning big. So playing for a contending team was also an important consideration.

"They have always been competitive, year in and year out, and have always had an opportunity to vie for a championship," she said. "For me, each season in the WNBA, that's my goal. That's something I always want to do. The whole point of me playing is to win the ultimate prize, and that's a championship. That's definitely a big part of my career and me making a decision in free agency."

Certainly, Thompson is familiar with the Storm team. She's been a Western Conference rival since the Storm's inception in 2000, and has faced the Storm in playoff matchups in 2005 in Houston and 2009 and 2010 with Los Angeles. That has given her a sense of not only the Storm's talent, but also the team's mental toughness, a factor she has found is crucial to success in the WNBA.

"I personally think that I can play with anyone, so that wasn't necessarily a problem for me," Thompson said of fitting in to a new team. "Sometimes basketball is not just about talent and physically playing. Most of the time, it's about personality as well. No matter how talented you are, if personalities don't mesh as a whole when you arrive in those crucial moments, those things can rise to the surface. They determine whether you're successful or not. Talent definitely has something to do with it because you have to have talented players, but attitude to me is everything."

Besides the players she knows, Thompson is looking forward to playing with Tanisha Wright, who has stood out to her as an opponent both with her competitiveness and her tendency to come up with big games against Thompson's teams. She also liked the idea of staying on the West Coast, and while Seattle may be a bit rainy, Thompson is looking forward to the food and the shopping.

Before making a decision on free agency, Thompson had to determine whether she planned to continue her WNBA career - a process she goes through on an annual basis, making sure she is physically capable of not just playing but playing at a high level.

"At the end of the day, as much as you want to play forever, that's not realistic," she explained. "I have to be able to compete at a high level myself. I don't want to just be part of a team, I want to be a contributing factor."

When she resumed working out after taking some time off to recuperate at the end of the season, Thompson got the answer she needed. She no longer plays overseas during the offseason, which helps save on wear and tear, but will soon ramp up her workouts to be ready to go at the start of training camp.

Now, Thompson knows where she will be when practices begin two months from today. And she's convinced the Storm is the right fit.

"I'm definitely in the fourth quarter of my career," Thompson said, "so I wanted to go to a team that could use my talents, of course, but also at the same time was in a position to win as well and had veteran leadership like mine."

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