Tulsa, Okla. — Former sprinter Marion Jones signed with the WNBA’s Tulsa Shock on Wednesday, hoping to launch a new career after losing five Olympic medals for using steroids and doing jail time for lying to federal prosecutors.
Jones was a star at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney but admitted two years ago that she had taken a designer steroid known as the “clear” and was stripped of her medals, including three golds. She also spent about six months in a Texas federal prison for lying about doping and her role in a check-fraud scam.
Jones said playing for the Shock is not about her past but instead fulfills her dream of playing basketball against some of the best players in the world.
“The word redemption is not in my vocabulary,” Jones said at a news conference, flanked by team president Steve Swetoha and coach Nolan Richardson. “I’m a competitor, I want to play against the best in the world, and I know that I will be doing that.”
Before Jones became known as the world’s fastest woman, she was the starting point guard on North Carolina’s national championship team in 1994. She was drafted by Phoenix in 2003 but never played in the WNBA.
The 34-year-old Jones joined the team just four days after working out for Richardson, who is also the team’s general manager. She was signed to at least a one-year contract but terms were not disclosed.
“I think when I even started to think about this 10 months ago, I know how much the game has grown from the time that I played,” Jones said. “And that became even more of a challenge for me, because I know that although I know certain things and played a certain way, that it’s 10 times faster, that the athletes are 10 times more skilled.”
WNBA President Donna Orender, who attended the news conference, said Jones generates interest in the league because she’s a highly accomplished athlete who has competed on a global stage.
“This is a tremendous, real-life story of a person who made a choice that was not a wise choice, but is saying listen, ‘I’m going to be a role model, I’m going to showcase what I’m going to do with the rest of my life,'” Orender told The Associated Press. “I join the rest of America in wanting to watch this story unfold.”
Jones will join a team that is a work in progress. All-Stars Deanna Nolan and Katie Smith had agreed to contract extensions, but apparently won’t play for Tulsa when the season begins in May.
Richardson said Nolan has indicated she intends to skip the upcoming season to rest instead of relocating with the team, which moved to Tulsa from Detroit in the offseason. And Smith, a six-time All-Star, has already said she doesn’t plan to play in Tulsa and is listed as a free agent by the league.
Also unknown is how much of an initial draw the city’s only major pro sports team will be. Tulsa County has a population of about 592,000 and Tulsa is the second-smallest city with a WNBA franchise, behind Uncasville, Conn.
If nothing else, Jones could be a draw.
“She made some ill-advised decisions in the past, but everyone deserves a second chance to excel at something they love,” Swetoha said. “The city of Tulsa gave a struggling franchise from Detroit a second chance, and I’m confident it will do the same for Marion. We couldn’t be happier to have her on board.”
The Shock will play at 18,000-seat BOK Center downtown. The team itself has a great pedigree: Detroit made its WNBA debut in 1998 and won titles in 2003, 2006 and 2008.
Richardson, who led Arkansas to the men’s NCAA championship the same year Jones won the title at North Carolina, plans to play the same “40 Minutes of Hell” style in the WNBA.
“Watching her go through drills, I saw a player who’s perfect for our system,” Richardson said. “The one thing I do know is she can run, and any player on my team who wants to be successful needs be able to run.”