Back in the U.S. with a gleaming bronze medal in hand, Becky Hammon said the controversy surrounding her decision to play for basketball Russia in Beijing has given her fresh perspective on life and humbled her.
She also said the medal, which she compared to a "gigantic penny,'' was a bonus to a long personal journey.
"This is the game and I think it's important to keep perspective,'' said Hammon, back at practice with the WNBA's San Antonio Silver Stars on Tuesday. "And if this is the toughest thing I have to face in life I think I'll have a very easy life. There's bound to be more peaks and valleys along the way and but I think this has helped prepare me for those peaks and valleys that I'll face further in life.''
Hammon, last season's WNBA MVP runner-up, was essentially passed over for the U.S. team earlier this year. So the 31-year-old point guard, who plays for a Russian club team during the winter, became a naturalized Russian citizen.
The decision became a hot topic, with critics calling the South Dakota native a turncoat and supporters countering that she had a right to do whatever it took to play in the Olympics.
"My goal in all this was never to get the approval of everybody,'' Hammon said. "I think it's very easy for a lot of people to sit back and say, 'I would have done this' or 'I would have done that.' ... I think if you went and asked people, a bunch of my peers, if they'd do the same thing, I think a lot of them would say yes.''
Russia was eliminated by the U.S. — which went on to win Olympic gold — in the semifinals.
Hammon scored just three points in that loss, but she had a team-high 22 points in Russia's 94-81 bronze-medal win over host China.
"The medal will collect dust just like any other piece of hardware,'' Hammon said. "It's about the journey that you've gone on. For me the medal was nice, and like I said it was unbelievable just to be on that podium, but it's been about the journey to get there.''
Hammon said people asked her why, while playing for Russia, she still put her hand over her heart while "The Star-Spangled Banner'' was played.
"Well, people, because I'm still American,'' Hammon said. "I love my country, I love what we stand for. I don't know how many times I have to say that. People keep asking me that. I mean, I'll live the rest of my life here. And the fortunate thing for me is that I know where I came from and I know where I'm going, which is, I think when you know that and you understand that you can pretty much take on anything.''
Hammon singled out a couple of factors that she said made her decision to play for Russia garner so much attention. She said a lot of people wondered why she wasn't on the U.S. team in the first place.
"I don't think anybody would have cared if I was the 12th player on the bench,'' Hammon said. "I think a lot of people thought I deserved to be on USA Basketball.''
Hammon is also from the U.S. heartland — "people think I'm apple pie and hot dogs and hamburgers and cheeseburgers on the Fourth of July'' — but played for America's one-time Cold War enemy.
But she said her situation is far from unique.
"Our coaches go and coach over in other countries for the Olympics. Athletes go over to other countries. Other athletes from other countries come here and win medals for the United States,'' Hammon said. "So I just don't think people were aware of that. So what better way to tell them than this little girl from South Dakota.''
Hammon said not playing for the U.S. team is old news at this point. She said she harbors no hard feelings and that the U.S. deserved the gold.
Now it's back to work in San Antonio. The Silver Stars went on the Olympic break sitting atop the Western Conference. The season resumes Thursday and each team has just a handful of games to go before the playoffs.
"It was good to see my teammates and see my coaches. ... They've been absolutely 100 percent supportive,'' Hammon said. "They were hitting me with e-mails and texts all the time when I was over there. For me those are the things that carried me through.''