From 1999 to 2004, two different versions of Chamique Holdsclaw played in Washington D.C.
The first version was drafted by the Washington Mystics first overall in 1999 out of Tennessee and started in the inaugural WNBA All-Star game as a rookie. Holdsclaw led the team to two playoff appearances, and averaged 18.4 points and 9.1 rebounds a game during her tenure. She created so much buzz and excitement for women’s professional basketball in Washington D.C. that the Mystics led the league in attendance five out of her six years with the team, averaging well over 15,000 fans per game (close to what the Wizards averaged during that same span, until someone named Jordan came back and spiked the numbers). Attendance banners were put up in the Verizon Center to recognize this achievement, and this was largely due to Holdsclaw.
But in 2004, another side of Holdsclaw began to emerge, and the positive press about her began to subside. She missed a series of games down the stretch during the 2004 season, and rumors swirled about whether she was pregnant, suffering from some type of drug addiction, or just plain unhappy with playing in Washington. Just a few months after the season ended, Sally Jenkins of the Washington Post, broke the story that Holdsclaw had been diagnosed with depression, and she had been too ashamed to speak up about it earlier. She never wore a Mystics uniform again.
Since she left D.C., Holdsclaw has played for three WNBA different teams (Los Angeles Sparks, Atlanta Dream and her current team, the San Antonio Silver Stars), a Polish women’s basketball team called TS Wisla Can-Pack Krakow, and she also retired for two seasons.
When Holdsclaw’s Silver Stars took on the Washington Mystics last Thursday, I asked her about how she felt about returning to Washington, D.C., her reaction to Ted Leonsis’ decision to remove the attendance banners, and what effect Diana Taurasi’s possible departure from the WNBA would have on the league overall.
Rashad Mobley: Diana Taurasi came out and said that she’s thinking about taking a year off, because playing both overseas and in the WNBA is putting a strain on her body. You’ve done both as well, so can you talk about what that does to your body physically and mentally?
Chamique Holdsclaw: It’s really tough mentally and physically playing all year long. I know a lot of players who have done it and there comes a point when you either have to take half of the overseas season off and play the second or just not play in the WNBA period. I know players like Deanna Nolan who decided not to play in the WNBA, and I know I took two years off and it was great for me–although I had some other personal issues in my life to sort out. But still, it was great for me physically. So for a player like Taurasi to say that she’s not going to play in the WNBA, and she’s one of the best players in the world, and she makes more money overseas too? I can see where this could become a trend among other players.
Mobley: And if she did leave, would you worry about the future and stability of the WNBA overall?
Holdsclaw: Oh definitely, because you need those players, you need big names like the Taurasis, the Lauren Jacksons and the Cappie Poindexters. Those are the young players we need to help this league continue to thrive. If not, we’ll have up and coming players like Maya Moore and Brittney Griner, who will say “I’m not playing in the WNBA at all.” Like Epiphanny Prince, who out of college, skipped the WNBA and went straight to play for one of the Russian teams and everyone was like “Oh my God, this is going to be a trend!” But the real money is overseas, so it’s a real possibility that a trend towards playing overseas might happen and the WNBA could be in trouble.
Mobley: Talk about coming back to Washington D.C., and the thoughts and feelings that came to mind when you walked back in the Verizon Center.
Holdsclaw: It’s great coming back here just to see my friends, and I have a lot of family in the area too, so it’s great spending time with them. I walk around D.C. and people say, “Hey ‘Mique what’s up?” so they still remember me and it’s a great feeling. I had a great six years here and I decided it was best for me to move on, but its always fun coming back.
Mobley: How did you feel about Ted Leonsis taking the attendance banners down earlier this summer, especially since you were so instrumental in them initially going up?
Holdsclaw: You know I’m actually friends with one of the season tickets holders and they were kind of pissed about it. But I totally understand why a new owner would have new goals and new standards. He’s the owner and it’s his organization now. But I also realize that attendance has really taken a serious hit here in D.C. at Mystics games. I asked someone for tickets today, and they were like, “Sur,e no one comes to the games.” And it’s kind of disheartening, because I remember when this place [the Verizon Center] was packed for our games.
Mobley: Have you given an thought as to what you’ll do once you retire from playing basketball?
Holdsclaw: Well, when I was younger, I didn’t think I would want to coach and stuff like that, but now I definitely want to. If I could go back to Tennessee and coach with Coach Summit, that would be a dream come true. But I don’t know if I want to be a college coach, because all of my friends who are coaches, say it’s time consuming. I’m pretty laid back and all that, but I could see myself going to high school and making an impact with the youth.