WNBA Notebook: Lindsey Harding Continuing Lifelong Dream With the New York Liberty
Her vision became a reality through perseverance, hard work and a steely focus while she was a fan attending Houston Comets games as a youngster with her dad.
Now, whenever Harding takes the floor, she looks up in the stands at the towel-waving, WNBA-jersey wearing, hand-clapping fans and remembers when she was one of them.
“My goal when I went to my first WNBA game in Houston was to one day play in the league,” Harding said Thursday afternoon this past week during a terrific phone conversation. “We were season ticket holders and all I saw growing up in Houston was the Comets winning championships.
"I remember walking into my first WNBA game and it was crowded. Tickets were hard to come by. I just remember how excited everybody was and how much support the Comets had because we were good. I say ‘we’ because I was part of that fan base. I’ll never forget seeing women play instead of men playing.
“This is something I always wanted to do. I wanted to play in college and the WNBA. To accomplish that is amazing especially when you can see something so far in advance and set a goal and achieve it.”
In Harding, the Liberty has acquired a gem. More importantly, Harding, who led the WNBA in assists in 2013, brings additional leadership, experience and poise to the Liberty’s roster.
A physically elegant point guard, Harding excels at the drive-and-kick game. She’s not afraid to attack the basket and loves dropping dimes to her teammates.
Harding, a former No. 1 overall pick out of Duke University (2007), is an eight-year veteran of the WNBA, boasting career averages of 10.4 points, 4.2 assists, and 1.2 steals per game prior to this season.
The Liberty are 3-3 overall after beating Indiana, 91-59, Friday night at Madison Square Garden. New York now embarks on a three-game West Coast trip beginning Sunday night to Seattle, Los Angeles and San Antonio. Tuesday’s game against the Sparks will be televised on ESPN2 at 10 p.m.
Harding’s addition to the Liberty was one of the best moves of the offseason.
“She’s a cerebral player,” coach Bill Laimbeer said. “She’s picked up all of our plays very quickly. She’s been a good steadying force for us and doesn’t turn it over.
"She’s been a little too cautious and I just need to get her to come out of her shell. She’s been a good acquisition and she’s an outstanding defender.”
A bundle of exploding nervous energy, Harding has one of the quickest hands and feet ever seen on a female athlete. The pleasant package of electricity, elusiveness and enthusiasm has a radiant smile that lights up the majestic Manhattan skyline. A human handcuff, Harding sticks to defenders like barbeque sauce on ribs.
Harding is just one of a committee of contributors that has helped the Liberty’s sticky defense yield 77.5 possessions per 40 minutes to opponents.
The Liberty lead the WNBA in opponent field goal percentage, holding teams to 36.6 percent shooting. Both of those numbers were prior to Friday’s win over the Fever.
“We feel that we’ve let a couple of games slip,” Harding said. “It’s still early in the season and we are trying to figure things and each other out. I love the organization and love being around my teammates.
"We have great coaches here as well. It’s a blessing playing in front of the loudest fans in the league. They definitely aren’t shy about voicing their opinion. I love the passion and energy they have. I am happy they are on our side.”
She’s happy to be in New York with an opportunity to immediately contribute especially after spending time overseas playing in the European championships in 2015. Harding, who has dual citizenship, was trying to help her country Belarus, qualify for the upcoming Olympic Games in Rio. She averaged 11.2 points and team best 5.3 assists.
“To be able to come back and participate in the 20th season is great and amazing,” Harding said. “Those tournaments don’t come around all that often and it was a chance take advantage of an opportunity. We finished in top four.”
The marvelously exciting Harding sends a pleasurable shiver of anticipation through the crowd whenever she has the ball in the hands and with her fearless and relentless forays up and down the floor. While Harding makes the game look easy, she has endured some tough moments that have tested her resolve during her career.
The biggest downer occurred during her rookie year when she tore her ACL. It was Harding’s first major injury during her life. She spent countless hours rehabbing with the goal of returning better than ever.
“I always knew that when it came to basketball that if I worked harder than the other person, I could get through anything,” Harding said. “This was the first time I knew it didn’t matter if I was physically stronger than the other person, I had to learn to be stronger mentally. There were things I couldn’t do.”
Of course, Harding had her share of haters and bleacher critics.
“Coming back and reading things like is she going to be the same, I had to cut the noise,” Harding said. “I knew I would come back stronger, faster, and mentally more confident. True character is shown through adversity.”
Harding emphatically answered her detractors – not that she had anything to prove.
She has averaged double figures in six of her eight WNBA seasons, posting a career-best 12.8 point per game with the Washington Mystics in 2009, when she also led the league total minutes (1,194). In 2010 she helped the Mystics win the Eastern Conference regular season title while averaging 12.1 points and 4.0 assists per game.
Though 2007 doesn’t seem that long ago, Harding is closing in on a double-digit career. She’ll turn 32 a week from Sunday, but she’s a veteran now dispensing wisdom to the youngsters. In addition to offering tips about training, taking care of their bodies, money and being a professional, Harding is adjusting, like all of the players, to the new playoff format this season in which the top eight teams, regardless of conference, qualify. The top two seeds receive a bye to the semifinals.
“There’s mixed feelings about the new format and it’ll be interesting,” Harding said. “Not everyone likes change. Every game does matter and its single elimination except for the top two teams. The last time we played single elimination was in college. We understand that every single game counts.”
Harding has been blessed to compete at the highest level and play a game that she loves. She has never cheated the game or fans. Harding is humble, easily accessible, always smiling and enjoys the privilege of representing the WNBA.
“I don’t take one fan or person for granted,” Harding said. “I am just Lindsey and I happen to be good at basketball. To have people support me is an amazing feeling and I am honored to have every fan that I do have.”
She also understands that she won’t play forever and is comfortable whenever the end of her career comes. Harding loves kids even though she doesn’t have any of her own.
“I have a lot of ideas and things in the works,” Harding said. “I want to have plans and roll into whatever is next and stay into sports. Going to Duke and getting my jersey retired is a huge accomplishment and something I didn’t know was possible. Being drafted No. 1, hearing your name called and seeing your dream become a reality is incredible.”