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Big Time, Big Bucks
Jeff Pearlman
July 27, 1998
Nikki McCray was looking out for herself when she bolted the ABL for the WNBA
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July 27, 1998

Big Time, Big Bucks

Nikki McCray was looking out for herself when she bolted the ABL for the WNBA

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There is greed working here, and don't be so foolish as to argue otherwise.

Greed hypnotizes people, chews up their souls, spits out the remains. It makes them forget what's important, what's really important. So you, Mr. High School Basketball Coach, don't start with that "Nikki is a God-loving person" stuff. We know she is—who'd argue? And you, Ms. Washington Mystics PR Enforcer, no more "Nikki's done so much for the community" blather. There's no reason to doubt you. None.

Nikki McCray may be the nicest person since Mother Teresa, but is she also a greedy capitalist? Why, yes. She is.

Look at it this way. When McCray, arguably the world's best female basketball player, left the American Basketball League (ABL) after one season, she did so to join a rival entity, the WNBA, that has oodles of TV exposure, oodles of marketing savvy and oodles of glitz, flash and funk. The ABL was nice and cute; heck, McCray's Columbus Quest went 31-9 and won the inaugural championship two seasons back. But—and McCray admits this—the league didn't promote.

The WNBA—me, me, me, me—promotes. So here we are. Two leagues, two teams and a star basketball player recalling the famed Gordon Gekko maxim: Greed is good.

McCray, a 5'11" off-guard with distinctive braids, crooked dimples and an easy-rider smile, is in her first year with the expansion Mystics. The team is 2-14 and is experiencing the growing pains associated with a new franchise. No matter. Throughout our nation's capital, McCray's presence looms. On posters in subway stations her glowing grin says, C'mon, buy season tickets. In Modell's Sporting Goods her number 15 jersey sells next to those of the NBA Washington Wizards stars Rod Strickland and Juwan Howard. On TV commercials, she sings to us, Join in.... Join in.... Join in.... Join in.

All of that, McCray eagerly attests, is what she wants, what has "made me the happiest I've ever been." McCray has a three-year contract worth around $200,000 a year with the Mystics. She has her own Fila sneaker. "The Nikki McCray shoe," she says, bubbling. "It's large."

Everything about McCray is large. Large family (two brothers and two sisters). Large fan base. Large game. "People can say what they want about me," says McCray, uttering a familiar sports refrain. "But I try to present myself in a positive way. I had to make the best decision for me, and that was joining the WNBA. It doesn't have anything to do with money."

It has everything to do with money. But once again, is greed good? Or, to put it another way, is greed so bad?

Between the familiar bromides and yawn-inducing quotes that McCray usually offers in an interview (she eternally just wants to be a part of the team and hopes she can do her part), there are traces of a history that ties things together. Born 25 years ago in Collierville, Tenn. (pop. 14,427), near Memphis, McCray grew up never knowing big loot or, for that matter, small loot. Her mother, Sally Coleman, works on an assembly line making microwave ovens. Her father, Bobby Albright, works on an assembly line making air conditioners. It is a 9-to-5, punch-in, punch-out sort of life that McCray grew up observing. "And I'd probably be doing the same thing, too," she says, "if I wasn't playing basketball."

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