When the Chicago Sky played the Seattle Storm on Tuesday, Seattle forward Tina Thompson became the first player in WNBA history to score 7,000 career points.
Interestingly, there is also a Sky connection (albeit a loose one) to a Thompson scoring milestone that dates back to when she first became the league’s all-time leading scorer with 6,263 points in 2010.
Sky guard Ticha Penicheiro assisted on the basket that put Thompson over the top. Both were players for the Los Angeles Sparks at the time.
Over her 15-year WNBA career, Penicheiro has assisted on big baskets like Thompson’s, routine baskets and everything in between. In fact, she’s assisted on so many baskets that she is the all-time leader in assists in WNBA history with 2,597.
Now, Penicheiro could use some assistance herself.
She’s going to need all of her friends, teammates and fans to help her get through today’s season finale (7 p.m.) at Allstate Arena against the Washington Mystics. It will be an emotional roller coaster for her, and in all likelihood, there will be some tears involved.
The game will be the very last of Penicheiro’s storied career. She announced earlier this week that she plans to retire at the end of this season.
“I think it will be hard,” Penicheiro said of her last game, and retirement in general. “I knew this day would eventually come but it’s still sad. I have so much passion left for the game still.”
The heart may be there, but the body is another story.
Penicheiro is known for her incredible commitment to health and fitness, not to mention her durability. But for the first time in her career, she’s been spending more time in the training room than on the court. She’s missed 15 games this season due to various problems with her legs, ranging from the hamstrings to the calves.
“It’s been one thing after another and it’s been really hard to stay healthy and stay on the floor,” Penicheiro said. “I had always told everybody that I was going to walk away, not limp away. But that’s not what’s happening and it’s hard because that’s something you really can’t control. This season, I wasn’t able to play the game the way I know I can play it and the way I want to play it and I think that kind of helped me to make the decision.
“I also think it’s probably time. It’s been 15 years. I was injured this season probably for a reason. There are a lot of miles on this body.”
Penicheiro’s WNBA odometer started spinning in Sacramento. A coveted rookie out of Old Dominion in 1998, she started every game during her first season and missed just five starts and a total of only 27 games over her next 11 years in Sacramento.
She helped the Monarchs win the WNBA championship in 2005 and became the WNBA’s all-time leader in assists in 2008, often wowing crowds with her razzle dazzle passes.
“The passing is kind of a gift from God, I think, because it involves vision and instincts and that comes naturally,” Penicheiro said. “I always compare it to people who are born with the ability to draw. You can’t really teach that. You either have that talent or you don’t.
“I also started playing at a young age with guys. They were always trying to block my shot so I think I tried to pass more so I wouldn’t get my shot blocked.”
Penicheiro, the daughter of a basketball coach, grew up in Portugal, and made California a second home. After the Sacramento franchise folded in 2009, Penicheiro played two seasons in Los Angeles.
She was then picked up by the Sky via free agency last winter. Even though Penicheiro was in the twilight of her career, Sky coach Pokey Chatman saw her as a valuable acquisition for a team that was in need of veteran leadership.
“Ticha has such influence with her teammates, and not just in showing players like Courtney (Vandersloot) and Piph (Epiphanny Prince) guard skills. That’s obvious,” Chatman said. “It’s also off the court. Ticha has Piph eating salads now and she’s got people thinking more about their fitness and health and the way they work out.
“I didn’t know someone could positively affect a team so much and not see the court time.”
Penicheiro’s not sure if she’s ready to see absolutely no court time from here on out. But at least she knows she’s not leaving the WNBA empty handed.
“I’ll remember the championships and the individual accolades and the records. That stuff is all great,” Penicheiro said. “But those things don’t talk to me, they don’t hug me. It’s the friendships I’ve made that I’ll really cherish. Those are for life.
“I have friends I’ve met through basketball and they are my dearest friends. That’s the most important thing I’ll always keep with me from this experience.”
ŸPatricia Babcock McGraw has covered the Sky since its inaugural season in 2006. She is also the color analyst for all Sky television games, which are broadcast on Comcast CN100.Copyright © 2013 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.