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Fairy-tale career must come to end
By Becky Hammon, Special to the Rapid City Journal, 7/30/01

It can be a cold, cold world sometimes, even for athletes.

I've been wanting to write about this topic for some time, and all the buzz about Michael Jordan returning to the NBA is the perfect opening to share a reality for any athlete: One day you'll have to stop playing (unless it's golf). One day your body is just not going to be able to perform like it used to, it's a fact.

It's very hard for an athlete to swallow or even to think about. It's not just about the love of the sport and the passion to play; it's more about the fairy tale world we live in as athletes and celebrities coming to an end.

Professional athletes, actors, musicians, etc., tend to be put on a different playing field than the general public. We are treated differently. It's funny to me, and even saddens me to think about the way we are treated. Whether I'm in a grocery store, at the movies or a restaurant, it's amazing how differently I'm treated after people find out I'm a professional athlete when they see someone ask me for an autograph. Suddenly their demeanor changes, and now I'm being catered to. Before, I could barely get a helping hand.

It all leads to an unrealistic view of the world around you, and the false security it renders.

What I really want to ask is: When it's all said and done, how will people treat me?

I've seen so many great college athletes go through similar experiences after they are done playing competitively. When they're young, they're athletic and everybody watches to see how they develop. They go to college and play a Division I sport, and when an NCAA college is done, they don't go to the next level. They live much of their lives with everyone around them so concerned about them. Then when they are done playing competitively, they almost hit rock bottom, because no one seems to care quite as much. Their sport defined them to everyone else, but who are they without their sport?

Your whole life you work at accomplishing your dreams, but the sad fact is that most people don't reach them, for one reason or another — maybe injury, lack of work ethic, missed opportunities, or maybe you just don't have the physical tools. People hate to hear that last one, but it's true, and people are talented in different areas.

I asked my dad when I was 10 years old if I'd ever be able to dunk, and he had to tell me no. No matter how hard I worked, that would never be realistic for me. He wasn't trying to shatter my dream of dunking; he was just being honest. He knew that, because of physical limitations, it would never happen for me.

I've been playing basketball for as long as I can remember. It's a part of me, but it's not me. I'll spend maybe 10 percent of my life in and around basketball, and it affects the other 90 percent of my life, but it's not what defines me as a person. I refuse to let it give me a false sense of self or a false sense of confidence. It's very important to keep things in perspective, so that when the day comes and people don't care quite as much as they used to and when people aren't telling you all the time how great you are, hopefully you won't be shaken too much.

You'll be able to walk away having enjoyed the ride while it lasted. And you'll have the self-confidence that comes from having been a great person who was able to share your life with so many other people and touched their lives in a way you never thought possible — not because you were so great but because you were so grateful to live a life that others only dream about.

Becky Hammon, an all-state basketball player at Rapid City Stevens and an All-American at Colorado State, is in her third year of pro basketball as a member of the WNBA's New York Liberty.

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