TULSA, Okla. (AP) — Marion Jones’ path to stardom in the WNBA won’t be a sprint.
The former Olympic track star had little impact in limited playing time in her debut for Tulsa on Saturday night as the relocated Shock lost their inaugural game in their new hometown 80-74 to the Minnesota Lynx.
Jones, who won a national championship for North Carolina in college, made her return to basketball after more than a decade away. In between, she was stripped of her five Olympic track medals – including three golds – and served time in prison for lying to federal investigators.
Jones played less than 4 minutes and watched most of the action unfold from the bench.
Charde Houston scored 17 of her 21 points in the second half and Monica Wright added 18 points as Minnesota won in former Shock assistant Cheryl Reeve's debut as head coach.
The Lynx played without stars Candice Wiggins (knee) and Seimone Augustus (abdomen) but with Lindsay Whalen, the former University of Minnesota star picked up in an offseason trade. Whalen finished with 10 points, including two fadeaway jumpers to help hold off the Shock in the final 3 minutes, and six assists.
Jones was so amped up that she couldn’t settle down enough after shootaround to take a pregame nap.
When she arrived at the sold-out BOK Center, video cameras were waiting to film her as she walked in, wearing a light blue shirt and a dark blue bandanna around her neck. Minutes later, she had changed into a black warmup and was fielding questions from reporters in an interview room.
She spoke of having the same kind of butterflies as before she would hit the track and called it the realization of “a lifelong dream” to play pro basketball. She’s adjusting to the notion of having players 10 years younger make corrections to her game, and revels in the chance to play for a coach she’s heard people around town refer to as a king and a god.
It takes away some of the spotlight that’s been shined on her from around the globe, from people interested in the next chapter for a woman who was once among the most recognizable female athletes in the world.
“Certainly after being away from the sport for so long and how much the game has changed and improved, there are going to be some bumps in the road,” Jones said. “And whenever there are bumps, you kind of would like to do that quietly.”
Beyond the sellout crowd, WNBA commissioner Donna Orender flew in to see Jones and Tulsa make their debuts. She offered Jones an embrace and a simple message: “Make magic.”
Then it was time to get ready for the game.
Jones started out on the bench but Richardson quickly went to a lineup of reserves as the Shock fell behind 10-2. Jones committed her first foul just 3 seconds into her career, while trying to guard Monica Wright on the right wing. Then, Wright bullied past her for a layup.
That 2-minute segment ended up being her longest stint on the court. She played only 3 minutes, 19 seconds and the foul was her only statistical contribution.
“It’s a new beginning,” Jones said before the game. “Doing the sport that I love, that I’m passionate about. More than that, I mean, we can read into that as much as we want, but it’s a new beginning for me.”
Tulsa rallied back with a 14-0 run late in the second quarter to get within one at halftime. Shanna Crossley’s 3-pointer in the opening minute of the second half put Tulsa up 39-38, but that would end up being the only lead of the game for the Shock.
Hamchetou Maiga-Ba hit a pair of jumpers as Minnesota scored the next six points to go back ahead to stay.
The team’s highest-profile offseason acquisition was Jones, who at 34 is the league's oldest rookie.
“Thrilled doesn't even touch the surface of just how happy I am, and things are kind of coming together,” Jones said. “The first part of my journey, which was to make the team, has been realized. now we are on the road to trying to do the unthinkable – or what most people think is the unthinkable – bring a championship back to Tulsa.
“We don’t think that is the unthinkable.”
Photo: Marion Jones