The Guiding Torch of the Lady Liberty
New York Liberty center Tina Charles returned to her hometown in 2014 after starting her career with the Connecticut Sun when she was drafted as the first overall pick in 2010. Since being back, Charles, both a rebound and scoring champion, saw the best season of her career in 2016 with plenty more to give as she hopes to lead the Liberty to a run in the playoffs in the coming weeks.
“Growing up as a fan, being able to put on the Liberty uniform, I don’t take it for granted,” says the humble 6’4’’ powerhouse. Of her accolades, which there are many – Rookie of the Year and WNBA MVP being two – we believe that the return home was among her proudest moments because as she put it, “Playing at MSG, you’re not just an athlete, you’re an entertainer.”
Now back in her native New York, we wanted get her thoughts on the local fan community, pick her brain about where to eat near The Garden, and find out what she hopes to accomplish the rest of this season and beyond.
You’re a born and raised New Yorker, so what was is like to come back and play for the Liberty?
It was very exciting. I consider it a blessing to be able to wear the Liberty uniform. I grew up watching them since ’97 when Spoon and Becky Hammond were just the face of the Liberty. It’s really neat to be playing alongside one of my really good friends, Epiphanny Prince, who I grew up with and played against and with in New York. I’m just very grateful for the opportunity and just look forward to getting better each and every single year.
What’s it like playing in The Garden, in particular?
Playing at MSG, you’re not just an athlete, you’re an entertainer. Everybody comes out to see you perform. So many great legends from music backgrounds and athletic-wise have played there, so to be one of many is really, really neat.
When you were playing professionally in Connecticut and traveling to play internationally you probably didn’t spend a lot of time in New York. What do you miss when you’re away from the city?
When I’m away from the city I miss the people, just how diverse New York City is. There’s five boroughs and in every borough you get a different vibe, a different feel. So, for me it’s just all about the people and just the culture that New York brings.
As you’ve grown up a supporter of New York sports teams and now a professional athlete, how would you describe the fan base in New York?
The fan base, loyal. I think loyalty is the best word to use for the New York fan base. Regardless of which sport it is they’re always there. They’re always there for the team, whether the Knicks, Liberty, Rangers, you name it. You just have a lot of loyal fans who just want to see New York win.
We hear you’re something of a foodie! If we were going out for a meal near The Garden after a game where would you take us?
Near the Garden, I would say Cafeteria. It’s open basically 24 hours. You can always get a great meal, so that’s the reason why I like it. Usually we get out of the arena around 10:00. It’s late so I try to find a lot of late-night spots and Cafeteria’s the one that jumped out at me.
Do you have a favorite meal there?
The chicken and waffles is a really famous plate there so I tend to stick to that.
What if you just wanted to pick up something near your home in Queens?
In Forest Hills, I would say Jack and Nellie’s, on Ascan Street.
Back to basketball: 2016 was a big year for you with your career high of 21.5 points per game and winning gold at the Rio Olympic Games. What goals did you set for yourself coming into this season?
For me, going into my eighth season, [I] just wanted to bring along my teammates to try to make them better, try to extract the strength of each and every single player that’s alongside of me. Making sure that they’re present and they impact the game every single time.
Describe to us how you feel each time you suit up in a Liberty uniform?
Growing up as a fan, being able to put on the Liberty uniform, I don’t take it for granted. Anything can happen. I want to say there’s only three of the original teams that’s still left from ’97. For New York Liberty to be one of them, that means a lot.
Leave us with this: what do you think it’s most important for people to know about women’s basketball overall or the New York Liberty specifically before coming to watch a game?
I’ll just say that we’re going to play extremely hard. We’re very dedicated. It’s going to be a good time. We’re very competitive. That’s what I love about our league. It’s not one team that you can sleep on. It’s not one team you can take for granted. Everyone goes out and does their job the right way.