Jewell Loyd made her feelings about Tina Charles clear after the Seattle Storm took Game 1 from Las Vegas in the WNBA semifinals on Aug. 28.
“Don’t forget about Tina Charles. Whatever happened early on, she’s with us and we know her capabilities. She’s a Hall of Famer,” Loyd told ESPN’s Holly Rowe in a postgame interview after Charles grabbed a franchise-record 18 rebounds and added 13 points in the upset win.
Though she played only 24 games for the Storm this season, forgetting about Charles is nearly impossible for anyone in the basketball world.
She’s made headlines on and off the court, and now that she’s an unrestricted free agent, there are sure to be many more. Let’s revisit Charles’ past to get a better sense of what might be in her future.
Charles has long been heralded for her basketball skills. The center gained widespread recognition while playing for Christ the King High School in Queens, N.Y. — the same school Sue Bird and Chamique Holdsclaw attended years prior. There, she became a McDonald’s All-American and was tabbed as New York’s Miss Basketball.
Charles averaged 26.5 points, 14.8 rebounds and 5.2 blocks during her senior season before suiting up for UConn.
With the Huskies, Charles won national championships in 2009 and 2010 while playing with other future WNBA stars Maya Moore, Renee Montgomery and Tiffany Hayes. During her senior season, Charles broke Rebecca Lobo’s record to become UConn’s all-time leading rebounder.
After her success at UConn, the Connecticut Sun selected Charles first overall in the 2010 WNBA Draft. She was named Rookie of the Year and then league MVP two years later after averaging 18 points, 10.5 rebounds, 1.7 assists and 1.4 blocks per game in 2012.
The Sun traded Charles before the 2014 season in an effort to secure draft picks, ultimately using their No. 4 pick on current player Alyssa Thomas. Charles then spent six seasons with the Liberty. While playing for her hometown team, the center was named to five All-Star teams and became the franchise’s all-time leading rebounder in 2019.
Before the 2020 season, Charles expressed her interest in leaving New York for Washington, and the Liberty ultimately traded Charles to the Mystics in a three-team deal on April 15.
“It was her choice,” Mystics head coach and general manager Mike Thibault told reporters at the time. “She took her time to think about it and informed New York a few weeks ago that she would like to be traded. And ever since that time, us and New York have been negotiating on the deal.”
She sat out the 2020 bubble season due to COVID-19 concerns related to her extrinsic asthma before posting 23.4 points (the best scoring average of her career) and 9.6 rebounds per game in 2021 — her lone season with Washington.
Mystics fans who hoped to see Charles and Elena Delle Donne play together never got their wish, as Delle Donne was plagued with injuries in 2021 and the two appeared in just one game together. Charles decided to look elsewhere in free agency and ended up signing a one-year, $108,000 deal with the Mercury.
Prior to the signing, Charles had enjoyed WNBA success at an individual level with eight All-Star appearances and nine All-WNBA First and Second Team selections, but not at a team level. In her 11 seasons, Charles had yet to win a title and had not made a semifinals appearance since 2015, when the Liberty lost to the Fever.
Wherever she landed next, Charles wanted it to be a team that could contend in the playoffs. With that criteria in mind, re-signing with the Mystics would have made sense, but neither party seemed interested in the option.
“I just know I need to win a championship before I retire,” Charles told the Washington Post last September. “Obviously, some decisions are going to have to be made, and I have to look into everything. I’m thankful for my year here and just to see how they do things, and [that] will definitely help moving forward.”
During a press conference in early February, Thibault expressed his wish to re-sign both Emma Meesseman (now with the Sky) and Myisha Hines-Allen (still with the Mystics) but never mentioned Charles’ name.
With the signing of Charles, the Mercury looked to have the makings of a super team after finishing 2021 as runners-up. They retained Diana Taurasi, Skylar Diggins-Smith, Kia Nurse and Brittney Griner and also signed Diamond DeShields, who was an important part of the Sky’s 2021 WNBA championship run.
But things quickly soured in Phoenix.
Griner was wrongfully detained on drug charges in Russia and never made an appearance for the Mercury in 2022, with the fight to get her home ongoing. Nurse also missed the season with a torn ACL.
The Mercury started the season 2-8 and in search of answers for their talented squad. During her tenure in Phoenix, Charles averaged 17.3 points and 7.3 rebounds while starting all 16 of her appearances.
On June 25, the relationship took another turn when Charles and Phoenix decided to go their separate ways via a contract divorce. Mercury GM Jim Pitman said in a statement at the time, “Due to circumstances both in and out of our control, our season has not gone according to our plan, and we will continue to pursue all avenues for improvement.”
Charles was with the Mercury for 18 games overall, but according to coach Vanessa Nygaard, she “chose” not to appear in the other two contests. ESPN reported that Charles had been unhappy with her role in Phoenix’s offense and had regularly expressed her desire to leave the team.
It also appeared that Charles had no love lost for her former coach after the contract divorce.
“I have a small window and there’s a way that I want to play, and with the time I have left playing, there’s a way I want to be coached,” Charles said after her decision to leave the team was made public.
Three days after her contract divorce with the Mercury, Charles signed with the Storm, the team she had reportedly turned down in the offseason for Phoenix. The decision made sense for both parties at the time, as the Storm needed another rebounder and post presence to complement Ezi Magbegor, the team’s lone center. Meanwhile, Charles was still on a quest to win a title, and the Storm were in a good position to contend.
“I want to thrive in the right environment at this point in my career, being 13 years in,” Charles told ESPN last month. “A lot of other players maybe would have had time to settle in and see what the outcome of that was. Me being 33, I just knew what my goal was and it’s also important to know what process you want to go through to attain that goal.”
Charles performed well for the Storm, averaging 12.6 points and 7.4 blocks across 18 games as they made a run to the semifinals. She went quiet in Seattle’s final two games of the series, however, grabbing 14 total rebounds and scoring just two points in Game 4 on Tuesday. She also missed two free throws in the final 10 seconds of Game 3, leaving the door open for Las Vegas’ comeback.
Now that the Storm have been eliminated from playoff contention, coach Noelle Quinn and the organization turn to next season, one that is marked with uncertainty. Bird’s retirement is at the forefront of everyone’s minds, but after Loyd and Mercedes Russell, everyone else on the roster is a free agent. While Magbegor is a restricted free agent, everyone else — including Stewart — is unrestricted.
During exit interviews on Wednesday, Quinn expressed her desire to re-sign Stewart. Quinn also mentioned the importance of signing a point guard to replace the retired Bird and Briann January.
After that, the team will focus on rostering a mix of youth and experience, Quinn said.
So, how does Charles fit into that conversation?
Charles did not show up for her exit interview with media members on Wednesday — she was the only Storm player to not appear — but Quinn said she had a positive conversation with the veteran. She did not specify, however, whether or not the team would seek to re-sign her.
“I told her I appreciated the professionalism she brought,” Quinn said. “Obviously, we didn’t finish the ultimate goal, which is to win a championship, but I thought she conducted herself in a very positive manner throughout.”
If Stewart returns, between her and Loyd, the Storm will already have two key pieces in place for rebuilding a championship roster. Charles has expressed multiple times her desire to win a title before she retires, so from her perspective, the Storm could remain a good fit. Plus, Quinn reacted positively to Charles’ time with the Storm.
There seems to be no ill will between the two parties, so a return is possible, though neither the Storm nor Charles has spoken directly to the topic.
For now, Charles’ future once again remains uncertain.
Eden Laase is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @eden_laase.