The Liberty ended each of the last two regular seasons in first place, and entered this season with eyes on that elusive championship that has yet to call New York home since the league’s inception in 1997.
Charles has done nothing short of lead, posting over 20 points and nine rebounds per contest in her eighth WNBA season since being drafted first overall in 2010 to the Connecticut Sun.
Since arriving in New York prior to the 2014 campaign, the Christ the King alum has been at home, but for her it brings back a nostalgia of her humble beginnings, which began in East Elmhurst and in Madison Square Garden, watching the Liberty as a fan in the league’s early days.
“I was growing up in when the league started and coming to the Liberty games, that’s where the dream began for me,” Charles told this paper after an 18-point, 15-rebound performance in a win against the Atlanta Dream on June 7. “Being a Queens native, playing home has always been the goal. When I had the opportunity to move after my fourth year in 2014 I definitely was all for it.”
To this day, the former UConn alum and national champion (because those things go hand and hand) holds a strong connection to her home borough and city. Charles has also ventured outside of basketball, founding the Hopey’s Heart Foundation in April of 2013 in memory of her late aunt.
The Foundation is dedicated to raising awareness for sudden cardiac arrest and placement of automated external defibrillators, or AED’s, and CPT training.
Charles not only values her involvement off the court with her foundation because it hits close to home, but also because it inspires her.
She cited the story of Wes Leonard, a high school basketball player who hit a game-winner at the age of 16 in 2011, then unexpectedly died of sudden cardiac arrest. Leonard had an enlarged heart, which often goes undetected.
“The local nursery that I went to, A Child’s Place, I’m able to link up with them,” said Charles. “Through my foundation I was able to donate an AED, so I try to keep in touch with as many people that helped me along the way.”
Bria Hartley, another New York native who is in her first season as a member of the squad, says the altruistic approach is the team’s culture, and it emanates from Charles.
“When you have a leader that has that mentality, I think it just flows through everyone else on the team,” she said.
Kiah Stokes, who shares the post with Charles as the team’s starting center, also says that Charles has helped her development, which recently helped the third-year player explode for 43 points and 46 rebounds over a three-game stretch, the best of her young career.
“Me and her work before practice every day just trying to get more comfortable in the paint, being tougher with the ball, being strong, decisive and using my strength to my advantage,” Stokes said of Charles. “One thing Tina has really taught me is to let the last play go.”
For Charles, her demeanor is pretty much the same on and off the court; helping out others is just in her nature.
“Leadership is extremely important to me,” says Charles. “I just see it as an opportunity to impact 11 other lives, just with my presence and things that I can say to uplift them and help them confidence wise. I’m just trying to pay everything forward.”