Sheryl Swoopes has accomplished nearly everything in women's basketball: three Olympic gold medals, three WNBA MVP awards, four WNBA titles, and a NCAA title.
But nothing, she said yesterday, came close to the attention she received when she announced that she is a lesbian.
''And that's kind of sad," the Houston Comets forward said by telephone from Houston. ''And it's also a good thing. I think people are more interested in your personal life. They really don't know you, they don't get to see that side of you. They see Sheryl Swoopes, the basketball player, when I'm on the court."
So yesterday she opened up about her personal life. After getting up at 6:30 a.m. to get her 8-year-old son, Jordan, ready for school, Swoopes was on the phone virtually all day with media outlets. The interviews coincided with the release of a first-person account in ESPN The Magazine, a story on newsstands today, and an endorsement she received from Olivia, a San Francisco-based travel agency catering to lesbians.
''It's a huge relief," Swoopes said of her decision to reveal part of her life that she had kept secret. ''I kind of feel like a big, old, heavy weight has been lifted off of my shoulders."
Swoopes, 34, is one of the highest-profile American athletes in a team sport to come out. Baseball player Billy Bean and NFL defensive tackle Esera Tuaolo announced their homosexuality after they retired, but neither had such a high-profile career as Swoopes.
''I think my teammates will be wonderful, I think they'll be perfectly fine with it, and I'm perfectly fine with it," she said. ''It's one thing to be able to show your affection and to show who you love out in public as opposed to having to hide it. It's obviously not a decision I made by myself."
When the WNBA was formed, it promoted Swoopes as one of its stars and it didn't hurt that she returned to play after giving birth to Jordan. Yesterday, WNBA president Donna Orender issued a statement that read: ''Sheryl Swoopes is a great basketball player who has and continues to entertain our fans all over the world. We wish for her only the best."
Swoopes said she fully expects fan reaction -- good or bad -- when she takes the court next spring.
''Hopefully, it won't be a negative thing around the WNBA," she said. ''Because it's not going to change who I am, as a person, as a basketball player, as a mom. I just feel like this is very important to me. And, hopefully, other people will realize that and still accept me for who I am."
Swoopes said she and her partner, Alisa Scott, thought hard about when to make the announcement.
''When we made the decision for me to come out, we thought about the good that could come out of it, the bad that could come out of it, and I thought, I'm at a point in my life right now where I'm ready to be honest with myself, to be honest with my fans," said Swoopes.
''I just feel like I'm able to be free."