Tina Charles Leads On and Off the Court
The 2018 Mannie Jackson Award winner hopes to lead USA Basketball to its third-straight FIBA World Cup gold medal.
It was around the same time that Wes Leonard, a prep basketball player from Michigan, collapsed and died from cardiac arrest in a gym that wasn’t equipped with automatic external defibrillators (AEDs) that could have saved his life.
Like much of the country, Charles was affected by the story.
Already a two-time NCAA champion with the University of Connecticut, the 2009 USA Basketball Female Athlete of the Year and the 2010 WNBA Rookie of the Year, Charles was well on her way to becoming one of the most dominant players in the game.
All the while, she has made it her mission to give back in any way she could, both on her own and through her Hopey’s Heart Foundation, to help make sure Leonard’s tragedy is never repeated.
On Sept. 6, she is being honored for her activism as the female winner of the 2018 Mannie Jackson – Basketball’s Human Spirit Award from the Naismith Hall of Fame.
“My goal is to be a servant unto others,” Charles said from USA Basketball Women’s National Team camp in Columbia, South Carolina, where she is trying to make her third USA Basketball World Cup team. “That’s what life is about. Being in the WNBA and playing basketball, I have the ability to make sure others see that way, to advocate for what they believe in.”
Charles’ activism has risen alongside her basketball career.
A five-time WNBA All-Star from Jamaica, Queens, Charles began her professional career with the Connecticut Sun but has been playing for her hometown New York Liberty since 2014.
Now 29, she already is the 2012 WNBA MVP and a two-time Olympic gold medalist and two-time World Cup gold medalist for USA Basketball. This week the 6-foot-4 center is taking part in the training camp that will select the team that will compete in the 2018 World Cup being held Sept. 22-30 in Tenerife, Spain, where she’s hoping to make it a hat trick of World Cup gold medals.
Her success on the court has done little to slow down her giving off the court.
In 2011, Charles donated $14,775 to the New York Department of Education and the Wes Leonard Heart Team to purchase AEDs for New York schools. Education is another passion subject for Charles, and in 2012, she teamed with OmniPeace and buildOn to build a new school in Mali, paying for the entire project, which cost about $32,000.
She began focusing entirely on the heart the following year, in 2013, when her aunt, Maureen “Hopey” Vaz, passed away due to multiple organ failure. Charles set up the Hopey’s Heart Foundation in her aunt’s name, providing AEDs to schools and organizations in the United States.
“I’ve been able to place 360 AEDs and have been donating my entire WNBA paycheck to the foundation since 2013,” Charles said.
Next she’s looking to expand the effort into all gymnasiums where EuroLeague and EuroCup teams practice and play.
How does she manage to make ends meet despite the donations?
“By the grace of God,” says the woman who earned USA Today, McDonald's, Parade Magazine, Gatorade and SI.com National High School Player of the Year awards in 2006.
Charles never quits, never slows down, and is one of the most exciting players to watch in all of basketball.
“I just think that when I’m playing, there may be someone there who has never seen me play before, or the New York Liberty before, and I just want to put on a good show, give the glory to God and be a reflection of him on the court and when I’m off the court,” she says.
And she likes to spread the credit, as well.
“If someone were to tell me when I was at UConn, coming forward that my future would be what it is today, I wouldn’t believe it,” Charles said. “I’m thankful for all the coaches I’ve had, the players I’ve played with and against who have helped me prepare for those moments, those experiences.”
As she readies herself to make another national team and possibly win a third-straight World Cup gold medal, Charles said she feels no pressure.
“Pressure is someone asking you to do something you’re not cable of doing,” she explained. “I’m a confident player. I’m really blessed to be confident in my skills and the people around me.”
Gary R. Blockus is a freelance contributor to USAB.com on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.
The USA will be in the hunt to earn a 10th World Cup gold medal at the 2018 FIBA World Cup Sept. 22-30 in Tenerife, Spain. Follow along on the team’s journey on usab.com and through USA Basketball’s social media as the team goes for gold.