She’s So Money

by Bonsu Thompson | @DreamzRreal

Anyone who’s followed the decorated career of Minnesota Lynx guard Seimone Augustus from a distance could be tempted to label it easy. While the judgments may not be accurate, they’re understandable. A condensed listing of the 6-foot scorer’s storybook-like hoop achievements: as a 3-year-old, played organized ball with 5-year-old boys; at age 14, made the cover of Sports Illustrated for Women with the headline, “Is She The Next Michael Jordan?”; the only female to have her jersey retired by LSU; won six gold medals with USA Basketball; twice won the Naismith and Wooden Awards; reigning WNBA Champion and Finals MVP.

But to think the 27-year-old Baton Rouge, LA, native resides on easy street would clash with the fact that she’s two months removed from seizing the W’s throne and currently sits on a phone in Moscow fresh out of practice. What many American hoops fans are ignorant to is that the WNBA season makes up only a third of the average female pro’s year. “This is the life of a female basketball player,” says Augustus, who has just six weeks off per year—the two after the WNBA season ends, two weeks around Christmas and two between the end of the European season and start of the W’s. “In order to live a comfortable lifestyle–not a luxurious lifestyle, just comfortable–we have to come over here to play and make money. We don’t really have a choice.”

Seimone, who currently plays for Spartak Vidnoe in Russia, is already in the midst of two simultaneous seasons—the Russian League and Euroleague–where the physicality of play can make the WNBA seem almost exhibitionist (“Being an American, you almost have to show blood to get a foul over here.”). Enduring months of body-bruising play weeks after carrying Minnesota to its franchise-best record of 27-7 (the Lynx first winning season since ’04) and a 7-1 Playoff run makes No. 33 that more Marvel-worthy. Yet for the one many consider the female version of Carmelo Anthony, it was, well, easy, when compared to what she endured since becoming Minny’s No. 1 pick.

Her first few seasons saw her take shot after shot with the Twin Cities on her shoulders. The result: five straight losing seasons and a couple sore shoulders. “Yeah, I had to shoot a lot of balls…did I wanna do it? No, but I had to in order to give my team a chance.”

In 2010, Minny began putting a real team around its version of MJ, acquiring forward Rebekkah Brunson, Lindsay Whalen and ’11 Draft gem Maya Moore within a year. Seimone was already a superstar, but these co-stars gave her some talented players to lead. “Seimone has always been a leader by example,” says Brunson, the Lynx leading rebounder. “She makes everyone around her better by her ability to silently motivate with her individual greatness. This year, though, and especially in the playoffs, she became the vocal leader that everyone knew she could be.”

The welcomed help resulted in Augustus finishing the season averaging a career low in points (16.2), though her shooting efficiency remained stellar. But once the post-season lights shone bright, “Money Mone” relapsed, averaging 22 ppg throughout the Playoffs, including a Game 3 Finals performance where she finished off the Atlanta Dream with 36 spectacular points. “I had to,” says Augustus of her post-season scoring binge. “Maya got into foul trouble early in some of those games, and everybody looked at me to carry the scoring load. Plus, you had Angel McCoughtry on the other side averaging, like, 40 ppg [technically, 31 ppg.—Ed.]. I had to try and take some of that shine off of her [laughs].”

Anyone who has chronicled the off-court life of Seimone Augustus would label it anything but easy. Over the years the tattooed court assassin has dealt with personal and family health issues. Seimone’s hell began on June 17, ’09, when she tore her ACL in just the sixth game of the WNBA season. Being unable to play ball sent Seimone into a depression. That this career-threatening injury occurred during her contract year nearly drove her mad. “I was the angriest person on the planet,” she remembers. “I couldn’t find happiness in anything I did because the thing I was most passionate about I couldn’t be a part of.”

By the start of the 2010 season, Mone had a contract extension signed and a knee ready for action. But then she felt stabbing pains in her stomach. Huge fibroid tumors were discovered on Seimone’s uterus, a common problem with Augustus women. The daughter of Seymore and Kim had to decide whether to remove the tumors and risk their return or remove her uterus entirely. She opted for the latter. As if preparing for a hysterectomy wasn’t scary enough, Seimone’s dad was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, making it impossible for father and daughter to support each other during their operations. “It was an emotionally hard time for [my parents] as well as myself.”

Mone’s nightmarish year gave her a new outlook on life and a renewed zest for hoops. “Before the injuries I felt myself getting worn down because you never really get a break,” says Augustus. “But after a year off from the ACL and abdominal surgery, I didn’t want any more time off. I just wanted to push through the next couple seasons.”

Looking back, Seimone credits the MVP she is today to her walk through hell. “I feel like I went through that dark period because maybe I got a little lax on what I needed to do to become better,” she admits. “And the way the team was coming together, I couldn’t afford to be lax with my approach to the game because just as fast as you’re one of the top players in the league, you can be the last player in the league or not in the league [anymore].”