It’s an exhibition game, so WNBA veteran Sheryl Swoopes isn’t feeling butterflies. But there’s still emotion involved in her return to KeyArena on Sunday. The Storm (0-1) hosts the Shock (0-0) at 2 p.m.
The game will be aired on new flagship station KPTK 1090-AM.
Swoopes, 40, is returning to the league after being cut by the Storm in 2009. It was a separation that left her bitter at the time and upset fans, especially when legend Lisa Leslie had a farewell tour but Swoopes, the first player to sign with the WNBA, didn’t.
“I am looking forward to being in KeyArena, again, and seeing the fans,” said Swoopes, who also admitted she’s spent more time lately getting back into playing shape and her basketball routine rather than thinking about Seattle. “When I did play there that year, the fans were absolutely incredible. They showed me so much love and appreciated me whether I was 50 percent or 75 percent. So, I am looking forward to playing in front of the fans, again. I don’t know how much I’ll play.”
Thing is, Swoopes never contended she was done with playing. When she signed with Seattle in 2008, the three-time MVP was returning from 2007 back surgery and never played healthy, averaging a career-low-tying 7.1 points and 4.3 rebounds in 29 games for the 22-12 Storm. Coach Brian Agler, who’s also director of player personnel, released her just before for contract became guaranteed in 2009. That season, the Storm returned veterans Janell Burse, Suzy Batkovic-Brown, and Shannon Johnson to the roster instead for reserve depth.
Swoopes, meanwhile, played overseas in Greece and on traveling teams, but didn’t sign with another WNBA team. Saturday evening, Swoopes said she hadn’t spoken to the Storm organization since, but had moved past being waived.
She’s moved from Kirkland back to Houston with her son and feels she’s serving a purpose by being on the Tulsa Shock roster. The relocated Detroit team is a blend of old and new, including the Storm’s former 2004 Finals MVP in G Betty Lennox.
“I’m fond of Sheryl,” said Agler recently of whether there would be any awkward moments Sunday. “I think she’s a great person and she’s definitely going to leave a legacy in women’s basketball.
“It was unfortunate how things played out here. It just didn’t work for either party, the direction we thought for her benefit or for the benefit of the Storm if we would have stayed together. But that doesn’t mean I’m not a fan of Sheryl’s. I’ve always admired her abilities on the court.”
In Shock training-camp, Swoopes has been invaluable with her leadership. Based on interviews, coach Nolan Richardson plans to play her as a reserve, possibly 20-minutes a game. Since both teams are in evaluation mode for the season openers this week, it’s unknown whether Swoopes will play Sunday. Agler has already stated newcomers in G Katie Smith (Achilles) and wing Belinda Snell (ankle) will not play due to injury and rookie Ify Ibekwe earned extended minutes.
Still, regarding Swoopes, KeyArena plans to give her a warm welcome for player introductions.
“Now I can go out kinda the way I always imagined I’d go — playing,” said Swoopes, who’s not setting a retirement date. “When it happened three years, I felt bitterness, anger, frustration, confusion — everything — not understanding how it happened. But I’ve grown so much since then and my life has changed so much since then.
“Looking back on it, I really feel like that was God’s plan for me. I’m really happy to be where I am in my life right now and couldn’t think of a better organization for me to be able to come back to and help build a team.”
*PHOTO CREDIT: Tulsa Shock F Sheryl Swoopes at Media Day by Shane Bevel NBAE/Getty Images.