As a kid in the early ’90s, Courtney Paris looked up to the women of USA Basketball. She watched Tina Thompson and Lisa Leslie play on TV and would mimic their moves under the family hoop outside.
“Basketball was just something I was super passionate about my whole life and I always knew that this was what I was going to do,” Paris said.
When she was 10, the WNBA formed and her dreams of being a professional basketball player took flight.
In her 10-year career in the WNBA, Paris has watched the league’s stability evolve while balancing various roles on five different teams. As her career reaches its twilight, she’s using her final seasons to help young players navigate the league.
“For the 4-year-old me when this didn’t exist to the 10-year-old me when it did exist, to the 21-year-old me who was thinking the league was going to fold, to the 31-year-old me to where we’re having dialogue about how to make it better for players, it’s just been a steady growth,” she said.
After graduating from the University of Oklahoma as a four-time All-American, Paris’ professional career began after she was taken No. 7 overall by the Sacramento Monarchs in the 2009 WNBA draft.
She played in 33 games for the Monarchs, averaging 4.8 points and ranked second among rookies with 4.1 rebounds per game. But her career took its first turn shortly after.
In November 2009, the Monarchs organization folded after the franchise’s owners, the Maloof family, decided to put their full efforts on the NBA’s Sacramento Kings. It marked the fourth of the eight original WNBA teams to fold.
“I remember being in the gym and being like, ‘Our team is good as far as support. We don’t have to worry about that,’” Paris said. “I was surprised because Sacramento had such a strong history. The Maloof brothers had seemed so invested in the team.”
After a year-long stint with the Atlanta Dream, Paris signed with the Tulsa Shock in 2012. She started all 34 games her second year, grabbing 347 rebounds, 13 double-doubles and leading the league with 10.2 rebounds per game.
She again felt the pressure of the league’s stability when Tulsa owner Bill Cameron moved the team to Dallas after the 2015 season. After leading the team in blocks (29) the first year in Texas, she suffered a knee injury the following year.
“All along when we pursued Courtney, I knew that whatever role played out that she would bring a positive impact to the team,” Storm coach Dan Hughes said. “If she plays three minutes or plays 14 minutes, she’s going to put up numbers for the team that we really need.”
Paris was part of the Storm’s 2018 WNBA championship run, yet she only played six minutes during the finals. She’ll soon be part of another playoff run, as Seattle wraps up its regular season Sunday against the Dallas Wings before the playoffs begin next week. The Storm clinched its 15th playoff berth in its 20 seasons Aug. 25.
With her minutes dwindling, Paris understands her professional career won’t last much longer. Instead, she uses her veteran experience to mentor teammates.
“Her knowledge and feel for the game is extremely polished at this point,” Storm starting center Mercedes Russell said. “It’s really helpful, too, just because I’m in my second year and I’m trying to learn and grow as much as I can. She’s been a huge help for me and I thank her a lot for that.”
Paris is beginning to look at what a career would look like off the court. However, after playing the past 10 WNBA offseasons overseas, she doesn’t know what her future will hold after basketball.
“I’ve always enjoyed playing overseas, so I’ve never taken the time off,” Paris said. “That’s one of the hard parts about it because you’re playing year-round. You don’t get offseasons not only to work on yourself and your game, but to also have a life.”
She knows leaving the sport will be hard and admires the former players who have gone into coaching. While she doesn’t know her exact last days on the court, she’s proud of the growth she’s had and the growth she’s seen in the sport and in the league.