Suzie McConnell-Serio, guard, Cleveland Rockers (WNBA)
One in an occasional series.
By Al Mattei
After winning a gold medal in the 1988 Olympics, Suzie McConnell-Serio could have used any number of excuses to choose not to succeed in her pursuit of a professional basketball career. There was the broken bone in her foot, the bruises on her arms, ankle problems, and the folding of the American Basketball League's Philadelphia Rage, where she began her domestic pro career.
There was the matter having to raise her four children, too. But none of the above sidetracked her from the goal of leading her Cleveland Rockers to the 2000 WNBA playoffs.
But sometimes the phrase "having it all" means knowing when to let go. The Penn State graduate and head coach of the girls' basketball team at Pittsburgh Oakland Catholic (Pa.) began to have an awareness during the 2000 season that it might be time to let go.
"I missed too many things," she says. "I missed my daughter's dance recital, and my son was the lead in a class play. I depended on my mother to give up six weeks of her life to take care of my children, and my husband has given up his summers to take care of our kids and transport them back and forth to Cleveland."
Suzie McConnell-Serio knows that her life in basketball will be on the sidelines from here on. She leaves with the knowledge that she helped turn a struggling franchise around. For a time, Cleveland was been near the bottom of the league, both in winning percentage and in attendance. Games at the Gund Center had an embarassing number of empty seats at times.
That all changed in 2000. The race for a playoff spot energized the team and its fans; attendance in the second half of the season tripled from the usual.
"It's been a successful season," McConnell-Serio says. "Looking back, I have nothing but a good experience. I've loved playing the game."
But just as the Rockers were preparing for the playoffs, their fortunes sagged, losing four of six games to start the second half of July.
Then, on Sunday, August 6, 2000, McConnell-Serio dropped the bomb.
"There isn't just one reason why I am retiring," she said at a pre-game press conference before an important win against the Washington Mystics. "Of course, every athlete wants their career to end on their terms, and, as cliched as it sounds, that is one of the reasons why I am retiring now."
McConnell-Serio's decision to retire in 2000 is a contrast to her determined and principled play during her college, international, and professional career. Given the number of legendary performers from her era who never got the chance to play in the WNBA, her example gives basketball fans an insight as to how good the Donovans, McGees, and Millers were. And that's something to be treasured.