Since leaving the Phoenix Mercury on Saturday and joining the Seattle Storm on Tuesday, Tina Charles described the past four days as an “emotional whirlwind.” 

The 13-year WNBA veteran has been vilified and lambasted by former teammates and simultaneously heralded and praised by her new squad. 

And Charles, the former Connecticut Huskies star, had strong and polarizing thoughts about saying goodbye to UConn alum Diana Taurasi and reuniting with former UConn star Sue Bird. 

Calkins: Storm’s signing of Tina Charles adds up, as long as chemistry is preserved

“I have a small window and there’s a way that I want to play with the time that I have left,” Charles said Tuesday in her first interview since her split with the Mercury. “There’s a way I want to be coached. Just knowing about the culture here. Having a good relationship with Sue it made it really easy.  

“ “For me personally, it just made sense. Just my mental space and being able to play the game that I love.” 

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During an 18-minute introductory news conference following her first Storm practice, Charles explained the dynamics that went into her decision to walk away from the Mercury midway into the season and why the 2012 WNBA MVP chose to join forces with WNBA All-Stars Breanna Stewart, Jewell Loyd and Bird to potentially comprise a super team in Seattle. 

“It was extremely tough,” Charles said. “I didn’t go into the season thinking I would switch teams. It’s not something I’ve ever done in my career, but … at the end of the day (it’s about) how I want to be coached and what type of culture I want to be a part of. It was very imperative for me — championship or not — what am I surrounded by and that’s what it was for me.  

“It’s extremely hard because the decision I made didn’t just impact my life, but it impacted those in Phoenix and that’s something I think about all the time. But at some point you do what’s best for you and your career and what you’re trying to get out of it.” 

On Saturday, Charles mutually agreed to a “contract divorce” from the Mercury and settled on an undisclosed buyout on her one-year deal worth a reported $108,000. 

At the time, Phoenix was a mess at 6-10 and had lost 11 of its previous 15 games, including a seven-game losing streak. 

Following the Mercury’s 83-72 upset win over the Dallas Wings on Saturday night, Phoenix forward Sophie Cunningham screamed: “(Expletive) Tina Charles!” and a video of her outburst has been widely circulated on social media. 

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“I’m human,” Charles said. “I know my decision impacted those folks in Phoenix. But I still had the support of Diana and that’s what meant the world to me because of what she’s done for my career.” 

At the end of the day (it’s about) how I want to be coached and what type of culture I want to be a part of.

Still, it’s obvious the eight-time WNBA All-Star wasn’t happy in Phoenix and sought a fresh start in Seattle on an 11-7 team that’s fourth in the standings with 18 games left. 

“At this point in my career — 13 years — and what I put into this game, I just felt I owed it to myself to put myself in that position,” Charles said. “At the end of the day, championship or not, the way I want to go out is playing with upstanding individuals and upstanding character players and coaching staff.  

“That’s not to say that’s not what it was in Phoenix, but I just felt with this opportunity there was more there on a consistent level from what I saw and what I heard. … They had a need and I just wanted to be able to fill it any way I can.” 

Charles is a nine-time All-WNBA selection, including five times as a first-team pick, and one of the league’s top scorers and rebounders during her 12-year career. 

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The 6-foot-4 center led the WNBA in scoring in 2021 and 2016. She ranks second all-time in 20-plus point games with 164 and sixth with 6,889 career points. In addition, Charles is second in WNBA history with 3,507 rebounds, while leading the league in rebounding four times. 

Charles spent her first four WNBA seasons (2010-13) with Connecticut, before a six-year stint (2014-2019) with New York.  

She sat out the 2020 shortened season inside the WNBA’s Bradenton, Florida, bubble due to health concerns surrounding the coronavirus and was deemed a high-risk individual by the league’s independent doctors due to a condition called extrinsic asthma that impacts the immune system. 

Charles, who signed a two-year deal with Washington, donated her 2020 salary worth a reported $175,000 to the Black Lives Matter movement. Last year, Charles tallied a career-high 23.4 scoring average with the Mystics. 

During 16 games with Phoenix this season, Charles averaged 17.3 points, 7.3 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 33 minutes while shooting 44.1% from the field, including 36.4% on three-pointers. 

Bird called the signing one of the biggest midseason acquisitions in the history of the Storm franchise. 

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“Obviously, TBD but it’ll probably rank up there with Camille Little who was a big one for us,” Bird said. “The only other one I can think of is Kate Starbird. We traded Semeka Randall for her my first year and then we made a playoff push.” 

Conceivably, the 33-year-old Charles, who has started all 373 games she’s played in her WNBA career, will supplant promising third-year veteran Ezi Magbegor and join a Storm lineup that includes Bird, Stewart, Loyd and Gabby Williams. 

“I can’t tell you that,” coach Noelle Quinn said when asked if Charles would start. “I’m not going to worry about that. We’re just happy she’s here. We’ll see how the game goes and how it flows.” 

Charles teamed with Bird, Loyd and Stewart on the 2020 USA women’s basketball team at the Tokyo Games to win her third Olympic gold medal. 

Seattle’s newest addition gives the team four former No. 1 overall WNBA draft picks, including Bird (2002), Charles (2010), Loyd (2015) and Stewart (2016). The Storm also has four UConn graduates — the most of any WNBA team — in Bird, Charles, Stewart and Williams. 

“Tina’s resume speaks for itself,” Bird said. “Do a quick Google and it’ll tell you everything you need to know. What she’s achieved. Her accomplishments. Being an Olympian, I think that says it all in a lot of ways. But then you put her on the Storm, a lot of the things we had some struggles in, rebounding and going stretches without being able to score, this is a player that gives us solutions to those problems.  

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“Does that mean it happens Day 1? No. There’s chemistry and fitting in. To me our season really starts today. These next couple of weeks will be important in terms of acclimating her and really just getting used to each other and then going from there.” 

Charles is excited and eager to make her Storm debut at 7 p.m. Wednesday in a matchup against the league-leading Las Vegas Aces (14-4) at Climate Pledge Arena. 

“If there’s one thing I’ve learned over these last three days it’s life isn’t about what you accomplished, but who you become,” Charles said. “For me it’s who I’m becoming along the way. That’s the best thing about trying to attain a goal. It’s not about the goal, it’s about who you become along the way. That’s what I’m most proud of myself right now.”