Sunday, October 14, 2012

Mama Taj

Tonight, at Target Center in Minneapolis, Taj McWilliams-Franklin, will play in a basketball game with the Minnesota Lynx. Big deal? As we say here in Minnesota, “You betcha!”
by Charlie Leck

I don’t write fan letters. I think I’ve written only one. It was to the late Harmon Killebrew after he retired from his awesome baseball career so many years ago. Yet, I sat down yesterday and worked on a hand-written note to Taj.

Oh, my! What a career! And no one is saying, yet, that it is over. I wouldn’t be shocked if she comes back and plays another year. Yet, I secretly doubt it. It appears she’ll begin a job as an assistant basketball coach at Rice University. So, I wanted to get my little note off to her, to tell her I think she’s one of the most extraordinary phenomena in sports.

Our Minnesota Lynx will begin their quest for a second straight WNBA Championship tonight at the Target Center. Taj McWilliams-Franklin will line up at her usual spot and give it her all in this championship series (best of five). I’ll be hooting and hollering for her and her teammates, but mostly for her – because I think she’s quite a dame. She’ll turn 42 in a week – a beautiful, remarkable 42.

Mama Taj is what the President called her on her recent visit to the White House with her teammates. That’s what her fellow players call her, too. She’s a mama, you know! She has three kids. She lives in San Antonio with them and her husband; but for another week she’s gonna work, doing what she does with so much enthusiasm it virtually oozes out of her. It’s a joy to watch her push herself to keep up with the virtual kids who surround her. You know, she’ll pile up a bunch more impressive statistics to add to the huge stack she’s already got. Start with two WNBA Championships and then watch her toil like a regular blue-collar, lunch bucket carrying construction worker, just doin’ her job as she tries to get another. Talk about stats…

Played in over 500 games in professional basketball
Played in over 60 post-season games (more than any other WNBA player)
14 seasons as a league player (more than any other player)
All-time league leader in offensive rebounds with over 3,000
Scored more than 5,000 points in the league

And, you know what else? She’s a beauty. When that woman smiles I think she’s one of the most beautiful human beings I’ve ever seen. She smiles with her whole being and her eyes sparkle and flash and her cheeks brighten and she just looks warm and loving.

She’s a great sport, too. That doesn’t mean she won’t play tough and rough ‘cause she really will. But, she knows it’s a game and she’s aware that there has to be a winner and a loser. Though she wants to win with all her might, she also knows how to lose like a champion.

When I wrote to Harmon, I told him he was one of the finest gentlemen and sportsmen who ever played the game of professional baseball. He was a grand citizen that made his community proud of him.

So is Taj. She’s a lovely lady and a great sport. It will be a treat to watch her in this series because she’ll give it her absolute all – everything she’s got ‘til the final game runs out of time. Then she’ll go home to the kids and the hubby and I’ll bet she does a championship job taking care of them, too.

Good luck, Mama, I’ll be cheering for you.

In case you’d like to see a short video of Taj in a press interview at the start of this year’s season, I’ve posted one below. It will give you a real glimpse into Taj's personality and loveliness.

Taj McWilliams-Franklin
Here’s a few more bits and pieces of information you might find interesting…

Attended high school in Augusta, Georgia
Attended both Georgia State University and St. Edwards University
NAIA Player of the Year in 1993
Holds school record at St. Edwards in total points and single season points
Began playing European Women’s Basketball in 1993.
Played in Germany (93-94), Luxembourg (94-95) and Israel (95-96)
She’s also played on women’s professional teams in Italy, the Czech Republic, Korea and Russia
She was on the 1998 USA World Championship Team and the 1997 Silver Medal Team
She was drafted in 1996 by the Richmond-Philadelphia Rage of the American Basketball League
She began her WNBA career in 1999 with the Orlando Miracle and played with them for 4 years
In 2005 she was named winner of the Kim Perrot Sportsmanship Award
In 2007 she began playing for the Los Angeles Sparks in the WNBA
Before coming to the Wolves, she also played for the Washington Mystics, the Detroit Shock and the New York Liberty
She came to Minnesota, to play for the Lynx in 2011 and led them to the league championship
She started 33 of the 34 regular season games in 2011
She’s 6’-2” tall
She is a vegan and attributes it to prolonging her basketball career

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