TULSA, Okla. (AP) — Marion Jones hasn’t lost much of her swagger.
The disgraced sprinter once called the world’s fastest woman was introduced Wednesday as the newest member of the WNBA’s Tulsa Shock and she offered no apologies for her steroids use or her time in federal prison. She was poised and ready for questions about her troubled past.
“The word redemption is not in my vocabulary,” Jones said at a news conference, flanked by team president Steve Swetoha and coach Nolan Richardson. “I’m a competitor, I want to play against the best in the world, and I know that I will be doing that.”
Her bid for a new career comes a decade after she starred at the Sydney Olympics, winning gold in the 100 meters, 200 meters and 1,600-meter relay, and bronze in the long jump and 400-meter relay. She was stripped of all five medals after admitting in 2007 that she was using performance-enhancing drugs — a designer steroid called the “clear” — at the time of the games.
Jones also spent about six months in a Texas prison for lying to federal prosecutors about doping and her role in a check-fraud scam.
The 34-year-old Jones joined the team just four days after working out for Richardson, who is also the team’s general manager. She was signed to at least a one-year contract but terms were not disclosed.
Jones was the starting point guard on North Carolina’s national championship team in 1994 and she was drafted by Phoenix in 2003 but never played in the WNBA. She said playing for the Shock is not about her past but instead fulfills her dream of playing basketball against the best players in the world.
“I think when I even started to think about this 10 months ago, I know how much the game has grown from the time that I played,” Jones said. “And that became even more of a challenge for me, because I know that although I know certain things and played a certain way, that it’s 10 times faster, that the athletes are 10 times more skilled.”
WNBA president Donna Orender, who attended the news conference, said Jones generates interest in the league because she’s a highly accomplished athlete who has competed on a global stage.
“This is a tremendous, real-life story of a person who made a choice that was not a wise choice, but is saying listen, ‘I’m going to be a role model, I’m going to showcase what I’m going to do with the rest of my life,'” Orender told The Associated Press. “I join the rest of America in wanting to watch this story unfold.”
Jones will join a team that is a work in progress. All-Stars Deanna Nolan and Katie Smith had agreed to contract extensions, but apparently won’t play for Tulsa when the season begins in May.
Richardson said Nolan has indicated she intends to skip the upcoming season to rest instead of relocating with the team, which moved to Tulsa from Detroit in the offseason. And Smith, a six-time All-Star, has already said she doesn’t plan to play in Tulsa and is listed as a free agent by the league.
Also unknown is how much of an initial draw the city’s only major pro sports team will be. Tulsa County has a population of about 592,000 and Tulsa is the second-smallest city with a WNBA franchise, behind Uncasville, Conn.
If nothing else, Jones could be a draw.
“She made some ill-advised decisions in the past, but everyone deserves a second chance to excel at something they love,” Swetoha said. “The city of Tulsa gave a struggling franchise from Detroit a second chance, and I’m confident it will do the same for Marion. We couldn’t be happier to have her on board.”
The Shock will play at 18,000-seat BOK Center downtown. The team itself has a great pedigree: Detroit made its WNBA debut in 1998 and won titles in 2003, 2006 and 2008.
Richardson, who led Arkansas to the men’s NCAA championship the same year Jones won the title at North Carolina, plans to play the same “40 Minutes of Hell” style in the WNBA.
“Watching her go through drills, I saw a player who’s perfect for our system,” Richardson said. “The one thing I do know is she can run, and any player on my team who wants to be successful needs be able to run.”