By Charles Hallman
Nykesha Sales is a WNBA legend, a term that both her former league and the NBA these days uses to tell us that once-active players are now retired.
But the six-foot forward-guard and former seven-time all-star last week told the MSR by phone from Venezuela that she hasn’t yet hung up her sneakers. Sales was there working with young people in Caracas and three other cities in Venezuela for the U.S. State Department’s SportsUnited Envoy program.
“A lot of people say I’m retired, but I’m actually still playing — just not in the WNBA,” Sales pointed out. “I just got home from Latvia maybe a month and a half ago” after her club won that country’s league championship. She also played in Turkey, the Czech Republic, Lithuania and Poland and has been a multi-time all-star since 2007.
Sales grew up watching Teresa Edwards and Cheryl Miller, two of the game’s leading legends. She and others of her generation duly took notice.
“Because of how good they were and their dedication to the game, we were able to continue to play,” noted Sales of her and other female players of her generation who weren’t sure that the WNBA wouldn’t be just another start-and-fail attempt at a U.S. pro league.
However, after a stellar collegiate career at Connecticut, Sales said she was “just being in the right league at the right time” when she joined the WNBA in 1999. She was selected and then coached in her first three pro seasons by Carolyn Peck, then the new Orlando (now Connecticut) expansion club’s first head coach and general manager.
“I don’t think she got enough credit only because she was there a few years [1999-2002], and the team didn’t last very long [there],” believes Sales on Peck’s role in building the foundation of the team that this year celebrates its 10th WNBA season.
“She definitely did great things with our team. I think just because she didn’t stay in the league as long as a coach could be the reason” for Peck’s accomplishments being overlooked, surmised Sales, one of her former players.
Since 2004, the NBA and WNBA have partnered with SportsUnited, a sports exchange program at the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. NBA and WNBA players have visited over 40 countries doing basketball clinics for thousands of youngsters and coaches, stressing both hoops and the importance of education, health, and respect for others.
Sales and current NBAer and native Venezuelan Greivis Vasquez taught hoops “and life skills” to the youngsters May 28—June 1.
Finally, on the legend talk: “Sometimes it’s good to be thought of or known as a legend,” admits Sales. “I’m just one of those players who love the game and accomplished a lot in my career, so if you want to call me a legend, that’s fine.”
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.