Second Acts: Marion Jones/Nolan Richardson

David BurnettCorrespondent IMarch 11, 2010

The first headline I read the other day stated simply: Marion Jones Signs to Play for Tulsa Shock . First question I had was: who are the Tulsa Shock? Second question: is this the same Marion Jones?

What I discovered was that the Tulsa Shock are a newly re-located team in the WNBA, formerly known as the Detroit Shock. And Marion Jones is indeed the same Marion Jones.

If this was anyone else, I would dismiss this as a publicity stunt. And while I’m still not convinced that it isn’t, I really hope this marks a fair chance at redemption for a woman who was once considered one of the world’s greatest athletes.

Jones’ return to the basketball court was predicted by a few so-called basketball insiders months ago. But it was an easy sports guess. Where else athletically did she have to go? Still, she is 34-years-old and hasn’t played competitive basketball since she was the 18-year-old starting point guard for then national champion University of North Carolina.

But these days, “disgraced sprinter” are the two words most often used to describe Marion Jones. She was once the undisputed queen of track and field and according to most stopwatches, easily the world’s fastest woman. Jones, who admitted three years ago that she used performance-enhancing drugs during her record-setting years in track and field, was stripped of her Olympic medals and spent six months in a federal prison for perjury.

If Jones actually suits up to play this season, she will be coached by another former legend looking for a second chance, Nolan Richardson. Richardson was known for the swarming defense he coached that was appropriately dubbed “40-Minutes of Hell”. Richardson lead the University of Arkansas to the national championship in 1994 and lost in the championship game the next year.

But when Richardson accused the school of racism during an ugly contract dispute in 2002, his lofty ride as one of basketball’s elite coaches came to a crashing end. He lost his job and his prestige. No big-time college programs gave him serious consideration. The only coaching jobs Richardson could land were as the coach of the Panamanian and Mexican Olympic basketball teams.

By taking over the Shock, Richardson is back coaching in this country. Perhaps he can resurrect the former three-time WNBA championship team, help Marion Jones successfully return to sports, and clean off the tarnish that has stained his own career.

I’m a sucker for second acts. So I’m hoping that when the curtain rises at the start of the WNBA season in a couple of months, Jones and Richardson will have successful returns.

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