Charles should inspire us all

Mohegan

People ask me frequently what I like best about this job. Usually, I say the money. (Joking, joking). Really, it's this: The opportunity to tell other peoples' stories and chronicling seminal moments, and small ones, too, in their lives beats a steak at the Ritz.

Maybe the best example of why this is so worthwhile was Tuesday's conversation with Tina Charles, the reigning MVP of the WNBA, the epicenter of the Connecticut Sun and part of the lineage in UConn lore and legend.

Charles was telling a story about an off day she had playing basketball this past winter in Poland. Never knew Tina was such a connoisseur of history. But she went to the museum in Oskar Schindler's factory in Krakow, a sobering walk through the five-year Nazi occupation there in World War II. It is what inspired "Schindler's List."

"In his office," Charles was saying about the centerpiece of the museum that has been preserved, "you see the names of the people he saved."

It wasn't long after that Charles said: "That's what helped the light bulb go off. In the next 48 hours, I contacted my agent. At the end of 'Schindler's List,' Oskar Schindler says, 'whoever saves one life, saves the world entire.' I was thinking I wanted to do something, my aunt had passed away and I'm going to start this foundation."

Introducing the Tina Charles Heart of Hope Foundation (TCHH) in memory of her aunt, Maureen "Hopey" Vaz, who died of multiple organ failure March 9, 2013. The Foundation will host a grant program to supply eligible schools or recreational centers with Automatic External Defibrillator (AED) equipment.

Charles has already donated AED devices to the school of a Michigan high school basketball player who died of sudden cardiac arrest and to the New York City Department of Education.

"This foundation will mirror every characteristic my aunt had," Charles said, beginning with her nickname: Hopey.

Because what is more inspirational than hope?

It was right about here that I nearly had a Hallmark Moment. Not because this is such a heartening story - although it sure is - but because of the way we've watched Tina Charles grow up before us. She's not just a basketball player anymore.

The same is true for many of her former UConn teammates.

But to see this affinity for history, this intellectual curiosity, the calling from Oskar Schindler's quote, speaks to a deeper, more substantive person than any of us ever knew. We are lucky she shared. Many athletes don't.

Charles is another example of a great irony before us here in Connecticut. Most women's basketball fans view the Huskies as their honorary daughters. They think they may have some insight into their lives based on perhaps following their tweets or what they read in the papers. But it's only when they get to the WNBA, only when they are no longer ants marching and they truly embark into adulthood, that we get an appreciation for who they really are.

Charles said her after-basketball life will be awash in philanthropic pursuits, because "God gives you what you need to give others what they need."

My favorite story of all in Sun history, even beyond Lindsay Whalen's practical jokes, was a right-place, right-time thing last year. I happened to be in the gym with former coach Mike Thibault when Charles learned she'd been named MVP.

Charles, not always comfortable showing her emotions, cried and threw her arms around Thibault, saying "thank you" to him several times. It felt like the end of a movie. The real Tina.

Fans of the Sun should know that Charles was none too pleased about Thibault's departure or the way in which it was conveyed to the players: without their knowledge.

"I had a lot of anger, a lot of rage," she said. "I love coach T and I still do. For everything he was able to do for me, for the current players, for the whole program. But it's a business. It's not up to certain people. I still keep in contact with him. I always will. He's still going to be that figure in my life."

Charles will get along famously with Anne Donovan, the new coach, once an elite post player and someone from whom Tina can learn even more.

But this is about Tina the person. The real Tina. All of Connecticut, the WNBA and the women's sports revolution should be proud of her. Philanthropy, history, loyalty. She's the whole package. She makes you want to tell her story.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.

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