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Liberty star Kym Hampton inspiring a new generation

Kym Hampton #34 of the New York Liberty

Kym Hampton #34 of the New York Liberty at the WNBA Finals in 1999. (Getty) Credit: Kym Hampton #34 of the New York Liberty at the WNBA Finals in 1999. (Getty)

Former Liberty star Kym Hampton's 15-year professional basketball career took her from Europe and Asia to the early years of the WNBA. Following her retirement, she became a team ambassador, providing advice to young girls in the hope of growing women's sports for the next generation.

Hampton moderated a panel discussion titled "Girls in Sports: An Investment in the Future" at Madison Square Garden yesterday for National Girls and Women in Sports Day. amNewYork spoke with Hampton last week.

How did you first get involved in basketball? I grew up back in the '60s in Kentucky and women's basketball wasn't that big. I didn't really participate in any sports until I began high school. That's when I met [my high school coach] Marshall Abstain. He helped me so much, made me a better player. ... I went from playing jayvee in high school to being one of the top players in the nation.

What was it like playing in the first ever WNBA game for the Liberty against the Los Angeles Sparks? I remember going around [the Forum locker room] and sitting in the stalls and thinking of Michael Jordan and all of the other great players who sat in those stalls. We were all just on an emotional roller coaster because we knew the world was watching us. ... More than anything, we felt like we had arrived. We're the first to do it. It was an amazing feeling. We were tearing up.

How are you using your role as team ambassador to inspire young girls? I feel like my story is motivational and it inspires girls. ... I try to show them how paths and pathways have been opened for you and you have to go forward.

How have you inspired your own young daughter? I had to get going and get pushed into [sports] a little bit, but she likes basketball. ... It's really tough because, you know, I know what it takes to be good and everybody wants their kid to be the best, but there's a thin line also. Keeping it fun, but trying to find ways to help them to excel.

How far has the league come since that first game in Los Angeles? Leaps and bounds, when I think back and think of that first year. You can go down every team and name the players, through the evolution of the game and the evolution of the athletes.

What are your expectations for the Liberty this season? I haven't been this excited for a season in a long time. ... I feel like the organization took a big step to win.

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