Becky Hammon inducted into the New York Liberty Ring of Honor

In the aftermath of an historic NBA Summer League championship with the San Antonio Spurs, Becky Hammon’s career went full circle. As her WNBA roots can be traced back to the New York Liberty, where her playing career began, the club welcomed her on August 3 as they hosted Sue Bird and the Seattle Storm.

Honored by the Liberty during an emotional halftime ceremony (which saw the Liberty hold a 36-35 lead against the Storm), Hammon graciously acknowledged the fans and the organization, recognizing the role that the Liberty played in the beginning of her professional basketball odyssey. Among the gifts that were presented to Hammon, she was the recipient of flowers, a commemorative ring and a painting that was actually created during the ceremony.

During her rookie campaign, Hammon would compete in the 1999 WNBA Finals against the Houston Comets. Before her career with the Liberty reached its end in 2006, two more Finals appearances followed. Second overall in franchise history in both games played and three-pointers, she currently sits third in franchise scoring.

In 2007, Hammon would join the San Antonio Silver Starz of the WNBA’s Western Conference, also appearing with the Russian roster at the 2008 Beijing Summer Games. After her WNBA career came to an end due to injury in 2014, she extended her career with a historic appointment as a member of Gregg Popovich’s coaching staff. Serving with the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs, Hammon became the first full-time female assistant coach in NBA history.

Defeating the Storm by a 78-62 mark, led by Tina Charles’ 29 points, the 10,682 fans in attendance witnessed history more than once. In addition to Hammon’s honor, Storm superstar Sue Bird made her presence felt. After the Liberty went on a 13-0 run to begin the third period, Bird nailed a three pointer at the 4:47 mark. The three pointer made Bird the first woman in WNBA history to score 5,000 career points and dish out 2,000 career assist. Coincidentally, Bird’s former teammate, Swin Cash (who both played together) with the University of Connecticut and the Storm, was on the floor for the Liberty when the historic basket was made.

Indiana Fever ties WNBA benchmark with tenth straight playoff berth

One of the signature franchises in the WNBA, the Indiana Fever have made franchise history by earning their tenth consecutive playoff berth. A must-win against the New York Liberty saw Briann January lead the way with 16 points, contributing seven in the first quarter. All-Star Tamika Catchings posted 15 in the Fever’s 76-63 victory. Of note, the Liberty were led by league legend Tina Charles with a 15 point output.

A key factor in the win was attributed to the Fever’s strong defense. Holding the Liberty to a measly 39 percent shooting percentage, the Fever managed a 46-21 advantage at halftime. In addition, New York had committed 13 turnovers in the first half.

Despite finishing the regular season with a losing record, the past few years in sport have proven that upsets are highly possible. While the first round playoff matchup (presented by Boost Mobile) involves a tilt versus the , the Fever cannot be taken lightly.

For the last three years, the Fever qualified for the Eastern Conference Finals, including a Finals victory in 2012 against Minnesota. Catchings, one of five Fever players from the 2012 championship team, has played in every playoff game in Fever history. As the league’s all-time leader in postseason steals and free throws (her postseason rebounds rank second all-time), she will likely emerge as another factor in this year’s postseason, making the Fever a dark horse.

Taking into account that head coach Lin Dunn (a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame) will likely retire at season’s end; there is a strong emotional component to the squad’s playoff run. Her 20 career playoff victories rank first among WNBA female head coaches. On the all-time career playoff wins list, she ranks fourth. Ironically, New York head coach Bill Laimbeer is the all-time leader with 28 wins.

Regardless of the postseason outcome, the Fever’s tenth consecutive playoff berth matches a league record set by the Seattle Storm from 2004-13. In their 15-year history, the club has managed 11 postseason berths and two trips to the WNBA Finals (2009 and 2012).

WNBA bids farewell to living legend and pioneer Katie Smith

It seems like yesterday that Katie Smith had first joined the Minnesota Lynx. Having made the decision to retire, the WNBA loses one of its greatest players and pioneers. In a professional basketball career that spanned seventeen seasons with six different franchises, Smith made everyone one of those teams better through her presence.

Having grown up in Logan, Ohio, where she excelled at track and field, volleyball and even participated in ballet, Smith was Gatorade National High School Player of the Year in high school. Staying home to compete with the Ohio State Buckeyes, she would leave a remarkable legacy.

In her freshman season, the 5’11” guard helped the squad reach the 1993 NCAA title game. Playing against future WNBA superstar Sheryl Swoopes (playing for Texas Tech), Smith scored 28 points. Having graduated with the Big Ten scoring record (including men and women), she was the first female athlete in Ohio State history to have her number retired.

