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Seimone Augustus remained the most ‘unselfish superstar’ through her retirement

Augustus’ willingness to put her teammates first helped lead to her decision to hang it up.

New York Liberty v Los Angeles Sparks Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

Seimone Augustus ends her WNBA career as one of the most decorated players in league history. She was the No. 1 pick in the 2006 WNBA Draft and won Rookie of the Year that season while setting a rookie scoring record that stands to this day. She is an eight-time All-Star, six-time all-WNBA honoree, four-time champion, and the 2011 Finals MVP.

Augustus might have even collected more individual accolades during her 15 seasons, but she chose to prioritize team success early in her career. In The IX Newsletter, Howard Megdal wrote about a pivot point in Augustus’ career in 2011 when she hadn’t yet made the playoffs, and Minnesota decided to center the franchise around different stars:

Those early Lynx teams didn’t have enough help for Seimone, and lost more than they won. After injuries set her back, by age 26, she was in precisely the spot many superstars elect to go somewhere new. Add in a new coach in Cheryl Reeve and a pair of new stars in Lindsay Whalen, traded for, and Maya Moore, drafted, and it would have been very common for a player like Augustus to feel overshadowed. Whalen was the home-state pride, after all, and Moore the next big thing out of UConn.

That’s not how Augustus saw it, however.

“Lindsay alluded to that when she was messaging and tweeting about Simone being the most unselfish superstar she’s ever played with,” Reeve recalled on Tuesday. “…There were some teams in the league that that tampered with Seimone, knowing that we were going to land a number one pick, we’re going to be taking Maya, and they thought maybe it would be the time for Seimone to leave the franchise. And I remember Seimone’s reaction, because she called me and told me, you know, who the team was and, and just that, you know, coach, why in the hell would I leave now? This is what this is what I needed, I’m going to be a winner now. And she wanted to lead the young rookie.”

Being unselfish has been the guiding principle for Augustus throughout her career. It was her motivation back in 2011 when it was time for the Lynx to move in a new direction, sacrificing her individual trajectory for a chance at a dynasty. She could have been an MVP on a different timeline, but instead chose to chase greatness as a team while helping to shepherd Moore into historical immortality.

Ten years later, it was that same ethos of doing what was best for the team and figuring out a way to help young players succeed that guided Augustus in her decision to retire. The Sparks assuredly would have found a place on the roster for Augustus had she chosen to continue her playing career. Her pedigree, and perhaps more importantly, her performance last season demanded it.

But Augustus got to the point in training camp when she realized her body wasn’t responding the same way it used to. She could hang on and still be a productive player, even if she was past her prime. But Augustus had nothing left to prove to herself as a player and extending her career would just be delaying the inevitable. Retiring would be her chance to once again pave the way for the younger generation.

“I looked around and we are very limited on spots, it’s a lot of very talented players that got waived over the last past week, there’s a lot of players from overseas that you all know about or have never heard about that’s waiting on an opportunity here,” Augustus said in her retirement press conference. “So obviously as a player that’s in her latter years of her career, you know I’m looking around and I’m like, if I’m not able to give what I’m used to giving, then I have to allow someone else to carry this torch and live out their journeys.”

Two players who will made the final Los Angeles roster in part due to Augustus’ choice are Bria Holmes and Nia Coffey. Holmes and Coffey are both wings and likely would have slotted behind Augustus on the depth chart, had they even made the team. Now, they have meaningful roles on the Sparks as they continue to prove themselves in the WNBA.

“Being in training camp, two players popped in my head during the course of that time, Nia Coffey and Bria Holmes,” Augustus said. “Two players that have been around this league, they’re trying to find a home. They work really hard. Nia really had a great training camp and Bria had a very solid training camp, she’s a mother. And both of these players are trying to fulfill their dreams. I’m just like if I can’t play and be my whole-hearted self and give everything that I need to give to this team, then maybe I should step away.

Dallas Wings v Los Angeles Sparks
Nia Coffey (center) and Bria Holmes (right) still get to learn from Seimone Augustus, just in a different capacity.
Photo by Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images

“It just so happens to be Nia and Bria because I assumed we’re going to be sharing minutes and the positions that we were playing, like we literally were gonna be sharing minutes,” Augustus continued. “I’m like, why should they have to cut minutes with me and I’m sitting in a tug of war battle with my mind and my body, and they have two able bodies that can go out there that are young and fresh that are trying to find a home here in LA, and they want to play, and they can play at the highest level. It’s time for me to walk away.”

It’s interesting that the two players who benefited most from Augustus’ retirement drew great inspiration from Augustus earlier in their careers. Holmes cited playing against Augustus during her rookie as a “welcome to the league” moment. “Me playing her my rookie year when she was in Minnesota, man,” Holmes said while cracking up. “Her pull-up game, her coming off the screen, she was in my face.”

Coffey grew up in Minnesota and took every opportunity to watch the Lynx play in person when she was in high school. Simply getting to be around Augustus is a dream come true for the first-year Spark.

“She’s amazing and to be around her as a teammate first, I was really excited about that, and to just learn from her and just soak up as much as I could,” Coffey said about Augustus earlier this week. “When I found out she was the coach I was very grateful that she was still going to be here, so I can still learn from her just in a different role.”

It speaks to Augustus’ status as the unselfish star and the consummate teammate that she was ready to move to the next phase of her career in order to be that mentor, rather than be a deterrent to Holmes and Coffey. Augustus wasn’t going to change the perception of her career at this point, but the two younger Sparks definitely can.

The Sparks could probably use Augustus’ performance at a player right now. In her retirement press conference, Augustus said she saw openings on the court that her former teammates missed where she definitely would have pulled up. She’ll have to figure out how to share her IQ with Holmes, Coffey, and the rest of the young Sparks as she grows as a coach. For now, Augustus is happy to be in this position where she can still affect the game; she’s had her time, and she’s ready to help develop the WNBA’s new generation.

The game has given a lot to Seimone Augustus. This is her chance to continue to give back.