Tammy Jackson Q & A – Houston Comets
WNBA career statistics cannot begin to measure the role Tammy Jackson has played in the Houston Comets four Championships. The 6’3″ center has earned the reputation of making heartbreakingly pivotal plays – especially during the playoffs. While most WNBA fans only know the 38 year-old as a Comet, her 5-year tenure in Houston bookends a professional career that has spanned 18 years, starting after her graduation from Florida in 1984.
WB: You’ve spoken about being a coach.
Tammy Jackson: I would love to be a coach. (Laughs) I don’t think I’m ready to be a head coach, but an assistant coach, working possibly under Van Chancellor one day. That is a goal of mine after I retire to coach – or working with children. I think I would have an understanding of what the payers are going through – you’re putting so much demand on them during practice and during a game. Being a player I guess I would have more of a player/coach relationship as opposed to the Head Coach having that tough job.
WB: What makes good assistants?
TJ: All of them have been players, so you have an understanding of when your players really don’t want to practice, or they’re having a bad day, how far to push them. You can talk with your head coach. That relationship that coaches don’t have that haven’t had an opportunity to play in their career.
WB: How has your relationship with the Houston coaches evolved?
TJ: It hasn’t changed at all. During that span where I was released and picked up by the Mystics, it was almost – I won’t say mutual, but I didn’t mind going away. I wanted more playing time somewhere else. So the fact that it happened, I was happy about it, even though I was leaving a team I was happy playing there – it was a championship team, so I had no problems being there. But the opportunity presented itself where I could go somewhere else and had more playing time. But once I got there – (Laughs) My relationship with God: “Be careful what you ask for, you might get it.” I got in a situation where I wasn’t happy. And I thank God that he left me back with the team that I should have been with from the beginning.
WB: You went abroad to play before the WNBA emerged. How did you dare leave?
TJ: That was the only opportunity women basket players had. To say I’m going to stay and play in a professional league in the States – that wasn’t even an option. That wasn’t a concept. The next availabe thing was to go overseas. I had a wonderful career at Florida. An agent out there at that time was Bruce Levy, and he picked me up and he got me an offer overseas, and I took full advantage of it.
WB: Can you talk about the different stages of playing abroad?
TJ: First of all, I was at the University of Florida, and it wasn’t a well recognized institution for women’s basketball, even though it was in the top conference, it still wasn’t the kind of place that someone would say, “Okay, there’s a player there, let’ look at her.” So, going overseas, you take the first opportunity that presents itself, and then once you get yourself situated and recognizable, then you shoot for, “Who’s going to offer me the best money.” You don’t really have a commitment to a particular team when you’re playing overseas, because you have no family, you really have no best friends. You just have players that you play with, that you become friends with, but it’s not something that you’re going to say you’re going to be living there the rest of your life and depend on these people year round. It’s more of a “Who has the most money.” With my situation, I stayed in Sweden for three years and used that as a development. I worked on my ball handling and my shooting, the rebounding. Getting myself better as a player so I could demand more money after that. It worked out for me – I went to Spain and I went to the next level. The countries over there are considered in levels: Scandinavian countries are the lower level, Italy and Spain are like moving on up. I left Spain for Italy, and from then on, I only got better. I ended up in Japan, and that was the top paying country overseas. I was pretty much committed there for three years. (Laughs) You can’t get any better paid than playing in Japan. I stayed there for three years until their league folded. And the I had to go back to the European countries. After that, I got a little older, and the ABL came in. But they saw me as an older player, and they weren’t willing to play me for what I felt I was worth.
WB: What made you commit to the US professional league?
TJ: I knew that the WNBA was backed by some companies that you knew that it was going to be around. You have the NBA backing the league, You have their facilities. We as players already knew that there were fans out there – they just wanted the opportunity to go to the facilities where they could feel comfortable in. That happened with the WNBA. I would have loved to play with the ABL, but I felt they didn’t want to give me what I wanted, being a veteran player. That’s why I said no. There were other professional and semi-professional leagues before that didn’t succeed, and I think that’s only because of companies financially backing them, having a stable monetary backing. (Laughing) With the NBA, you can’t have any more money out there than that.
WB: What did the fans of Houston and the WNBA miss not seeing you play when you were younger?
TJ: Most players don’t like to talk about themselves, (laughs) and I’m one of them, but I did have a turn around jumper. I did take two dribbles and take a jumper. That’s something the States have missed from Tammy Jackson. You can ask players like Sue Wicks or Cynthia Cooper. (Laughs) She told some of my teammates in Houston, “You all wouldn’t believe the things TJ used to do in Italy.” It’s far beyond what I’m doing now. I’m more a reserve player, and I guess the league came along and I guess my youthful years had passed me by.
WB: How much longer will you play?
