- Sarah Spain, Contributor, espnW.com
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Teresa Weatherspoon, one of the original members of the WNBA and the current head women's basketball coach at her alma mater, Louisiana Tech, is the first WNBA alum to join the National Basketball Retired Players Association (NBRPA).
Four more former WNBA players yet to be announced will be introduced as members at the Aug. 6 Sparks-Suns contest at Mohegan Sun Arena in Connecticut.
The official alumni association of the NBA, the NBRPA was founded in 1992 by basketball greats Dave DeBusschere, Dave Bing, Archie Clark, Dave Cowens and Oscar Robertson. Primarily funded by the league and the National Basketball Players Association, the NBRPA assists retired players in life after basketball and also aims to use the fame and influence of its members to positively impact the community.
"Many of the same issues that the men face are faced by the female players, as well," NBRPA CEO Arnie Fielkow said. "Inviting WNBA players is just a natural extension of the partnership we already have with the NBA and the players' association, and we're really excited to be able to welcome the women into our organization."
Now that the news is official, Weatherspoon and the rest of the inaugural class of WNBA members will join Fielkow and the NBRPA in recruiting more retired players.
"It's a no-brainer to be a part of it and get back into the atmosphere, the love circle of the game of basketball," Weatherspoon said. "At this point you don't feel like, 'Oh, I played in the WNBA, you're NBA, you're Harlem Globetrotters, you're ABA,' what you feel like is a family, a basketball family."
Weatherspoon called her transition from basketball to the "real world" a "blessed" one, but she recognizes that other retired players may not be so lucky.
"Some players, you have no idea where their life has taken off to," she said. "It's important that we, the WNBA players, reach out to them and tell them how beneficial it would be for them to be a part of this."
Fielkow believes plenty of former WNBA players will be eager to participate in the organization's services, which include programs in areas such as college education, financial literacy, job opportunities and charitable work.
"They're all part of a very limited and exclusive fraternity," Fielkow said. "There are only somewhere in the area of 1,500 to 2,000 former pro basketball players that qualify for membership in an organization like ours. The opportunity to fraternize with old teammates and friends, that's a big deal."
For Weatherspoon, the chance to help current and aspiring WNBA players is the best part of being an NBRPA member.
"That's really want I'm all about, is to give back to the community," she said. "You have so many experiences that occur in your life; those experiences aren't to be held or kept, but to be shared. Get out there into the community and let our youth know just how important the future is, help them understand that there's a process to being successful."
The NBRPA has a number of community-oriented programs already in place, including Full Court Press, a youth basketball and mentorship program in 14 inner-city areas. In a few weeks the organization's new WNBA members will have a chance to join in the charitable efforts, helping out with a basketball and life-skills clinic for kids in Newtown, Conn.
The NBRPA also gives out $100,000 a year through the Dave DeBusschere College Scholarship Program, which allows members and their children and grandchildren to go to college. Now that opportunity will be afforded to WNBA members as well.
"We've had a number of success stories within our membership and we hope to create some new success stories with our WNBA members," Fielkow said.
Weatherspoon is happy to be the first WNBA player on board and can't wait to begin forming relationships with fellow former ballers.
"It's really special ... to transition from a game that you love very much and know that you're still connected," she said. "When you're playing, it's the men on one side in the NBA, and the women on the other in the WNBA. But when you're done, you're all just athletes. We recognize that we're all athletes that go through the same things."
The bond of that shared experience became even stronger Thursday with the inclusion of WNBA players in the NBRPA.
Teresa Weatherspoon is the first WNBA alum to join the National Basketball Retired Players Association, which offers assistance to former players and provides them opportunities for mentoring others.