Brazilian Janeth Arcain, a four-time champion in the US Women's Basketball
Association (WNBA), will be joining the Brazilian squad in the nearing Athens
Olympics instead of playing another season with the Houston Comets.
But if the Comets manage
to qualify for the playoffs, Arcain says she will rush back to the U.S. once
the Olympics are over. The overlapping prompted the WNBA to push back this
season's playoffs by one month to September.
"The Comets wanted
me, but I said it wasn't going to work out this year." Arcain said. "The
simple fact of going to the Olympics to defend your country is far greater
than defending a team or a city."
Neither do the prospects
of being pitted against Comets teammates Sheryl Swoopes, Tina Thompson and
coach Van Chancellor in Athens faze Arcain.
"I'm friends with
them, but you have to go and do your job," said Arcain, who has already
faced the trio in the 2002 World Championship. "I'm lucky that sports
allow you to make many friends."
This situation is quite
familiar to Arcain. Two weeks before her debut in the 2000 Sydney Olympics,
Arcain was still in Houston making sure the Comets would seize their fourth
WNBA title. On the next day she arrived in São Paulo at six in the
morning, only to catch a plane bound to Hawaii later in the evening. There
she finally had a few days' practice with the Brazilian team.
At 35, she has won most
contests in her professional life, ranging from the São Paulo State
tournament to the Brazilian championship to four WNBA titles in the United
States. To her dismay, however, she has never won an Olympics gold medal.
Arcain got silver in Atlanta 1996, bronze in Sydney 2000 and is slated for
her fifth Summer Olympic Games in Athens.
"Janeth is an irreplaceable
player," said Antônio Carlos Barbosa, coach of the Brazilian female
basketball squad since 1997. Although in Brazil Arcain plays as forward, in
Houston she has been a guard, point-guard, forward and small post. According
to Arcain, this "has allowed me to evolve in various positions."
The Comets asked Arcain
as early as February to join them this season, but it wasn't until April that
she gave them the final answer. Having played in the WNBA since its inception
in 1997, this would have been her eighth season in Houston in as many years.
Arcain usually stays in
Houston from April until early August, in a fully-furnished apartment-hotel
the Comets provide her. As soon as the WNBA season is over, she returns to
Brazil where she plays in the local season, which takes place from September
to January. Soccer-mad Brazil started its first women's basketball league
thirteen years ahead of its US counterpart.
Brazil clinched the only
berth at stake for the Americas region in the Olympic qualifying tournament
last year in Culiacán, Mexico. The US was automatically entitled
to one because it won the 2002 Women's World Championship. In addition to
Arcain, Brazil also features Helen Luz of the Washington Mystics and Iziane
Castro Marques of the Phoenix Mercury.
"If I win both the
gold medal and the WNBA title this year, it will be just too emotional for
me," Arcain said. "I might even consider quitting, at the zenith
of my career."
Luis Waldmann is a freelance writer based in Rio de Janeiro. He can be reached