Marion Jones returns to sport with the WNBA's Tulsa Shock

Former Olympic champion sprinter Marion Jones, left, passes around Minnesota Lynx center Nicky Anosike, right, in her WNBA debut with the Tulsa Shock. She last ran as a professional four years ago.
Former Olympic champion sprinter Marion Jones, left, passes around Minnesota Lynx center Nicky Anosike, right, in her WNBA debut with the Tulsa Shock. She last ran as a professional four years ago. (Sue Ogrocki/associated Press)
By Amy Shipley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 16, 2010

TULSA -- Not quite two years ago, Marion Jones got out of jail, her six-month sentence for lying about her steroid use to federal investigators complete. Ten years ago, she won five Olympic track and field medals that she was forced to give back because of her drug use. Even further back than that, a full 16 years, Jones won a national title in college basketball at the University of North Carolina.

Somehow on Saturday night, Jones, 34, brought all of those experiences on the court with her when she entered a highly anticipated WNBA game in a sold-out arena jammed with a stomping, screaming crowd of 7,806.

With 5 minutes 50 seconds left in the first quarter of the Tulsa Shock's inaugural game against the Minnesota Lynx at the BOK Center, Jones, wearing No. 20 and her long hair in braids and a bun, sprinted into the game, stepping back into professional sports after a four-year absence. Her brief moment in the spotlight -- she played just more than three minutes in the 80-74 Shock defeat -- made it exceedingly clear how far she is from her once iconic status.

"I'm not disappointed," Jones said moments after the game. "When I came here, I said, 'However Coach wants me, whichever role he wants me to fill,' . . . I'm learning things as I go. I know it's going to take time for things to come together for me."

Jones was so excited before the game, she could not nap, she said; as it turned out, her performance was as raw as her emotion. She committed a foul three seconds after she took the floor, then allowed a player to score on her seconds after that. In her sparse minutes, she played aggressive defense, throwing arms, legs and body at the ball, but she did not score and handled the ball only twice.

"I'm not satisfied with that," Jones said. "I'm a competitor as well. I want to see the team win, and I want to see myself contribute to a win."

Jones, though, had officially concluded an excruciating journey that took her from sport's peak to its abyss. With this new undertaking, Jones is not attempting to return to her former glory as the world's premier female athlete, a starlet who after she won her three gold and two bronze medals at the Sydney Olympics in 2000 appeared on the covers of Vogue and Sports Illustrated.

At the moment, she will have to settle for being a cog in a relatively small wheel, an end-of-the-bench player on the smallest-market team in a league that still struggles for attention. It was interesting that the loudest cheers in the first half came not for Jones, but for the players on the floor when the Shock overcame a double-digit deficit to tie the game at 36.

Though Jones supported the comeback mostly with wild cheering, Tulsa Coach Nolan Richardson said she would get more opportunities, explaining that he wanted to ease his rookies into the action. Richardson speculated she could eventually play both guard positions and small forward.

"It's a really gratifying feeling to know I made the right decision to attempt this," Jones had said earlier. "I really feel like I'm here [because], in fact, I can play basketball . . . not just pack the house or get [the media] to come here."

Pack the house, she did. (Well, she helped, anyway. Richardson, who coached the University of Tulsa men's team, is considered a legend around these parts.) The game, the Shock's first since the franchise relocated from Detroit in the offseason, drew Oklahoma's governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general and a smattering of national and international media members.

WNBA Commissioner Donna Orender, who also attended, said she was "curious to see at what level [Jones is] going to contribute. We want to see how it all plays out."

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