Editor’s note: Seattle Times reporter Jayda Evans will have a weekly conversation with a newsmaker in the WNBA. This week she speaks with Atlanta rookie guard Shoni Schimmel, whose return to the Northwest on Thursday gave the Storm its first sellout (9,686) at Key-Arena since July 2013. Schimmel is the WNBA’s first Native American All-Star and first rookie to win the All-Star MVP award. She was raised on the Umatilla Indian Reservation in northeast Oregon and attended Franklin High in Portland.
Seattle Times: Seattle’s Storm Crazies were drowned out for the first time at KeyArena by Native Americans and others who came to see you play. What was that experience like?
Shoni Schimmel: It was awesome. I was talking to people and they came from places like Wyoming. ‘Wyoming! And Seattle is the closest place for you?’ It’s great to hear the stories of where they came from to watch basketball. … It means a lot to me. And it shows how Natives are, they love the game of basketball. They’re going to go out there and support whoever it may be if you’re on the right path.
Q: This is your first return to the Northwest to play in three years, but the massive following was like this in college at Louisville and in high school, right?
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Schimmel: Yeah, they’ve been there. It’s crazy how people love the game of basketball. But it’s bigger now because when we (sister Jude) were younger, people didn’t know much. We were just some little Native Americans playing basketball. As we grew, it (the following) keeps getting bigger.
Q: There’s an adorable picture of you on the Internet in your full regalia with a white headdress. What’s the story behind that?
Schimmel: My mom is full Native American. That’s a beauty pageant we used to do for Native Americans when we were younger, during the Pendleton Round-Up. I didn’t win. They usually pick the older people and I was (a toddler).
Q: You have a new tattoo on your left forearm that looks like three arrowheads, is it symbolic?
Schimmel: I got it this season. Back in the day, Native Americans used to go to war and they would put war paint on their horses. My grandmother called me “Shoni the Pony,” so I kind of put two and two together. When I step out on the court, it’s like going to war. You play basketball, you’re fighting to win.
Q: Atlanta coach Michael Cooper helped dub you “Sho-time” and, as a former Lakers star, he likened you to Magic Johnson. How do you feel you’re handling your leaguewide popularity, especially requests for Q-and-A sessions after every game?
Schimmel: My mom always told me to speak from the heart. That’s the easiest thing you can do. Regardless of whether I win or lose, they came to see me play. To give them the time of day to sit and talk, that’s the type of person I am and was raised to be. I have had some opportunity to learn from the past — how to speak and what not to say. I’m a communications major.
Q: The All-Star Game was your biggest show, scoring a record 29 points. You and Indiana forward Tamika Catchings appeared to take it seriously, leading the East to a victory in overtime.
Schimmel: I don’t like to lose. Tamika was right there saying, ‘We’re not going to lose!’ I said, ‘OK, let’s go!’ It was fun to go out there and just have fun playing basketball. Then to win MVP? It was perfect. My whole family (including seven siblings) was there and we went to Red Lobster to eat afterward. I was starving.