The list of statistics and honors that Tina Thompson has compiled is all I would require to make a case that she is in fact the fifth greatest WNBA player of all time. However, the reason Thompson is so high on this list is not all because of her statistics, but rather the manner in which she attained them.
Consistency and versatility, born of work ethic and passion for the game are the hallmarks of Thompson's brilliant career.
The most impressive of her statistics is that in 2010, her 14th year as a charter member of the WNBA, Tina Thompson scored 16.6 points per game, .4 more points than her career average. She also yanked down 6.2 rebounds per game which is only .4 rebounds per game less than her career average.
In addition, Thompson posted her exact career average in assists and blocked shots while posting just .1 less than her career average in steals per game in 2010. There are very few athletes in any sport who continue to play at a high level in their 14th year as a professional. Tina Thompson did and there is a strong possibility she'll be back for 15th year.
Thompson says that the secret behind her longevity and consistent efficacy is versatility.
The thought of a three point shooter generally brings to mind the image of a player posing at the three point line to display her follow-through as she watches to see the results of her handiwork. These are not images generally associated with the dirty work that must be done to be the all-time great rebounder. Thompson is one of the best ever in both of these disparate categories.
Thompson is one of the few basketball players of either gender who is a proficient scorer in both the low post, catching the ball with her back to the basket, and from three point range. Thompson thinks that it's this versatility that enabled her to last long enough to be an all-time great
Tina Thompson’s all-time rankings and statistics
No.1 all-time in total points (6,413)
Third all time in total rebounds (2,616)
Third all time in three point field goals made (604)
Fifth all-time in free throws made (1,279)
Selected to the all WNBA team eight times
Select to the WNBA all decade team in 2005
Questions and Answers with Tina Thompson
1. Do you believe that you have a role in the history of women's sports in the United States?
Thompson: "That's a hard question because I don't think that way and I never asked myself the question. I'm 35 years old and nearing the end of my career and I'm getting lots of questions about my legacy. I don't think about how something I do will affect my legacy."
"I just know that if I work as hard as I can and give my best effort that I'll have no regrets. I don't make all my shots, but no one can ever question my effort."
"I've never been a player that wanted to see my stats after the game. I don't play to be an All-Star or to be MVP because when you do it takes the game out of context and you lose perspective."
If you're playing to get enough points to get you into the All-Star game you’re playing for statistics not playing to win."
2. Do you believe you will be inducted into the basketball Hall of Fame?
Thompson: "If you're playing to get enough points to get you into the All-Star game you’re not playing to win. No one remembers who’s second. You can’t be first unless your whole team is first. If you win the honors will come.
I suppose it would be nice to be in the Hall of Fame, I just never thought about.
3. Who was your role model when you were growing up?
Thompson: "My parents and my brother. I told my mother a little white lie. I told her that I wanted to play basketball so I could be with my brother and his friends."
"My brother was very critical of my game and used to irritate me when I was a kid. Now that I'm an adult I appreciate it. I had games where I had 30 points and 20 rebounds and my brother would say yes "but you missed two free throws and they were free."
"At the community center where I grew up, only the good players got to play inside the gym. Outside was concrete, with hard rims and chain nets."
"I was always the tallest girl, but I wasn't as big and strong as the boys so I learned to shoot from the outside so I wouldn't be overpowered. After I was good enough to play inside, my brother said, 'what are you going to do when people start guarding you out there. You won't move because you can't dribble.' So I learned how to dribble."
Being versatile is part of why I've had longevity in the game.
5. You grew up in an era before there was a WNBA, what were your goals when you were little girl and what drove you to be a great basketball player?
Thompson: "When I was growing up I wanted to be a lawyer and a judge. I played basketball because I competed with my older brother at everything. I never aspired to be a professional basketball player."
"When I was in seventh grade I found out I could get a scholarship to pay for my education. I wanted to go to Harvard but my family couldn't afford that and Harvard didn't have a girls basketball program. I had the choice between USC and Stanford and I chose USC."
6. What are your plans after you retire?
Thompson: "I'd like to be a color analyst (TV commentator) but I'm definitely going back to school to pursue a law degree."
7. What advice would you give to a little girl who said she wanted to be like you?
Thompson: "Aspire to be better than me, work hard and never stop learning. Once you stop learning you’ve lost."