Ring of Honor Retrospective: Kym Hampton

And the last shall be first, and the (almost) first shall be last. Before Cappie, before Tari, before Becky and Crystal, before even Sue and VJ, there was Kym Hampton, the Liberty's first-round pick in the Elite Draft that came before the regular entry draft. She was the third player who could claim she was a member of the New York Liberty.

Kym is part of one of the lost generations of women's basketball- if we count generations in athletics the way we do in genealogy, possibly the last lost generation, presuming we don't enter any new dark ages in the future. The WBL was in its dying throes when she played at Arizona State in the early '80s (pictures 9 and 10 in ASU's gallery, oh my God, Kym's hair), and by the time the WNBA tipped off in 1997, she was near the end of her playing days, thirty-mumble and slowed by injuries and time. When even her echoes were noteworthy, you have to wonder what she was like in her prime. But then, you have to wonder that about a lot of players.

That is one of the great frustrations of being a women's basketball fan in the modern day: when we want to turn to our history, we find it half-buried and forgotten, unchronicled for lack of respect or effort. Parts of it are bright and well-told- John Molina's work with the All-American Redheads, Karra Porter's history of the WBL- but history is as much about the mundane as it as the marvelous, the daily grind as much as the single event. We have our knowns on tape and in print; we have our known unknowns, the things we know exist, but have no more record of than box scores and stats; we have our unknown unknowns, the things we'll never know without a time machine or a heretofore unknown tape. (How many years did it take for tape of Georgeann Wells's dunk to materialize? Tape that was from a scouting report, and not footage taken because a woman had just dunked?)

So we don't actually know how good Kym Hampton was when she was in her college days, and in her prime in Europe. And that's a damn shame. How can you write about a player and look back at her career when all you have is a thin slice from one end of it? A lot of the early players in the WNBA have the same problem, but to me, Kym's is one of the most glaring, partly because she played for my team and partly because she has so little documentation. Nancy Lieberman has WBL stats; Lynette Woodard and others have places in the Hall of Fame; Teresa Weatherspoon and many others have Olympic honors; Sue Wicks and quite a few others have retired jerseys, or have schools with a long and proud tradition that wave their banners high. Kym? Arizona State is a solid program, but not on the level of a Rutgers or a Louisiana Tech- and, to compound things, out West and away from most of the record-keeping efforts.  (I haven't even been able to find her stats.  This makes me sad.  Paging pilight to the white courtesy phone...)

This we know in New York: Kym put in the work, even though she was hurting. Solid is the word for her- at least, according to long-time Liberty fan Essence Carson, and I can't see a reason to argue with that assessment. She wasn't going to be easily moved, for good or for ill. When you're building a team, building a franchise, building a league, you need a foundation. You need bedrock. You need... something- or someone- solid.

This is more of a small side note- or perhaps small is the wrong word to use in this context. There's been talk recently about the practice of not listing weights for high school and college players (a concept that I agree with for high school and disagree with for college, but that's neither here nor there).

That's not the case in the pros, so anyone could pull up Kym's player info, or look at the big roster cards that were given out at every game, and see that in playing trim she weighed in at 200 pounds. That's a big scary number to a lot of women, one that tends to turn off brain cells regarding muscle and build and overall health. But she owned it, she used it, and then she turned around and flaunted it when she modeled for Lane Bryant.

I'm going to leave this image from the 1999 All-Star fashion gallery here for your examination, regret the fact that I don't have the name of the original photographer, and give you a few minutes.

I've confessed that though I can trace the roots of my Liberty loyalty back to 1997, my clearest memories are from 2000 and after. Much as I have only dim knowledge of when Rebecca Lobo was in her glory, I have only a few scraps and pictures from Kym's career. So much of what she's done for this team has come after she took off her uniform and hung up her sneakers for the last time. I don't think there's a day she hasn't spent in the last 11 years promoting the team in some way. She's out and about in the community, sometimes to the point of parody- but a league like this needs players and people like that. We're not getting the mainstream coverage to keep us even at the subconscious level for most people. They have to be reminded that we exist- maybe with a random article, maybe with the sight of a logo, and maybe with an appearance from a former player with an outgoing personality.

Foundation work is crucial to keep the structure standing. Kym's done yeoman's work doing that. And sometimes that needs to be recognized. Sometimes the basics go unnoticed and they need to be brought to the light.

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