WNBA President Laurel Richie attends the pre-game ceremony at Prudential Ceremony recognizing Smith’s stellar career (Photo credit: Ray Floriani)

WNBA President Laurel Richie attends the pre-game ceremony at Prudential Ceremony recognizing Smith’s stellar career (Photo credit: Ray Floriani)

Prior to joining the WNBA, Smith had the opportunity to remain in Columbus, competing with the Columbus Quest of the American Basketball League. Competing for head coach Brian Agler (who was also her head coach from 2011-2012 with the Seattle Storm), she helped the club capture the only two league championships in league history. Perhaps Agler put it best when he called her a “true professional”.

Even though she is 39 years young, she looks like she still has the endurance and ability to play for several more seasons. The seven-time WNBA All-Star’s nonchalant demeanor and friendliness are part of a dedication to the game that makes her the kind of teammate anyone would want to have.

There were two actually farewell games recognizing the sensational Smith. The first one took place on September 10 as the Liberty appropriately hosted Fan Appreciation Night. Playing in the final home game of her career, it was a chance for fans to celebrate her remarkable career.

Team captain Cheryl Ford (left) and Smith greet President Barack Obama after the Shock win the WNBA Finals (Photo credit: Alex Wong, Getty Images)

Team captain Cheryl Ford (left) and Smith greet President Barack Obama after the Shock win the WNBA Finals (Photo credit: Alex Wong, Getty Images)

The crowd at the Prudential Center in New Jersey gave her a standing ovation as the New York Liberty competed against the Phoenix Mercury. A video tribute of her career forced Smith to be stoic as she did not want to shed tears. She even joked about the varying hair styles over the years.

Presented with a framed USA Basketball jersey, WNBA president Laurel Richie was also in attendance.
For Diana Taurasi, the Mercury’s franchise player, Smith was a role model and a mentor when she started with USA Basketball. Having to guard Taurasi, Smith did a superlative job holding her to 4-of-13 shooting. As a postseason berth was on the line, Smith provided a 17 point output in front of the Liberty faithful. Despite her valiant effort, Phoenix prevailed by an 80-76 tally.

In 2011, Smith joined the defending WNBA champion Seattle Storm. In front of her is Sue Bird, who would win Summer Games gold with Smith as a teammate in 2004 and 2008. Aussie superstar Lauren Jackson hovers behind. Smith would finish with 255 points as the Storm had a 21-13 record (Associated Press Photo)

In 2011, Smith joined the defending WNBA champion Seattle Storm. In front of her is Sue Bird, who would win Summer Games gold with Smith as a teammate in 2004 and 2008. Aussie superstar Lauren Jackson hovers behind. Smith would finish with 255 points as the Storm had a 21-13 record (Associated Press Photo)

With the September 15 road match against the Washington Mystics signifying her final game, the fans showed a measure of class by applauding Smith. After exiting the contest with 39 seconds remaining, fans were chanting her name. Statistically, she registered seven points (along with one three-pointer) in a 70-52 loss.

Of note, Smith played one season for the Mystics in 2010. Yet, it was a season to remember as Smith helped the club to first place in the Eastern Conference, the only time that ever occurred in franchise history.

Appropriately, the head coach for the Liberty during Smith’s final season was Bill Laimbeer. The Detroit Pistons legend also served as bench boss for the WNBA’s Detroit Shock. Joining the Shock in a mid-season trade in 2005, Smith experienced a renaissance in her career.

With Laimbeer motivating Smith to reinvent herself as a point guard, she would compete in three consecutive WNBA finals, winning two (in 2006 and 2008). Complemented by an improved defensive play, it would help Smith extend her playing days. While competing for Detroit, she would experience several pinnacles that would help define her legacy.

Her father stands by her side during her final home game with the New York Liberty (Associated Press Photo by Julio Cortez)

Her father stands by her side during her final home game with the New York Liberty (Associated Press Photo by Julio Cortez)

During the first WNBA championship run of her career, she was named to the 2006 WNBA All-Star Game. Not only did she become the first player to win an All-Star Game as a member of the Eastern and Western Conference, she would finish the season as the first (and only) woman to have won ABL and WNBA championships. Following in 2007, she made more history as the first women’s pro basketball player to net 6,000 career points.

At the age of 34, she helped Detroit to a title, grabbed WNBA Finals MVP honors, while helping the United States win the gold medal at the 2008 Beijing Summer Games. Those accolades are just the tip of the iceberg in her glorious career. Including her statistics from the ABL, she is the all-time leading scorer in the history of women’s pro basketball in the United States.

Leaving a legacy of 6,446 points in the WNBA, along with 904 three-pointers, Smith’s versatility and ability to excel on the hardcourt resulted in being named one of the 15 Greatest Players in WNBA history.

Having gone back to Ohio State University, Smith is now working on a Master’s Degree in Dietetics. While the next logical step in Smith’s career would be coaching, the chance to do so with the Buckeyes would certainly help bring her journey in this game full circle.

Although her career has now become part of the WNBA’s storied past, those who had the chance to see her play were the recipients of a terrific present. One can only hope that basketball will give back with a future that shall see her part of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.