'Mama Taj' rolls on: McWilliams-Franklin, 40, still starting for the Lynx
Mohegan - Taj McWilliams-Franklin signed a one-year contract to play for the Minnesota Lynx this season, just as she did last season with the New York Liberty.
"I only have one year in me, so I can't sign for two," McWilliams-Franklin said before last Tuesday's game against the Connecticut Sun at Mohegan Sun Arena. "I have to decide year to year after 40 (years old). I don't want to put any team in a position where they end up signing me for two and then I end up retiring. Then I'd end up feeling bad."
McWilliams-Franklin, 40, has only talked about retiring since, oh, about 2006 when she was with the Sun.
"Thirty-five (years old)," McWilliams-Franklin said. "That was the year I was retiring. Here I am still, playing five years later."
A 6-foot-2 center/forward, McWilliams-Franklin may be self-deprecating when it comes to her age, but she's still starting and contributing for the league-leading Lynx.
"(I'm) having fun," McWilliams-Franklin said. "(We're) playing well. What else can you ask for? (I'm) getting paid. A lovely combination."
"She's a very disciplined player," Minnesota's Seimone Augustus said. "She doesn't go outside of what she does best and she's taught younger players like Jessica Adair and Amber Harris how to do the same. She brings that veteran leadership, that stability, that maybe we didn't have before. She's experienced, and she's been through everything."
"Everything" includes 13 years in the WNBA and two before that in the now-defunct American Basketball League. It includes playing for teams all around the world, from Italy to Korea to Russia to Luxembourg. She was in Israel in 1995 when Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated.
McWilliams-Franklin has managed to raise two daughters. Michele was born when McWilliams-Franklin was a 17-year-old senior in high school. She's been raising another daughter, Maia, now eight. And she's happily married to Reggie Franklin.
Basketball has put untold miles on McWilliams-Frankin's legs and sometimes thousands of miles between her and her family. But she still can't get enough of it.
"(It's) competition. Excitement," McWilliams-Franklin said. "Something to do. It keeps me moving, keeps me going. That's why I live and breathe, being able to do something that gets my blood running and keep it running."
The Lynx were 20-6 prior to Tuesday's game at Tulsa. More importantly, they qualified for the playoffs Saturday for the first time in six seasons. McWilliams-Franklin averaged 28.6 minutes, 8.2 points and 6.3 rebounds in those 26 games.
"My focus isn't on stats anymore like it was when I was younger," McWilliams-Franklin said. "It's more about helping, giving something back for all of the great stuff I've been given. It's just the moment to give something back."
Augustus said: "She's very crafty at getting her hands on the ball on the defensive end. And on the offensive end, she takes her time. I think it really messes a lot of younger players up because she doesn't make a quick move. She takes her time. Sizes them up. And then she makes the move on them. It's effective, and it's quick. It's like bam-bam. You see her go up against Tina Charles, Sylvia Fowles and she's still effective at this age."
It's been a good summer for McWilliams-Franklin. She's playing with a team quite capable of winning a WNBA championship and getting her a second ring. She was also one of 30 players selected by a panel for the WNBA's Top 15 Players of All-Time fan voting.
McWilliams-Franklin has been remarkably durable given the years and the wear and tear. Her good health and fortune are a mystery to even her.
"Outside of prayer and taking care of my body, I've just been given God-given ability and talent," McWilliams-Franklin said. "I can't say anything else. I eat well, but I don't eat great. I'm not starving. I travel. My knees ache every day. My back hurts, my fingers. But every morning I wake up and I feel good again."
As McWilliams-Franklin talks, her teammates walk in and out of a near-empty locker room and joke with her as they pass by.
"I like sitting around by myself and thinking about all of them as they walk by and, as you notice, say things to me, then roam out," McWilliams-Franklin said. "These are things that other people don't get to see when we're on the court and I love that. And that keeps me going, too.
"I don't want to be, 'Oh, I'm old.' That keeps me going."