After many years as teammates with UConn and the Connecticut Sun, Renee Montgomery, Kalana Greene and Tina Charles developed the type of sisterhood that grows from being together through so many interesting times.
And that relationship will last a lot longer than their basketball careers. So when Charles told the Sun she wanted to be traded, and the Sun accommodated her on draft day, everyone understood it was just a business decision.
"I wish her the best," Greene said. "She's one of my best friends. I still talk to her just about every day. But it is what it is. Management makes decisions that are best for them; players sometimes do the same thing. It's the world we live in. It's not like I'm never going to see her again."
Thursday at Madison Square Garden, an hour before the Sun's exhibition game against the New York Liberty, Charles was in street clothes. Her career with the Liberty has not begun. She watched New York's 60-44 loss from the bench.
"We are just taking it slowly right now," Charles said.
She spent time before the game warmly greeting many former teammates and coaches with the Sun. There were long hugs; no signs of animosity.
"I was really shocked when I found out she'd been traded, but then when I thought about it, it made a lot more sense to me and I shouldn't have been so surprised by it," Kelsey Griffin said.
"At the end of the day, it is a business, and you have to look at your own situation and figure out what's best for you. That's what Tina did. I will miss playing with her; I consider her a friend."
Why Charles wanted out of Connecticut is a matter for debate. But there are a few indisputable facts:
She did not agree with the decision to fire coach Mike Thibault after the 2013 season.
"Everyone handles change differently," said Griffin, who came to the Sun with Charles in 2010, but unlike Charles, decided to re-sign as a restricted free agent in the offseason. "It was a huge change. And it was clear, also with Asjha Jones and Kara Lawson … They each handled it in their own way. But at the same time I think they were all professional about it."
Charles clearly did not mesh well with Thibault's replacement, Anne Donovan, whose coaching style brought many changes.
"That wasn't the plan," Donovan said. "I came here [from Seton Hall] to coach Tina Charles and Sandrine Gruda, also hoping Asjha would come back [after missing 2013 with injury]."
Eventually, Charles clearly lost her passion to play after the playoff push ended, resulting in her not playing in the final five games because of recurring injuries.
And regardless of what was said when Donovan and Chris Sienko, the team's general manager, went to Russia to assuage her concerns, she simply did not want to re-sign with the Sun.
"I played in Russia in the winter, just like Tina did," Montgomery said. "So I was following what was going on with her situation. I knew what was going on. I played with her for eight years. She is family and to see her leave was tough. But business is business. At the end of the day, people get cut and traded all the time. I support her and want her to be happy."
Charles understood that if she signed an extension with the Sun it would have locked her into to the organization long-term, preventing her from perhaps ever playing in New York.
"You never want to keep someone who doesn't want to be with the team," said Allie Hightower, another Charles' friend. "That hurts the team. But we got a lot of great talent in return for her."
So she asked to leave, and permission was granted
"What I came here for is gone," said Donovan, who also signed off on Gruda's trade to Los Angles after she again refused to play with Sun this season. "But I am hoping it works out for the best for everybody."
After returning to United States following her winter in Russia, Charles has been given time off by Liberty coach Bill Laimbeer.
She did not play in either of New York's two exhibition games against Connecticut and Laimbeer said it's likely she won't play Sunday in the team's finale in Atlanta.
"She's been observing," Laimbeer said. "We will probably see her at the start of the season. She's a fine player. There are very few in this league who give you 18 [points] and 10 [rebounds] every night. Professional basketball is built on stars, and she is one of them."
That means her first game with New York would be in the season opener May 16 against the Sun at Mohegan Sun Arena – the place where she once reigned as WNBA rookie of the year and MVP.
She said she is curious, but not nervous about how she will be greeted.
"My teammates know who I really am," she said. "Other people are going to feel what they want to feel, think what they want to think. You are going to make some people happy and others not so much. I understand that.
And so she suspects she will be treated like other the other former UConn stars who return to play against the Sun. Diana Taurasi, Sue Bird, Svetlana Abrosimova, Swin Cash and Maya Moore have all been cheered during introductions and booed in games.
lives in the Forest Hills section of Queens, N.Y., and rode the subway to the game on Thursday. She is near her parents, who live apart in other New York suburbs. And she said being able to play closer to them is a way for her to repay them for what they did for her.
"They invested so much in me when I was growing up," Charles said.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun