When Sheryl Swoopes was unceremoniously waived from from the Seattle Storm in February, it was a kick in the gut to women’s basketball fans everywhere — especially lesbians. Swoopes was the matriarch of the WNBA, and one of the only openly gay women in the league. So it warms the crusty cockles of my cynical heart to tell you that she is returning to the court this weekend in an exhibition game against the University of Montana.
Swoopes will be playing with Northwest Sports, an amateur traveling team — but if you’re imagining her huffing-and-puffing up and down the floor like a has-been Big Bad Wolf, think again: Swoopes has been working out daily in hopes of getting picked up by a WNBA team in 2010.
This summer she told The Seattle Times: “I honestly feel like the opportunity is still there. I feel like I should be playing and I could really be helping a team right now. I’m not retired!”
In addition to training, she’s been hosting youth camps, running Boys and Girls Clubs, coaching a middle school and AAU team and still putting in WNBA publicity appearances in Seattle.
In fact, it was after a day of community outreach back in February when Storm coach Brian Agler called to tell Swoopes she was being cut from the team. Just thinking about it gives me rage all over again. (Re-rage!)
Swoopes’ stats over the last few seasons don’t tell the whole story. Yes, she’d been scoring less. And yes, she’d missed games due to injury. And yes, she’s 38 years old this year. But she was one of the most recognizable names in the WNBA. She coached little league, she signed autographs, she rang the Christmas bell for the Salvation Army. And she put fans in seats.
The problem is that WNBA teams cut their rosters from 13 to 11 players to free up money under the salary cap and “bring parity to the game.” (The greatest buzz phrase in the history of women’s basketball.) And because of her contract with the CBA, Swoopes has to make within 4 percent of the league’s maximum salary ($99,500).
She understands that GMs are reluctant to give her another shot after her back surgery, but as she is quick to point out, Swin Cash went down with back surgery last year, and she turned it around and won the All-Star MVP trophy.
Does Swoopes deserve another shot in the WNBA? Absolutely. Will she get it? It’s hard to say. But this weekend, at least, she’ll be entertaining a crowd at the University of Montana. This weekend, at least, all will be right in the world of women’s basketball.