In Mumbai to promote the sport, WNBA legend Swin Cash talks to Anil Dias.
First of all, how did you start playing basketball?
Well, I come from a really large family and at a very young age I just started playing sports. My mother and my uncle introduced me to the game and from that point on, I just fell in love with it.
Did you ever think or want to reach so far, winning two Olympic medals and three WNBA titles?
At a young age, no. I played because I loved to play with my friends. I loved the game, it was a team sport. It was only later that i started playing seriously.
And what did you do after getting the Olympic medal? Did you like wear it often or carry it wherever you went?
(laughs) After the first one I cried. I didn't think I would cry. We actually had a bet that we wouldn't cry. But as soon as the medal was around my neck, I started crying. But last year in London, after getting my second gold medal it really was more of a reflection for me because I was really able to think back to my career and coming from a young age of not having a lot of money and having to grow up and play the sport that I love at that level was simply amazing. So I took my medal and put it in a safe. Maybe one day I will pull it out when I have grand kids and show it to them.
What made you write your book- Humble Journey: More precious than Gold?
In 2008, I didn't make the Olympic team. I made it in 2004. I had a back surgery and also had a tumour that was on my kidney, which was cancerous and there were all these things emotional that I was going through. I didn't speak publicly about it. From 2008 till 2012, my goal was to get back to the Olympic team. For four years I just focussed on that. I was just training, eating right, getting healthy so after I won the Olympic gold, I felt like I needed to write it so that people would look up to me, kids would look up to me and read about the things that I went through and get inspired from it. It was really a testimonial for me.
Can you talk about your battle with cancer...?
It was one of those things where you're young and healthy and you have some back pains. It was really the grace of god that I went for an MRI for my back pains and the doctor said there's something on your kidney, we need you to come in and have a check-up. This was right before the WNBA play-offs and my team was gunning for the championships and I went in and we find out that the tumour on my kidney is cancerous. So what I had to do was to make a choice how I was going to face it. My aunt had passed away from breast cancer and it was a very frightening thing for me and my family. I just went in had the surgery and from that point on, I just went and started changing things in my life. I have to go for an annual check-up. I'm just fortunate enough that they caught it early and I didn't have to do chemotherapy.
And was your most difficult challenge at the time?
My biggest challenge was the unknown. I was scared, scared out of my pants. I had family members that died so it was even scarier. What I started to do besides praying was to read up about what was happening to me. And at that time I wasn't thinking about basketball but getting back into basketball helped me. It helped me get rid of all those fears and forget my problems.
You visited Africa last month, what lessons did you learn from visiting the motherland?
That was actually my first time in Africa, the same as this is the first time in India. But it was very inspiring because like here in India there are so many young kids who are starting to learn to play this game and are excited about it.
How has it been in India so far?
Well, I've just landed so I've not gone out as such. But it's not all that hot as I imagined it would be
You don't see women's basketball followed a lot here. It's obviously big in the US, but here NBA is more famous.
I don't think it is a problem. People look at things and say, okay, what's the problem? For me it's just this programme and it's doing exactly what needs to be done. In five years, you're going to be like, wow, we didn't even envision this. The programme is starting at the grassroots level and we introduced kids to the sport of basketball in school.
You posed nude for the ESPN body issue. What made you do that?
Oh that thing? (laughs) I was asked in the past to do different things at different times. That was the right time for me. I felt that I had accomplished pretty much everything that I wanted to accomplish in sports. So it was a time to say this is me, I'm empowered and it's not that I need publicity, I already have that. For me, it was saying that look, I'm a woman and I'm comfortable with my skin. I was a little reluctant at first because I had young girls in my charity and was vary what would they think about it. But after talking to some of them, they really got it and understood what it was truly about and it was art, an art form.
What's your daily work-out routine?
Well, it different in-season versus out of season. In-season it's a couple of hours of practice. Then there's some time for treatment, then you watch videos of other teams. Basketball isn't just about playing the game, it's also about thinking the game. So yeah, I spend a lot of time training in season. Out of season I love to work on my skill sets mostly dribbling and shooting but I also like to do other things. I like pilates, yoga. Oh yeah, there’s kick boxing. Basically trying various things just to stay active.
Do you have have any favourite exercise? like a must-do?
Well one thing that I must do but I hate to do is wall sits. And that's to really strengthen the quads (thighs). I Had knee surgery before so I always try to do things with my legs so it's one of my routines that I have to do.
You're known for you're charity work..
What made me start my charities is the fact that come from humble beginnings and my mother taught us at a very young age when we didn't have a lot of money that we still had to give back, whether it was passing out free lunches or soup. I was probably 9 or 10 years old when I started participating in charitable activities so I knew that when I grew up, I wanted to give back .
Do you have any role-model?
My mother has been my role model and inspiration. Not because she too was a pro athlete, but because I've seen her work hard every single day to help me become the best person that I could be.
And don't you feel jealous that NBA takes the cake?
No, this is the thing that people tend to forget that the NBA is the NBA and it's amazing. They are like our brothers. It's great, but we have our own league too. It's only been around for 17 years. Look how long the NBA has been around. For me, the WNBA is a platform for us to be role models for young girls whether it's in India, Africa, US or China, we are just here to say that basketball is for everyone.
Sports clothing is increasingly becoming more popular than fashion brands.
Whether you're a guy or a girl, everybody loves fashion and you can see it whether it's on the court or otherwise. I love my on-court fashion, whether I have my kicks or my hair tied in a particular way, or the wrist bands, we all do something that is different. But now on-court fashion is going to off court fashion because you see a lot of NBA guys and WNBA girls dressing up and pose for all these different magazines which is fun by the way.
If you were to design the uniforms, what would it be like?
It would be something that is functional. you have to understand that basketball is basketball and you have to be able to play the sport. I probably would have bright colours and make a bold statement.
Lastly, what else would you want people to know about you?
A friend of mine had a saying, "I don't want to be famous, I want to be remembered." It really stuck with me, because at the end of the day, if I could be remembered as somebody who touched a life or inspired a young kid that helps him grow up in a way they could do the same thing to somebody else, then for me that's a true blessing.