Alana Beard announces retirement from the WNBA

The Los Angeles Sparks veteran is ending her career after 15 WNBA seasons.

The WNBA is less than three weeks away from the start of free agency, and the Los Angeles Sparks have just received some important news about the makeup of their 2020 roster.

Alana Beard, a two-time Defensive Player of the Year in Los Angeles who won a title in 2016 with the Sparks, has retired from the WNBA. Beard played 15 seasons in the league, including the last eight in the purple and gold, and announced earlier Wednesday that she will not be playing a 16th.

In an interview with on The Tim Fletcher Show, Beard was discussing another Duke product playing basketball in Louisiana (yes, Zion Williamson made his professional debut Wednesday), when the topic casually turned to her basketball career and if it would be continuing.

In response, Beard said, “You just put me on the spot, I’m still working on that. I’m going to say probably not. That’s crazy because you have me on the air and you just made me announce my retirement.”

Beard said that she has been planning her retirement for some time, and her family was aware of her decision; she just wasn’t prepared to make a formal announcement, and she honestly had no desire to. She joked with Fletcher that she probably should have mentioned something about retirement before the segment began, but then she wouldn’t be Alana Beard.

“I’m craving the transition, I’m ready, I’m prepared, I’m ready to rock,” Beard said. “I was just waiting for a few things to solidify before I publicly announced it. On top of that, I wasn’t even thinking about announcing it. To me, it’s basketball, like I’m rolling out, just let me roll out.”

After winning back-to-back Defensive Player of the Year awards in 2017 and 2018, Beard’s 2019 season was a little more uneven. She said she considered retirement prior to 2019, but Candace Parker convinced her she had to come back if she was good enough to be the league’s best defender one year prior. Unfortunately, Beard’s hamstring didn’t quite cooperate.

Beard played in the team’s opener and then missed one month of game action. She appeared in six straight games and then missed another month rehabbing the same injury. At that point, she had lost her spot in the starting lineup to Tierra Ruffin-Pratt, but though she averaged the fewest minutes per game of her career (14.7), she still had a positive impact on the Sparks. According to Pivot Analysis, the team’s net rating jumped from plus-1.67 with Beard off the floor to plus-3.75 with her on.

L.A.’s second-round playoff game against Seattle was a perfect showcase for what Beard was able to provide in a more limited role. Nneka Ogwumike said postgame that she cherished every opportunity to play with Beard after so many years together, and it ended up being a meaningful swan song for Beard’s time in Los Angeles.

Beard retires as a WNBA champion, two-time DPOY, four-time All-Star, nine-time All-Defense honoree (five-time first-team, four-time second-team), and the all-time steals leader in Washington Mystics franchise history.

Her legacy with the Sparks lives on not just in her accolades, but also the player she helped bring over from Washington to fill her role last offseason: Ruffin-Pratt. The former Mystic ably filled in for Beard, playing the part of defensive stopper on the perimeter while having the best 3-point shooting season of her career. Ruffin-Pratt is an unrestricted free agent this offseason, but she is likely to return to Los Angeles for 2020 with a similar role to last year. As for who will be making those decisions for the Sparks, that remains unclear; the team is still without a general manager after the ouster of Penny Toler in October.

While the Sparks face some uncertainty, Beard has clarity. She has taken part in a number of non-basketball ventures throughout her career, including opening a Mellow Mushroom restaurant, providing commentary on the ACC Network, and learning how to swim in order to give swimming lessons in her hometown after a tragic drowning incident in 2012. Now, she is setting her sights on a new challenge: Silicon Valley.

Beard plans on joining a venture capital team and eventually building her own fund geared towards women and people of color, who presently only account for two percent of hedge fund managers. She would like pursue opportunities in health and science fields and ultimately become a conduit for women athletes to connect with investments.

It has been an illustrious career for Alana Beard. She was the first woman to have her jersey retired by Duke Basketball and led the program to two of its four Final Fours. She won a championship at the professional level and is universally regarded as one of the finest defenders to ever play the game. Her presence will be missed not just in Los Angeles, but around the league, and her post-basketball exploits will certainly be worth keeping an eye on.

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