The Pursuit Of Happiness

(Erik S. Lesser - The Washington Post)
By Marc Carig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 15, 2007

Chamique Holdsclaw made a promise to herself nearly three years ago this month, shortly after coming to terms with events that led to a defining moment in her life.

While a member of the Washington Mystics, the basketball star struggled to cope with the death her grandmother. Holdsclaw grew to resent the rigors of the game, a hectic grind that she blamed for not allowing her enough time to grieve the person who had raised her in a housing project in Astoria, Queens. She reacted with what she had learned within the confines of the sports culture, bottling up her emotions until she couldn't hide them anymore.

Then, it all overwhelmed her. In July 2004, she isolated herself from her team, disappearing without explanation, which only fueled public speculation that pushed an intensely private person into the spotlight. Later, Holdsclaw received a diagnosis of clinical depression and was traded in 2005 by the Mystics, the team that had selected her No. 1 overall in the 1999 WNBA draft after she was hailed as the female Michael Jordan.

In the aftermath, she vowed that she would never again hold in her emotions, that she would trust herself to do whatever it took to be happy. Yet, as a member of the Los Angeles Sparks, she noticed herself falling into a similar pattern. She despised the grind. Again, she kept it mostly to herself, until she rose one morning last month.

"At that point in time, I just knew," Holdsclaw said over the phone from Atlanta as she explained her reason for retiring from the WNBA. "There was no explosion, not me going crazy, or anyone having to call me 10 times to calm me down or anything."

In the city where Holdsclaw was once the face of women's basketball, the best players in the world will gather today for the 2007 WNBA All-Star Game. The game could have been a homecoming for Holdsclaw. Instead, the six-time WNBA all-star has stepped away from the game that had taken her from Astoria to a storied college career at Tennessee and a professional championship in Krakow, Poland.

Holdsclaw admitted that the timing of her decision was unfortunate -- five games into the season. When asked what she would change in her career, Holdsclaw said she would have grabbed some of the lifelines that were thrown to her by friends during her turmoil in Washington. But she also concedes that without that difficult time, she would not have arrived at the point where she could finally step away from the game and into a state of peace.

"One thing I've become is introspective," Holdsclaw said. "I think I have a great sense of me as a person. I know what makes me happy. I know what makes me miserable. I'm trying to stay on the happy side."

Her trade from the Mystics to the Los Angeles Sparks marked a fresh start in her basketball career, but her feelings had not changed. Within the first week of her arrival in Los Angeles, she called team General Manager Penny Toler. "I don't think I want to do this," Holdsclaw told her.

Toler, and later others, persuaded her to stick with the game. Holdsclaw said she felt obligated to try because the Sparks had given her a chance. "I sucked it up and took one for the team," she said, and the pattern continued through most of her stint in Los Angeles.

Holdsclaw said that for a while she rediscovered her passion for basketball. But in the days nearing her retirement, Holdsclaw said that when she awoke in the morning, the lingering feeling that she usually pushed to the back of her mind seemed to get stronger. Recent injuries made the decision even easier.

"I've been doing this since I was 11 years old. That's 19 years of my life," said Holdsclaw, who turns 30 on Aug. 9. "So If I want to take five months, six months of my life and say this is what I want to do, I don't want to do anything, I feel like I have the right to do that."

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