New York Liberty forward Tina Charles is defended by Washington...

New York Liberty forward Tina Charles is defended by Washington Mystics forward LaToya Sanders during a WNBA basketball game at Westchester County Center on Saturday. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. — The Liberty fell into a 24-point hole early in the fourth quarter Saturday against Washington, but Tina Charles was about to go on a run inside Westchester County Center.

She contributed the Liberty’s next nine points and triggered a 17-4 burst.

That’s who she is.

Charles is a 6-4 power forward with a gift for scoring. Her turnaround fadeaway from 5 feet out capped her run and made her the second player in Liberty history to surpass 3,000 points. She has been voted an All-Star for the sixth time — or every time there has been an All-Star Game in her nine seasons.

But Charles isn’t defined just by her ability to put a ball through a net. She turns over her entire WNBA salary to her Hopey’s Heart Foundation to try to save lives.

Add that to her history of funding educational opportunities through school construction and scholarships in Africa and you know why she will be honored by the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in September. She will receive a 2018 Mannie Jackson — Basketball’s Human Spirit Award, recognizing her humanitarian efforts.

That’s who she is, too.

She scored a team-high 22 against the Mystics, but that came in a 95-78 loss. The Liberty is having a bad year at 7-17, but Charles is having another good year with a basketball in her hands and kindness in her heart.

That charitable side is built to last.

“Really, it just came from being a Christian, honestly, being a Christian and just my faith, being a servant unto others, treating those how I would like to be treated,” Charles said. “It’s very important to me to donate my life to others.

“I know with the WNBA, I have a platform and I can advocate for what I believe in and to show young girls aspiring to be in the WNBA to use it to impact other lives.”

Chicago Sky coach and GM Amber Stocks used to be an Xavier assistant. She came to Christ the King games on the recruiting trail to see Charles, the team’s star from Queens.

“Ever since she was in high school, she’s always been very respected both on and off the court,” Stocks said. “I remember watching her play in high school. She was so polite, poised, always very classy.”

Charles was the consensus national high school player of the year in 2006 after winning her second straight state title. She went to UConn and closed with back-to-back NCAA championships. She also left with the Huskies’ career scoring and rebounding records, although Maya Moore and Breanna Stewart subsequently surpassed her in points.

The Connecticut Sun drafted Charles first overall in 2010. After becoming the rookie of the year, Charles added “WNBA MVP” to her resume with the Sun in 2012, the year a school opened in Mali that she paid $32,000 to build.

Her foundation came into play the following year. It was the year her aunt, Maureen “Hopey” Vaz, died from multiple organ failure. The foundation’s purpose is to provide health education and CPR training, and to donate automated external defibrillators to schools, recreation centers and communities. It already has donated 330. The goal is 100 per year.

“Prior to my aunt passing away, I had read an article on a high school basketball player that passed away from sudden cardiac arrest, when the heart suddenly stops,” Charles said. “I remember seeing [AEDs] around in different facilities and institutions, but nobody ever told me about the importance of having the device . . .

“So when my aunt passed away, I just wanted to donate on a mission, and that became Hopey’s Heart Foundation.”

Charles also competes overseas during the WNBA’s offseason, playing in China since 2015. Charles began donating half her WNBA salary to the foundation in 2013 and raised the pot to her full Liberty salary in 2015. Last year, she met a man who was saved by her donation of an AED.

Liberty coach Katie Smith cited Charles’ essence of “giving back” and said that’s “why she’s a special lady.”

Charles joined the Liberty in 2014. She wanted out of Connecticut and was traded where she wanted to go — home.

“I definitely wanted to come to New York because I always wanted to come to the New York Liberty,” Charles said. “It was a dream come true. I grew up always coming to the games. My mom was a season-ticket holder. . . . Just watching Teresa Weatherspoon and the likes of Becky Hammon, I just always aspired to be like them.”

Now, besides being the Liberty’s second all-time leading scorer, Charles is its all-time leading rebounder. She currently owns team-leading averages of 19.8 points and 6.8 rebounds.

“She’s a dominant presence,” Smith said. “Most one-on-one matchups, she’s pretty much able to do what she wants. But she has also become a better perimeter shooter. [She’s] continuing to learn how to be a great passer out of the post. She’s athletic. She’s versatile. Then on the other end, she can switch out and guard guards.”

But after three straight seasons with the East’s best record, the Liberty has struggled. Charles admits that she has had to try to keep her frustrations from showing because her teammates’ eyes are on her.

“She’s the face of our team,” said Bria Hartley, the guard from North Babylon. “ . . . She’s our leader. She does a great job leading by example.”

The face of the franchise turns 30 in December. She has struck gold twice at the Olympics, but has never won a WNBA championship. It bothers her. She wants to win one with her dream team. The Liberty is still in search of title No. 1.

“As an athlete, your success is gauged on how many championships you’ve won, not about the accolades or anything like that,” Charles said. “None of that means anything to me. But to win a WNBA championship would be the ultimate.”


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