Chamique Holdsclaw is playing as well as she ever has in her six-year WNBA career, and sometimes she still feels miserable.
The Washington Mystics star has been carving up opponents for 20.4 points and 8.7 rebounds per game, yet she occasionally calls home, speaks to her mom and crumbles. She wants teammates who understand her and coaches who listen to her. She desperately wants to win.
"There are times when I'll call home and say, 'Is it me? Am I just cursed?' " Holdsclaw said. "I try to go out there and play hard, but I can't do it by myself. Sometimes I've wondered, 'Do we need different people, or do I just need to put on a different team's uniform?' What's it going to take for me to win?"
Even though she's a front-runner for the league's most valuable player award, Holdsclaw's Mystics are 8-9 going into today's game against Charlotte at MCI Center.
Despite her five career all-star appearances, the Mystics are 70-109 since Holdsclaw joined them. She's played under four coaches and with six point guards. She's pretty much been the only thing reliable about the Washington Mystics -- and she sounds as if she's sick of it.
"She's a very demanding player," said Pat Summitt, who coached Holdsclaw at Tennessee and also serves as the Mystics' player personnel consultant. "She wants more from everyone around her. Like all great players, she can be a little bit difficult."
Holdsclaw likes Coach Michael Adams and respects her teammates. She thinks the Mystics are headed in the right direction. But they're not moving fast enough.
Most of Holdsclaw's gripes pertain to the past. She has averaged at least 17 points since her rookie season (1999), but the Mystics finished with a winning record in only one of those seasons since making her the first overall pick in '99.
After her first two years with the Mystics, a discouraged Holdsclaw asked her agent about the possibility of playing for a different team. "I figured that if I was going to be losing," Holdsclaw said, "then I might as well be losing somewhere else closer to family or whatever. But they convinced me we could turn things around."
That the Mystics haven't won consistently since has only added to Holdsclaw's frustration.
"Sometimes we don't have the right people here," Holdsclaw said. "Some other people just haven't made the same commitment, and I've been vocal about that."
She lauds some coaches. On 2002-03 coach Marianne Stanley, who resigned (surprisingly) this past offseason: "She was great. I wish they'd never gotten rid of her." On 2001 coach Tom Maher: "He really didn't know what he was doing."
She's grown sick of watching the Mystics disband in the offseason -- a few players go to play in Europe, a few go home to vacation and work out -- only to unite for the three-month season.
"Everybody has their own agenda," Holdsclaw said. "That's just not a good working environment."
"She's very valuable to this team and we appreciate her input," said Judy Holland Burton, the Mystics' vice president of basketball operations. "But players do not make personnel decisions here."
"I can only control my own production," Holdsclaw said, "and that hasn't really been enough."
This season fits into that mold: Holdsclaw has been reliably stellar, her teammates inconsistent. No Mystics player averages half as many points or rebounds as Holdsclaw. When opposing teams have doubled Holdsclaw in the final minutes, the Mystics often look lost.
"If you keep her in check," Shock Coach Bill Laimbeer said, "they don't have anyone else that can kill you."
Holdsclaw has acknowledged as much this year. In an early-season game, she grew sick of watching her teammates toss errant jumpers and told Adams: "Every possession, the ball goes through me."
Wisely, the first-year head coach has adopted that strategy. The Mystics rely heavily on Holdsclaw, and she rarely disappoints. Her three-point shot is more consistent than ever (40 percent from beyond the arc). She breaks defenders down with her crossover dribble and then either shoots over them or dribbles to the hoop.
"She's our Michael Jordan," teammate Chasity Melvin said earlier this season. "She's the best."
Question is, will that ever matter?
"What burns me more than anything is that we've never been successful," Holdsclaw said. "Team success has always been the thing that's most important to me, and we really haven't had that.
"I can put up big numbers and everything else, but eventually that doesn't matter. If we still haven't won too much at the end of my career, I won't be able to take it. I'll feel like it was a waste."