In the latest episode of “As the WNBA Turns,” Australian Olympian Liz Cambage has opted not to honor her contract to return to the Tulsa Shock. Citing fatigue to Aussie press, Cambage didn’t board her flight Monday.
”Monday morning came and I just couldn’t do it, I couldn’t go,” she said. ”It was last-minute and I’m sorry for that. To be honest, it was unfair on the team and the rest of the girls (the Shock)to come over when I wasn’t 100 per cent.”
The Shock (5-19) defeated Atlanta 84-80 on Tuesday. The Dream (12-13) are in the midst of their own set of problems. But in terms of Cambage, it’s almost understandable why she didn’t return.
Tulsa has 10 games remaining, departing for a two-game road trip Friday. The matchup at Minnesota is actually the back-end of a back-to-back playing at Los Angeles on Thursday — a game heavily billed as Cambage’s big return.
Technically, it is a lot of travel, as Cambage expressed to ESPN via phone on Wednesday. Australian Olympians were whipped around their country, the Opals winning bronze in the London Games. Cambage made history with women’s basketball’s first dunk and capped celebrations with her 21st birthday bash Aug. 18.
But then you consider Opals captain Lauren Jackson. The 31-year-old was part of most of the same trips across the country. Only nearly a week after playing in the London Olympic Games Aug. 11, she’s one of the first three players at Storm shoot-around before a 83-76 loss to Minnesota on Aug. 21. Her first game was an overtime loss to Indiana on Aug. 23.
True, the Storm won’t travel in August. Jackson, a three-time MVP, is being given ample time to get adjusted to another time difference. And the Storm will likely advance to a record ninth consecutive postseason by the time it heads to Tulsa for its first road game on Sept. 8.
Cambage’s arrival isn’t going to help the Shock clinch a postseason berth. And heavens knows she’s not the first international or American player to balk because of fatigue or disinterest.
But when it comes to a person who used social media to express her excitement about her return and support during games — no matter the time difference –where does the loyalty go to push through for your team?
Or simply stand behind your word? Heck, even Australian F Penny Taylor returned to support Phoenix despite being out due to a knee injury suffered in March.
Cambage did state she’ll honor her $400,000 contract to play in China in October, which of course makes the whole thing reek, right?
“It’s her journey and she has to experience it for herself,” said Jackson after Storm practice on Wednesday. She roomed with Cambage during prep for the Games.
“We did have a fairly arduous program and it was draining and it was hard,” Jackson continued. “I can fully understand how a 21-year-old is going to be exhausted from all of that. She’s a mate of mine and I support her in whatever she does.”
Jackson, a four-time Olympian, isn’t going to dog her own countrywoman. Especially one billed as the future of what Jackson has worked hard to establish in women’s basketball for Australia. It’s just that Seattle has seen Jackson play through family tragedies, injuries, and her own travel schedule to show up for the Storm.
Cambage, who’s just beginning her career, can’t? And isn’t her “the WNBA will be there” attitude insulting?
“Seattle has sort of been my home,” said Jackson, who was drafted at 19 in 2001 and owned a home in the city for eight years. “And I knew for me, playing in the WNBA…if I didn’t play here, I would never be at the top of my game. That’s just how it is. The WNBA made me who I am as a player. That’s part of the reason why I feel obligated to be here.”
Jackson has long shared the sentiment with her Aussie mates. And in turn the WNBA wouldn’t be where it is without the Aussies’ contributions to the league. Jackson said she’s had the conversation with Cambage, who was drafted No. 2 overall in 2011.
Jackson even spoke with the 6-foot-8 center after news broke about her change of mind. So, if Jackson, a 12-year vet, isn’t irked, should the rest of the WNBA?
“I fully expect her to be back her next year, probably playing in Tulsa, I don’t know what’s going to happen,” Jackson said. “I just think she’s genuinely tired and stuffed. There’s so much pressure and expectations on her and I can see how it might have been too much. She might need a break before she goes overseas, again. (When) I spoke to her briefly last night, she was just tired.”
*PHOTO CREDIT: Opals centers Liz Cambage (left) and Lauren Jackson examine their Olympic bronze medals on Aug. 11 by The Associated Press