The Big Apple loves big names. New York always has had more than it’s fair share of superstar athletes and this year is no different, despite the fact that no area team has brought home a championship in nearly a half decade.
Carmelo Anthony. David Wright. Odell Beckham. Eli Manning. Henrik Lundqvist. All have sold piles of jerseys and tickets over the past year. Not one of them, however, has recently turned in the kind of dominating, impactful performance that Tina Charles has with the Liberty.
Charles, at age 27, is a franchise player who very may well give her franchise its first WNBA title. The 6-3 center is simply destroying opponents in the post as she makes a run to what would be her second MVP and the Liberty make a run at what would be their first Finals appearance since 2002. She is a player in her prime playing at the top of her game. Not only does she lead the league in scoring with 22.5 points and is the league’s No. 2 rebounder with an average of 9.3 boards per game.
“I’d say she’s the most dominating post player in the world, man or woman,” Liberty coach Bill Laimbeer said. “She’s capable of killing people on the inside or venturing outside and using that part of her skills, too. Plus her rebounding and her defense is the best it’s ever been. You’d be hard pressed to find anyone in professional basketball who dominates the position like she does.”
Though she’s been a standout ever since she came into the league, she’s never had a season like this. Charles has been named the Eastern Conference Player of the Week five times this season, tying a WNBA single-season record. Her 22.5 points per game are easily a career high and nearly five points higher than the 17.1 she averaged last year.
“We rely on her a lot, but at the same time she’s delivering,” Laimbeer said. “You ride that horse as long as you can.”
One reason that Charles has had such a crazy good season is that she’s had to as Epiphanny Prince has been out recovering from a knee injury she suffered last November. Though Prince is expected back later in the year and Sugar Rodgers has stepped up in her absence, the Liberty (15-6) wouldn’t be at the top of the Eastern Conference entering Wednesday’s game against the Atlanta Dream if Charles wasn’t having the kind of season she’s having.
Another reason for Charles’ performance is that she said she wants to do anything she can to avoid the pain she felt at the end of last season when the Liberty, who finished the season with the best record in the league, were upset by the Indiana Fever in the Eastern Conference Finals.
“Last year was definitely upsetting,” Charles said. “You just don’t want to have that experience again . . . I think this year I came in knowing that I have to will my team to win. Knowing how close we were last year and then getting upset, I just came in with a different edge. I know a certain percentage of success for this team lies on my shoulders.”
Charles, who grew up in Queens and went to Christ the King High School, entered this season having just about every accolade a player could want. She was a two-time NCAA champion at Connecticut, she won the league’s MVP when she was only 23 and is a good bet to collect her second Olympic gold medal this summer when she plays for Team USA in the Rio Olympics next month.
It’s hard, however, for Charles to think of a better feather in her cap than to win a title for the Liberty in the league’s 20th anniversary season. Charles grew up cheering for both the Knicks and the Liberty. She also idolized current Liberty teammate Swin Cash back when Cash was playing for the Detroit Shock. Now, that Cash has announced that this will be her last season, Charles would like to help her go out with a bang.
“I know where I want this team to be at the end of the season,” Charles said. “And I’m going to do everything I can to get us there.”
In her seventh WNBA season, Tina Charles has raised her offensive game to a new level. Her year-by-year scoring:
Year, Team PPG
2010, Conn. 15.5
2011, Conn. 17.6
2012, Conn. 18.0
2013, Conn. 18.0
2014, Liberty 17.4
2015, Liberty 17.1
2016 Liberty 22.5