TJ: As far as the fans in Houston – they would like me to play until I can’t walk anymore. (Laughs) As far as my teammates in Houston, I was told after we lost to Los Angeles in the playoffs that I couldn’t leave, I had to play another year. I’m sure they appreciate what I bring to the team and they don’t mind me being around. It was comforting. It was reassuring to know my teammates wanted me around, even though sometimes I’m sure I get on their nerves. (Laughs) They always say I never practice, but I play. They call me Grandma, they call me whatever, But I take it all in love. I love the post players I practice with. I’m always trying to help them become better players. And as far as the Houston the fans and Houston my teammates – that’s all that matters. Whether or not the league sees me as someone they want to “push out” … I’m sure at one point in time, they would like it to become a new generation WNBA. And eventually that will happen. But again, as time goes on, there will always be veteran players in the league. Whatever happens, happens. I’ll play as long as Van Chancellor wants me on his team and my body tells me I can play.
WB: What about your pride and drive to play.
TJ: Of course, there still are times I ask myself why am I doing this. And I always come up with the same answer: I still love playing basketball. And what makes it even better is I love my teammates. I love Tina Thompson, I love Sheryl Swoopes and Tiffani Johnson. I enjoy going to practice with these players. I love kidding around with Coquese. That makes your job a lot easier. And playing with Cynthia Cooper, who you played against overseas – I actually got an opportunity to play with her, and see her shine and show America what she’s capable of doing. And be on that team. And still be friends with her. I still love it. I’m going to play as long as I can.
WB: If you had to explain to a young player the essence of 1997, what would that snapshot be?
TJ: Oh, 1997 was the year. You knew there were fans in America who wanted to watch women’s basketball waiting on the opportunity… To replay the first opening game, (Laughs) I can’t even tell you who played, but I knew when I walked out onto that court, I couldn’t even talk to the person next to me because I couldn’t hear them and they couldn’t hear me because it was so loud. That excitement… People loved you and they didn’t even know you. To go even further back before the team was even formed, to go through two-a-days and see people fight for positions on the team. Helping strangers you don’t know. People telling you to do this or do that… And going forward – making it into the playoffs. Not losing a game at home. Seeing people like Cynthia Cooper, Tina Thompson and Janeth Arcain show the world who they were. To actually be on a team that was, per se, a no name team, to actually be in the playoffs. And to go even farther – we’re in the finals, against New York. And winning that Championship game. And again, seeing the fans come to love you and know you. The excitement is something I will forever remember. I can tell these guys, I was there in ’97. I went through the struggles – the ups and downs. Beating the teams others said we couldn’t beat, Becoming the favorite. and winning the Championship and being the first Champions of the WNBA. That’s something no one can ever take away from me.
WB: You’re playing with Amanda Lassiter a player who said, going into college, her dream was to play in the WNBA. Talk about that.
TJ: You’re talking to someone who was in high school when it started. You always tell people be careful who your talking to, always greet the fans with a gentle smile. Because you’re making an impact on the country. You always need fans.
Amanda is going to be a very good player. If she decides, within herself, to want to become be a very good player. I told her, don’t blow an opportunity, because where you are right now, someone would love to be. So don’t blow it. To come in, her first year in the league, and to be a starter at one point. You have to take advantage of the blessings as they come along.
WB: What’s the role of “veterans” to educate younger players on how to help this league endure?
TJ: Speaking of Houston, you have players who come on the team who are very assured of themselves. What you try to do is let them know, that’s fine, but you need to find out what to do that will help Houston, and that will help you shine as a player a lot better than if you’re going out and doing your own thing. I always tell them, don’t be rude to the fans. Of course, there are days when you’re not going to want to be bothered. That’s human side of it. But most of the time, you’re going to have to be willing to sign an autograph. Take a picture with a child or a parent or a brother or a father. Whoever. There are times when you’re going to have to do interviews. That’s just part of what the WNBA is. As a job, that’s part of your job. Thinking that you’re just going to come in and play basketball… that’s not part of the rules. You’re going to have to grow up. Very quick.
WB: What are the best lessons basketball taught you?
TJ: Going overseas made me grow up. I went to school at University of Florida. That’s in Gainsville, Florida. I’m from Gainsville, Florida… so… (Laughs) It made me grow up. Being the shy person that I was, and kind of still am, took advantage. I went overseas, made friends, which in the long run, helped me. Because, who can help you better as a player than going overseas and making friends with players, and they’re talking about you. You ask some players out there about Tammy Jackson – if you ask 10 players, I bet 8 of them will give you something positive.
The value of money. (Laughs). And life in general – treating people the way you want to be treated. That is one of the most important things. Because, in the long run, it’s all going to come back to you.
WB: And the hardest?
TJ: One of the hardest things in my career… I guess, you know I always tell people I was born too early. Because now I’m 38 going on 39 and the league sees me as old. So, just having to adjust to the fact that one day I’m going to have to take my tennis shoes and throw themm up there on the electric line for somebody to come by and say, “Gosh, look at those 2001 tennis shoes.” One day that’s going to be very hard. It’s knocking on my door right now.