Sparks forward Chamique Holdsclaw, billed as “a female Michael Jordan” when she began her career in the WNBA in 1999, told team officials Sunday that she was retiring from basketball, effective immediately, after eight-plus seasons in the league.
“I’m really happy about it because I was honest with myself,” Holdsclaw said in a telephone interview Monday night. “I’ve been doing this for so long, I just want to do something else.”
Holdsclaw, who will turn 30 on Aug. 9 and had hinted at the possibility of retirement over the last few seasons, cited no specific reason for the decision and noted only general plans to spend time with family members and travel on her own, upon her retirement.
“I sort of just pulled the trigger on my own. I’ve thought about it over the last couple years, and last year, really, more than ever,” she said.
Holdsclaw, a six-time WNBA All-Star who was the Naismith women’s college basketball player of the year in 1998 and ’99, joined the Sparks in 2005 after a trade from the Washington Mystics, who had selected her first overall in the 1999 draft.
Her retirement leaves another major hole for the Sparks, who had started the 2007 season without three-time league most valuable player Lisa Leslie, who is 8 1/2 months pregnant with her first child.
Leslie’s absence, Holdsclaw said, was partly responsible for her own attempt to even make a go at the current season.
“I felt like I owed the organization,” she said. “Without Lisa, I knew it would have been a double-whammy. But after the first few games, it hit me really hard, and I wanted to be honest with myself and the organization, and not keep going out there, acting one way, but really, feeling like something else.”
Initial shock among teammates and Sparks officials was replaced Monday with a resolute determination to forge ahead without their superstars.
“It was a surprise,” said Sparks forward Murriel Page. “We were all like, ‘Are you serious?’ She’s the type of player that you can’t replace. Chamique knows she’s going to be missed. But you have to keep moving.”
Holdsclaw, the WNBA rookie of the year in 1999, led Tennessee to three NCAA titles in four years and is the all-time leading scorer and rebounder in school history.
The 6-foot-2 Holdsclaw was a member of the U.S. women’s basketball team that won a gold medal in the 2000 Olympics and spent six seasons with the Mystics before coming to Los Angeles.
This season, after signing a one-year deal in February for the league-maximum $93,000 annual salary, she led the Sparks (3-2) with a 15.6-point average while being called upon to play point guard in the absence of injured starter Temeka Johnson.
In 2006, Holdsclaw had taken a two-week leave of absence at the start of the season to return to her parents’ home in North Carolina after her father and stepfather were diagnosed with cancer.
After the death of her grandfather in 2004, Holdsclaw also missed several games with the Mystics near the end of that season because of a bout with depression for which she sought treatment. Holdsclaw insists, however, that there were no family or personal health issues involved with the decision to retire.
“There’s nothing going on. You have your good and bad days, but the place where I was a couple years ago, I haven’t been back to,” she said. “I’m not pregnant, I’m not going crazy, I’m not depressed, or anything like that. I’m fine, I just want to kind of kick back.”