- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Alexandria native Kara Lawson, 34, is in her 13th season in the WNBA and second with the Washington Mystics. Lawson’s career has been unique. She has played professionally since she was 23 years old, but also worked in television. Currently also an analyst for ESPN, she spoke with The Washington Times about playing at that stage, women in broadcasting and what changes she would make to the league.

Question: What keeps bringing you back to play more?
Answer: The first thing is, I really enjoy doing it. I love the game. For me, toward the end of my career, to have a chance to play in my hometown, to play for [Mystics coach] Mike [Thibault], who I really enjoy playing for — [I] played for [him] up in Connecticut. I feel like I’m learning, I’m improving as a player. I just figure, as long as I feel like I can contribute, I’d love to be out there.

Q: How is your body responding?
A: I feel good. We only play the 34-game schedule in the WNBA. What those guys do in the NBA is a ton. Fortunately, for me, I haven’t had to go overseas in my career. A lot of our players are actually logging more games than the NBA guys do by virtue of combining the two seasons. I’ve only played 34 games because I’ve been doing the broadcasting. I feel really good. Obviously, stuff takes a little longer than it used to. I have to spend more time warming up and cooling down. Make sure I get my rest and recovery. I just have to be more in tune with my body than I did say 10 years ago.

Q: What were some of the early lessons you learned when you moved into broadcasting?
A: The thing about the WNBA is we play opposite the traditional basketball season. So, that enabled me to cover the traditional basketball season. Most athletes are retired; most, if not all, are retired before they cover their sport. And I was able to start, at 23, doing both full-time. What that enabled me to do is get an incredible foundation and learn a lot. I don’t know if you believe in [Malcolm] Gladwell’s 10,000-hour rule, where you kind of get a lot of stuff [and learn], well, I just got a ton of reps very early. So, by the time people started to see me, on a national basis, I had actually already done my 10,000 hours. It looked like I was polished and it looked like I had it all together. At the beginning, I was fortunate enough not only to work with ESPN at 23, but I worked with the Sacramento Kings and their local TV package. So, I was doing 70 NBA games a year just locally, so nobody was seeing me except, like, Sacramento. I think that’s where I really learned TV. When you do 70 nights of television year after to year — I worked about 3 1/2 seasons for the Kings until my ESPN schedule got too hard to do both, I was getting more and more opportunities at the national level, so I had to stop doing the Kings — but I think that’s how I learned.

Q: How do you view the role of female basketball broadcasters? Has that market opened?
A: I think the market has opened up a lot. It’s been open first to reporters, right? We saw kind of an influx of female reporters 15 years ago. I think in the last five years, we’ve seen a lot of increase in terms of hosting. Sage Steele, Hannah [Storm] has done hosting, you look at Rebecca Lowe at NBC doing the Premier League, there’s a lot of people that have been able to break in and do that. The analyst, I don’t want to call it the last frontier, but it’s coming a lot slower than the other two. I’m trying to think in terms of analysts, outside of Doris [Burke] and myself, I don’t know if there are other analysts. Julie Foudy did some World Cup, Jessica Mendoza does some Baseball Tonight. It’s still slow on the analyst side. I think sometimes people look at television and say, “Look at all the women doing stuff.” It’s great. There are, but for the role that I do, there’s not.

Q: Did you ever worry about the opinion of the people you are critiquing, such as other players?
A: I just think you’re honest. You’re honest with your opinions and true to yourself. It’s so subjective. Everyone’s style is different, in how they cover and talk about games. I just like to say what I see. If a team or a player is doing something well, there’s a reason why they’re doing something well, so tell people what it is they’re doing well. If someone is performing poorly, there’s a reason why they’re performing poorly. Whether it’s something they’re doing or something the opponent’s doing. It’s my job to point that out. It has nothing to do with what I feel about a player, what I feel about a team, what I feel about a university. It has everything to do with doing your job. So, I’ve never before I said something thought, “I wonder how this is going to go over.” Because I just say what I see, as soon as I see it. I don’t have time to edit or anything like that. There are certain issues that sometimes come up within a sport, that you do think about it. A lot of times, if it’s off-the-court issues, something with the NCAA or stuff with a player getting in trouble or a coach getting in trouble, there are issues that are kind of outside the lines where, yeah, you do have to put a great deal of thought into what your stance is going to be and what you feel about it. I find I spend more time thinking about those types of issues.

Q: When you see a star like Diana Taurasi take the WNBA season off because of her overseas commitments, does that concern you?
A: I wasn’t surprised. I knew that was coming. Something that I’ve known is coming for a long time. Players are burned out. You get to the point where you’re Diana’s age [33] and you’ve been playing year-round, you get to your late 20s as a player, you’ve been doing that year-round thing, you’ve got to take time off. It’s a simple economic question. Somebody’s been paying you, you know, $100,000 for six months and someone is paying $1 million for the other six months and you need to take six months off, what six months are you going to take off? Right? Everybody’s going to make the same decision. Nobody is upset with Diana, from the players’ perspective. It just makes financial sense for her to be able to prolong her career and there’s a number of players that are doing it this year in some form or fashion. It’s not just Diana. Candace Parker is taking part of the season off. Janel McCarville, she’s taking the summer off. It only really applies to a certain percentage of players in our league, a small percentage of players in our league. The ones that have those overseas contracts that are so much larger than WNBA contracts. Not everybody is making that type of money overseas. But, the ones that do, I think it is always going to be there until the salaries are at a point where it’s a harder decision.

Q: If you had the power to make changes in the WNBA, what would you change?
A: Most of my changes would be more player-centric, because I’m a player and that’s how I’ve always participated in this league and I don’t know a lot of the business side of things because there’s two sides. There’s the ownership side and the players’ side. For me, as a player, I would try to have, kind of like the NBA has done, less back-to-backs. We have a schedule where we just played a back-to-back to open the season, then we didn’t play for six days. We have the gaps in our season to be able to stretch games out. For some reason, we just have clumps of games, then we have stretches where we play like two games in 13 days. If you look at our schedule, you’ll see it. It happens in June, it happens in August. Then, all of a sudden, you play five in nine. That takes its toll. Particularly for us, because we fly commercially. We have to get up at 6 a.m. and get the Southwest Airlines flight and get to the next city.

Q: Is your 2008 Olympic gold medal your biggest winning achievement?
A: Certainly, that’s the top of our sport. That’s as good as it gets. That’s probably my greatest accomplishment, is being a part of that team and winning. For me, there is a lot of satisfaction to contribute. Not just be on the team, but being somebody the team depended on to help make plays. … I just love playing. I look back on my career, I’m like, “Man, I’ve gotten to do what I always wanted to do since I was 5 or 6 years old, and that’s just play basketball.” I wake up every day, and my job is to drive into Verizon Center — which I remember when it was built — I used to go to Cap Center and watch the Bullets play over in Landover. My job now is actually in this arena. It’s just an incredible feeling for me to play here in my hometown.

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