Curtain closes on Sho-Time, Canadian edition
The signs it was time to begin winding down her basketball career were becoming obvious. Going through more bags of ice than a bartender at a beachside all-inclusive was one hint. The fact that she had to begin her warmup half an hour before the rest of the team even started getting loose was another. Her banged-up ankle was a third.
But it’s when she would go through airport screening areas and the surgically implanted metal plate in her foot set off the alarms, she really started to realize it might be time.
“I know I’m getting older,” Shona Thorburn says.
Older is relative, of course. Still, the soon-to-be 35-year-old Hamiltonian announced her retirement from the national women’s basketball team earlier this week, ending a 16-year stretch as one of the backbones of the program.
She’s not entirely sure how she feels about it yet. For now, she’s calling it “happy sad.” Here’s why.
When she first made Team Canada, she was a rising star at the University of Utah via Westdale High School. Looking back, she admits the national team wasn’t very good back then. There were few elite players — she wasn’t one of those at that time, she says — but expectations were minimal.
“If we lost by under 20, it was almost a success,” Thorburn says.
Fast forward to the present. Canada won gold at the Pan Am Games in 2015 and qualified for the past two Olympics. In fact, not winning a medal in Rio last summer was suddenly a huge disappointment. For months, that quarter-final loss to France gnawed at her. It was almost a depression. She really thought they were going to win a medal.
As she started looking ahead, she started thinking hard about her future.
If she was going to stick around for another shot at a medal in Tokyo, it would be three more years of
commitment, workouts, sacrifice and all-encompassing dedication. She couldn’t see herself diving into that. Plus, the team and its feeder program were now loaded, tons of really good players who were competing for spots. The level of play was higher than it had ever been.
Honestly, she’s not sure she’d even make it three years from now. Which, she realized, was a good thing for basketball in this country.
“I hope I couldn’t,” she says. “I hope there are people better than me in their 20s than me at 39.”
The trouble was, she’s loved playing for Canada. After playing for OFSAA championships, in March Madness, in the WNBA and vying for European championships, she says nothing compared to playing for her country. Stepping away from that wasn’t easy.
But when an offer to do online broadcasting of international games on FIBA TV arose — she studied communications at Utah — it clarified things. She couldn’t play full time and work. So she decided it was time.
She’s still signed to play another season of pro ball in France. She wouldn’t mind doing another or two after that. She’d be interested in being part of the national program in some kind of coaching or helping role. But her days of wearing No. 6 in the red and white are done.
It’s easy to see why there would be some sadness. But she said it was “happy sad.” What’s the happy part?
As soon as the announcement was made public, her phone and Twitter went crazy. Many of the notes were from friends but many were from people she’d never met. Fans of women’s basketball. Which is something the Canadian team had few of when she started.
Similar to the way the national women’s soccer team has become a relevant story across the entire sports spectrum, her team’s success on the court has built interest and attracted eyeballs. For her, that’s a cool legacy. If they go on to win a medal in Tokyo, she’d believe she was part of it because her generation helped build the program to that level.
“I’d still be very jealous,” she says, and laugh.
For now though, she’s enjoying a break. No basketball, no running, no training, no nothing. She’s home in Hamilton for a few days before heading back to Europe for a bit. Then going on a summer vacation.
“I haven’t done anything for two weeks,” Thorburn says, breaking into a wide smile. How’s it feel to be free? “It’s wonderful,” she says. “I do feel a little fat.”
Shona Thorburn celebrates the team’s victory over Great Britain at the Olympic in London on July 30, 2012.
Shona Thorburn, right, and Kia Nurse, at the announcement of Canada’s basketball team before the Rio Games.