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A Title-Winning Shot Has Changed Teasley

June 04, 2003|MIKE TERRY

It has been nine months since The Shot.

Nine months since the most private Spark set off the most public of displays.

Nine months since Nikki Teasley sent Staples Center into a frenzy, and her teammates into a state of euphoria, with a dramatic, 23-foot three-point shot. It was the winning basket, with 2.4 seconds to play, in Los Angeles' 69-66 victory over the New York Liberty for the WNBA 2002 championship. And it was the second consecutive league title for the Sparks.

"I still haven't gotten over The Shot yet," Teasley said. "I'm still enjoying every moment. [Thursday] will be an emotional day for me and the team. I can remember like it was yesterday, the time when I started my first game as a rookie [last season] and that ring ceremony. I was a spectator that day, and I told myself, 'next year I'm not gonna be watching, I'm gonna get a ring.' "

Teasley returns to Staples a different person. She is no longer a shy, sometimes scared, introverted rookie. She has evolved into a confident, engaging veteran who runs the offense as the point guard and keeps a firm hand on the pulse of the team.

"Did that shot change my life? Definitely," Teasley said. "It helped me put things in perspective as far as me realizing who's first in my life, which is God. I realized the many blessings I've had and what my purpose is here.

"This -- basketball, fame -- is a gift from Him and my gift back to Him is how I use it. So that play definitely changed my life in many ways besides basketball."

Don't think the Sparks haven't noticed the change.

"She's become more of a leader," fellow starting guard Tamecka Dixon said. "Anytime you come into a new environment it takes a little getting used to. But she's let her guard down and allowed [the rest of] us to give of ourselves to her."

Teasley had reasons for keeping an emotional wall around herself.

It took most of the 2002 season for her to feel she belonged. Her teammates always reached out to her and supported her, but Teasley -- who averaged 6.4 points and 4.4 assists in 32 games -- questioned her ability when she made a bad play or had a bad game.

As the Sparks went on to repeat as WNBA champs, Teasley knew The Shot would provide a new level of recognition -- not just in Los Angeles, but also in other basketball circles.

She understood there would be more curiosity about who she was. And she's tried to be more open about herself.

Some aspects of Teasley's story were already known. How she, her brother, and three half-brothers lived in the projects of Washington, D.C. with their mother Ernestine before the family moved to Frederick, Md. How her half-brother Ernie, who introduced her to basketball, died tragically in an auto accident -- a pain Teasley buried so deeply in her heart and psyche that when it resurfaced years later it led to a bout with clinical depression while she was a student at North Carolina.

But one thing Teasley didn't talk about until recently was her mother's battle to overcome a drug addiction.

She won't identify the substance -- "that's a way for me to still protect her" -- but Teasley is matter-of-fact describing the nights her mother wouldn't come home even though there was no food in the house for her children to eat.

"We never stopped loving her," Teasley said. "Everybody makes mistakes. If God can forgive, why can't you? And that's my mom. She gave birth to me."

Teasley said her mother put her life back in order and that they talk daily. "She's my best friend," Teasley said. And her own history has given Teasley the impetus to want to help others get past difficult times.

"I'm looking to start my own foundation, work with some charities," Teasley said. "I'm still looking into becoming a juvenile counselor, or something like that. Anything with helping people ... is my duty now. I understand my purpose.

"Everybody's going to go though something; everything happens for a reason. And what you go through should strengthen your character. [But] you should talk about some things. Everything I've been through happened for a reason. And everybody who was close to me, stuck by me. So talking about things is definitely a good thing."

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