The 2006 WNBA season, the league’s 10th, went all the way to the wire. This year’s title was decided in the fifth game of a five-game final series, where the 2003 champion Detroit Shock outplayed the defending champion Sacramento Monarchs. At times the Monarchs appeared en route to easy victory — winning games one and three by large margins. But each time they reached the brink of defeat, the Shock battled back.
Keeping the Monarchs in title contention until the final minute of game five was Northern Virginia native Kara Lawson, a fourth-year guard for the Monarchs. Lawson, a 2003 graduate of the University of Tennessee, grew up in Alexandria and played in numerous sports as a kid, including youth football with the Fairfax County Football League, where she led her team in rushing, scoring and interceptions.
“It was a great place to grow up as a kid and a great place to play high school sports,” said Lawson. “There is a lot of support for high school sports in Northern Virginia, a lot of great coaches and a lot of great teammates that I had. It really is a pretty progressive area as far as youth sports go. They really push the envelope and have so much variety and diversity. I was able to play at high levels and go to nationals in different sports because of the great talent and great coaching we had.”
Her parents, Kathleen and William Lawson, still live in Alexandria, while these days Lawson, 25, makes her home in Sacramento year-round.
“Every part of the country is different and has positive things about it,” she said. “I like to think I’m pretty adaptable and can live in different environments and around different types of people. I really have enjoyed doing that while I’m young. I enjoy living in California. I also enjoyed growing up where I did.”
Lawson’s 2006 WNBA season got off to rough start as she battled an energy-sapping virus that never received a diagnosis. With no easy cure, all she could do was be patient. She missed much of preseason and her return to the court was a slow one. She said she had to rest, take care of herself and play the best that she could.
“Sometimes you’re impatient because you’re competitive,” she noted. “You want it to happen quickly, but you have to understand you have limitations and you have to listen to your body and make sure that you’re not rushing it.”
A hyper-competitive person, Lawson elevated her game during the playoffs and finals—starting every game. When the confetti dropped and it wasn’t the Monarchs holding the trophy, she was disappointed but also took it in stride.
“You have to look at it in a positive way. You’re playing in the finals where every other team in the league would want to be,” she said. “You’ve got to have fun with it. I try not to make things bigger than they are. It’s a basketball game and we’re fortunate enough to be part of the two teams left playing.”
As the WNBA now begins its long off-season (training camps open in late April 2007), Lawson will take a short break and then resume her twice-daily workouts. Unlike many of the league’s players, she chooses not to play overseas. Instead, Lawson is pursuing a career in broadcasting. She covers women’s college basketball for ESPN and commentates Sacramento Kings games for Comcast. She said this work is an extension of her natural personality.
“I don’t really change. I don’t put on a TV act,” Lawson explained. “I’ve always been very verbal as a player in things that I see. Even as a fan when I’m at home watching television, I’m saying things out loud like what I think a player or a coach should have done in a certain situation. It is not a huge transition. It’s very natural. As a player you see something that maybe the defense is doing and you say it to your teammates. Now you’re on TV and more people are paying attention to what you’re saying. I’ve always said those things, I just never really had an audience until I started working with ESPN.”
Lawson said living in Sacramento enables her to work with the Monarchs coaching staff, especially head coach John Whisenant, throughout the off-season. While she won’t rule out playing overseas in the future, she said that working with ESPN and Comcast enables her to plan for the future.
“I think what you always have to understand as an athlete is that you’re going to be an athlete for such a short period of time,” she said. “You have to be prepared for when your days are over so you can transition into something else. That’s important. A lot of athletes don’t worry about that. Then when they can’t play anyone more, they don’t have any skills to do anything else. For me to have this great opportunity to work on a second career and continue at the same time to get better as a player — that’s the perfect situation.”