Perpetual Olympian, Edwards counts Games, but never the years


SYDNEY, Australia - Teresa Edwards began her Olympic career when Ronald Reagan was in the White House and "Born in the USA" topped the rock charts.

She saw women's basketball rise from the obscurity of cramped gyms to the glitter of NBA arenas, with all the attendant hype and histrionics of promotion, television and show time.

But in her heart, she wasn't so much a pro as an Olympian, which is why she was back where she belonged yesterday, playing in her fifth Summer Games, running the break and running the show for the U.S. women's team, which defeated Cuba, 90-61, in a preliminary-round game.

"Obviously, I'm running from the real world," she said. "I want to play basketball forever."

She may be 36 and slouching toward retirement, but there were times when Edwards flashed all the old moves and ignited a U.S. team that needed a start against Cuba.

There was a moment of pure basketball bliss early in the second half inside a sweaty arena, when Edwards put on her burners and did a neat spin dribble that left a Cuban defender 10 years her junior on the floor. And Edwards kept the play moving, her braids flapping as she drove through the lane with two slick steps to a layup.

Seconds later, there was Edwards again, running the fast break like a master, tossing a pass nearly half the court for a layup by Nikki McCray.

"What do you want me to do, hobble down the court like an old woman?" Edwards said with a smile after her 13-point effort. "Just because I'm retiring, I'm not finished."

She says these will be her last Games and that she'll retire from the sport after the Olympics.

But haven't we heard that before? The 1996 Games in Atlanta were supposed to be her last. She was competing near her hometown of Cairo, Ga., and she was riding a wave of emotion after taking the athletes' oath at the opening ceremonies. And she was playing with a team of veterans who knew exactly what to do, who had enjoyed a year on the road, preparing for a gold-medal assault.

"Everyone felt like amateurs," she said of the 1996 team. "Everything was innocent and new."

After the Games, she called it an Olympic career.

So, what happened?

"You could call me a liar - you'd be telling the truth," she said.

She was a star player-coach in the American Basketball League, one of the competing women's basketball pro start-ups that sought to flourish in the wake of the tremendous reception the sport received in Atlanta. When the league folded, she declined to play in the WNBA, which has a firm salary scale that couldn't be bent to accommodate a star of Edwards' stature.

"What they offered me, I said, 'No.' Period," she said.

Any regrets about turning down the WNBA?

"I'm 36," she said. "I've played professionally for 12 years. I'm in the right place at the right time. I accept it. I enjoy my career. I don't wish I were younger. I'm a pioneer, of sorts."

She took an unusual route to these Olympics, playing and training in Atlanta for two years, often on her own.

But she got here. The kid who played in her first Olympics in 1984 in Los Angeles, who has won three gold medals, who has played in 207 international games and counting, is now the veteran leader.

And after the Olympics, she'll be looking for a job. She'd like to be a broadcaster but is open to any job "that makes good money."

"Given the opportunity, it would be great to coach pro basketball," she said. "Why not men?"

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