Sheryl Swoopes, Tamera Young featured in pieces for The Players’ Tribune

Sheryl holding her iconic shoe, the Air Swoopes.

There has been no shortage of compelling women’s basketball content over the years at the Players’ Tribune. From its New York Liberty piece to Nneka Ogwumike’s “Bet on Women” words to Sabrina Ionescu’s announcement that she was returning to Oregon for her senior year to Liz Cambage opening up on her mental health issues to Breanna Stewart’s #MeToo story.

One of the latest Players’ Tribune series goes into the “real story” behind some of sports’ biggest names. Among those it profiles were Allen Iverson, Terrell Owens (who is the series’ executive producer), Eddy Curry, Jamal Crawford, Gracie Gold and Vince Young.

Another features Sheryl Swoopes, who with Tina Thompson and Cynthia Cooper formed the WNBA’s original dynasty with the Houston Comets that won four championships from 1997-2000.

Swoopes currently is an assistant coach with the Texas Tech Red Raiders women’s basketball program, but looked back on her heyday with Houston and how she has hoped to cope with her life after playing basketball.

That journey began in Brownfield which is in the southern part of the Texas panhandle. Swoopes reflected on those pickup games with her brothers and how things would get intense.

It was serious. It was the NBA Finals every Sunday.

–Sheryl Swoopes (The Players’ Tribune)

Growing up, Swoopes had aspirations to make it big, but she believed at one point she would be a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader. She always told herself that her hoop dreams could set her up for bigger and better things.

When she first got wind of a WNBA, she asked if it would be a reality. At the time, she was preparing for the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta where she was part of a Team USA that left the Peach State with gold medals. Along with Swoopes, Dawn Staley, Jennifer Azzi, Lisa Leslie and a cavalcade of other women’s basketball greats were on that team.

I had never been around so much talent and incredible players on one team.

–Sheryl Swoopes (The Players’ Tribune)

For those that participated in the 1996 Games, the prime directive was to put women’s basketball in the fore font of mainstream consciousness – not simply to depart from the ATL with the gold medals.

Then – word spread fast of the WNBA’s formation – and Swoopes was the first player to sign a contract with the new professional women’s league.

Swoopes then got pregnant.

I was so torn. I felt like I’m letting the league down, I’m letting that ’96 team down, I’m letting all these young women down. I was crushed.

–Sheryl Swoopes (The Players’ Tribune)

Swoopes had the child and was given a clean bill of health by her doctors. But she wanted to wear that Houston Comets uniform as a display of how tough a woman can be in fighting through what can be an adverse situation.

I think one of the toughest parts of being an athlete and being pregnant is the uncertainty. And … the uncertainty of will I ever be able to come back and not only be the player I was prior to the pregnancy, but for me it was about being better…

–Sheryl Swoopes (The Players’ Tribune)

She credited her mother with easing some of the stress that being a mother while playing basketball can have mentally as well as physically. She admitted that she would leave the floor prior to halftime for some games to temporarily substitute her players’ headband for her mom cap.

Swoopes talked about how the glitz and glamour of being a pro athlete also comes with its drawbacks – namely, getting so caught up in the attention and the media scrutiny that one can forget that athletes are human beings first and foremost.

When the ball no longer dribbles, the jersey is hung up and the final buzzer has sounded on one’s career, that can leave some professional ballers thinking about the future.

One thing that I personally have always struggled with is being Sheryl Swoopes. When I’m no longer on this earth, people are going to talk about, ‘Yeah, Sheryl Swoopes was a great basketball player. She did this, she was that, she was a Hall of Famer.’ But what are people going to say about Sheryl?

–Sheryl Swoopes (The Players’ Tribune)

She said she came to terms with being “Sheryl” a few years ago. She may not have grown up envisioning things like her own signature shoe – the Air Swoopes, but that she hopes future generations of young girls can believe in themselves.

I always say there’s a little girl out there somewhere, that looks like me, that is probably questioning herself saying, ‘What am I going with my life?’ I would tell her to be the best version of herself that she can be.

–Sheryl Swoopes (The Players’ Tribune)

In recent days, Air Swoopes was not the only notable from the W’s current or previous ranks to be featured on The Players’ Tribune.

Tamera Young of the Las Vegas Aces wrote about how her upbringing led her to pursue basketball and that she has as much of an eye for fashion as she does the game.

Young wrote how her mother used to have her wear dresses and that she lived in a small town in North Carolina where everyone adhered to traditions. As she evolved into her later years, she began arriving at an epiphany.

You get released out into the world, and it’s new and exciting and liberating, and you sort of discover yourself. You get to define who you are, whatever that is, however you want to define it.

–Tamera Young (The Players’ Tribune)

She got a job as a teenager where she was making her own money – and put that towards experimenting with different styles – including tattoos (even if her mother did not approve). When she went to James Madison, she began finding herself and expressing herself through her wardrobe, her tattoos and the game of basketball.

Young was confident that even though James Madison was not a “blue-blood” women’s basketball school like UConn, Tennessee or Stanford that she would be good enough to draw the attention of the WNBA.

And they did.

–Tamera Young (The Players’ Tribune)

Her transition was the same as many who make it into the W’s ranks. She had to get used to being “the” star with James Madison to being a role player in the pros.

Everybody I was playing with had also been the go-to at their college. So my team didn’t necessarily need me to score all the time. They needed me to contribute in other ways.

–Tamera Young (The Players’ Tribune)

She was drafted eighth overall by the Atlanta Dream in the 2008 draft before playing on a Chicago Sky team from 2009-17 that would later draft a young kid out of Delaware by the name of Elena Delle Donne.

My coach was like, ‘You rebound and play defense, or you don’t play.’ And I vividly remember one game where I had like 10 points in the first quarter. I was playing my game, feelin’ myself, and then coach pulled me out and said, ‘I told you: I want you to rebound and play defense.’

–Tamera Young (The Players’ Tribune)

For the rest of that game, she was relegated to the bench. It also felt as if she had to find herself all over again after being so used to being a scorer. She came to terms with this reality because she always knew it was her dream to play in the WNBA.

Finding herself not only meant finding herself as a player but her own style. Young wrote that she shopped in the men’s department since she began buying her own clothes as a teenager.

At first, it was out of necessity. I was so slim and tall that it was tough for me to find girls’ jeans that fit. But the clothes in the men’s department also really fit my personality. They were more swaggy than anything I could find in the women’s department. And eventually, I sort of developed my own style. I call it tomboy chic.

–Tamera Young (The Players’ Tribune)

Young’s style, she writes is to blend boys’ fit with a woman’s touch via jewelry and other apparel, whether it is wearing casual or business clothes. It is all part of her way of expressing herself as a woman.

No matter what I wear or what part of the store it comes from, I’m still going to put my T.Y. swag on it.

–Tamera Young (The Players’ Tribune)

She attributes the start of her clothing line to when she played for the Sky and she would be asked where fans could buy her jersey. Her jersey was not available, she wrote, because she was not a superstar player, so she began making shirts with her name on them and they were a huge hit.

Then she expanded into other apparel – and it became her own business. Her TY1 Gear brand along with her basketball career have made Young extremely successful. Basketball player, business owner … and role model, which Young writes practically occurred by accident.

I know that young people out there are inspired by professional athletes. They try to emulate us on the court, the same way I did when I was coming up, modeling my game after Teresa Weatherspoon and trying to ball like MJ. But now, with social media and with all the access young people have to athletes, they try to emulate us off the court, too.

–Tamera Young (The Players’ Tribune)

Among her stylistic influences are Rihanna and Pharrell – two celebrities who certainly know a thing or two about performing good and looking good (and confident). Jewelry is another aspect of her wear Young believes is an expression of who she is.

Even when I was younger and my siblings are older, so I used to take my sister’s jewelry. I used to steal it, actually because she didn’t know. And I would try to wear it, but it was too big and then I would end up losing it. So I would get caught and get in trouble. So, I’ve always had a thing for jewelry.

–Tamera Young (The Players’ Tribune)

Knowing young people want to emulate her basketball play and her fashion sense is something Young looks at with a great deal of responsibility. She wants the real her to come through every time someone sees her, and that real her is anything but perfect.

We’re all human. We all cry. We all have failures and we all make mistakes. I’m no exception. So I don’t shy away from talking about the struggles I go through, like having to swallow my pride and be more of a role player instead of the go-to scorer I set out to be.

–Tamera Young (The Players’ Tribune)

When all is said and done, she believes it is all worth it because it has given her a chance to live out her dreams playing professional basketball with the premier women’s hoops league that there is. She believes that the No. 1 element to everything is maintaining that confidence in oneself.

Because if you don’t believe in yourself … how do you expect anybody else to believe in you? You can’t.

–Tamera Young (The Players’ Tribune)

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