Mique's exit leaves L.A. in lurch -- and fans full of sadness

Updated: June 12, 2007, 11:57 AM ET
By Mechelle Voepel | Special to ESPN.com

So what do we make of the strange case of Chamique Holdsclaw's professional career? In women's hoops, there has never been more of a "sure thing" who turned into such an enigma.

Chamique Holdsclaw
Kevin P. Casey /AP PhotoIf Chamique Holdsclaw's WNBA career really is finished, there is a definite sense of sadness and loss for those who follow the sport.
On Monday, Holdsclaw announced her retirement from the Los Angeles Sparks, the second bad-news shocker of the past few days that's connected to Tennessee. Confirmation that Tennessee is not renewing its regular-season series with archrival Connecticut came Friday.

Now, Holdsclaw -- Tennessee's all-time leading scorer (3,025) and rebounder (1,295) -- says she's ending her pro basketball career at age 29.

"This was not an easy decision," she said in a statement. "I put a lot of thought into it."

Well … it might have been a good idea to have thought it out before the WNBA season started and the Sparks -- already without a pregnant Lisa Leslie -- were left in the lurch. It's the second time in her WNBA career that Holdsclaw has walked out on a team, having done so with the Washington Mystics in 2004.

I don't mean to be harsh because I really empathize if Holdsclaw is still struggling with the depression that sidelined her when she left the Mystics.

The loss of her grandmother, the guiding force who raised her, was a devastating blow for Holdsclaw in 2002. She lost a grandfather in 2004, and later said his death prompted a flood of emotions she had been holding back after her grandmother passed away.

Holdsclaw played in Spain, then got a new start in the WNBA on the West Coast, with Los Angeles, in 2005 after asking to be traded from D.C.

Last year, Holdsclaw was excused from the early part of the season as she tended to her father and stepfather, who both had been diagnosed with cancer. Holdsclaw indicated during the season that she was considering retiring.

When WNBA.com's Matt Wurst visited with her this past January, he asked again about retirement. Holdsclaw said then that she'd had surgery on her foot and felt it was at 100 percent after bothering her a lot the previous couple of years. Even so, she told Wurst that her playing this WNBA season wasn't necessarily a sure thing.

"I am definitely missing [basketball] right now and can't wait to get back out there and play," she said. "So ask me that question again in a month or so."

Had Holdsclaw called it quits before this season started, all things considered, it might not have been such a big surprise. But the fact that she began the season and left so quickly is surprising.

Perhaps she had to play to find out her heart wasn't into it. It's unfortunate, though, that Holdsclaw did not give a reason for leaving. Some will say it's a private matter and she doesn't owe anyone a public explanation. However, when you're one of the best players in the history of your sport and you walk away while still in your prime years, you obviously leave a lot of questions.

If depression is still the problem, Holdsclaw needs to realize there is absolutely no shame in that, no reason not to acknowledge it. It's an enemy even the strongest people have a very difficult time beating. If that's not it, why leave this open to speculation?

Maybe Holdsclaw just needs more time away from the sport. Maybe she isn't healed emotionally or physically. Maybe more distance from playing basketball will lead her back to it eventually.

But if she really is finished -- or at least finished in the WNBA -- there is a definite sense of sadness and loss for those who follow the sport. Holdsclaw won three titles in a row at Tennessee (1996, '97, '98), was the top WNBA draft pick in 1999 and won an Olympic medal in 2000.

But she hasn't won a WNBA championship. And though she has been very productive in points and rebounds, her on-court demeanor for some time now has suggested an amazingly gifted athlete who has been going through the motions. She has been playing basketball as if it's simply a chore she excels at, not a passion she embraces. In fact, it has even seemed a burden.

We all can hope Holdsclaw comes back to the court and finds some joy in the game. But if she doesn't, we wish her success in other endeavors -- and some peace of mind in her life.

Mechelle Voepel of The Kansas City Star is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. She can be reached at mvoepel123@yahoo.com.

Mechelle Voepel joined ESPN.com in 1996 and covers women's college hoops, the WNBA, the LPGA, and additional collegiate sports for espnW.

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