PETER SAGAL, HOST:
And now the game where we ask people who've gone a long way to make a short, little detour. Tina Charles grew up across the river in a little town called Queens and was already a legend in high school for her basketball skills. She went on to star at UConn, then went number one in the WNBA draft.
SAGAL: She's got two Olympic gold medals. She won WNBA rookie of the year and the MVP award. And she's now the starting center for the New York Liberty. Tina Charles, welcome to WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME.
SAGAL: So I always ask this of elite athletes when I get to meet them. How young were you when you knew you were really good at this?
TINA CHARLES: That took a while.
CHARLES: I feel like every time you - I felt that I was getting better, there was a reason why I wasn't. There was a coach, there was a person to remind me to stay humble. So I want to say around the time high school, graduating high school, I was one of the top players. And then I got to UConn, where there's other top players.
CHARLES: And I had to learn what it took to play hard.
CHARLES: I feel like nothing came easy for me. I was going to the parks in New York. I was the last one picked.
CHARLES: There was different teams that I tried out for that I didn't make. I had to hone in on my skill. I had to be in the gym early before class. I would try to go to the park early. So I had humble beginnings for myself.
SAGAL: OK, because here is like - there are many differences between you and myself...
SAGAL: ...But - other than the foot in height. And one of them is that when I was a kid and I tried to play sports and didn't get picked, I was like this is dumb. And I went to the library and stayed there. So...
ADAM FELBER: Until like a week ago.
SAGAL: Exactly, yeah.
PETER GROSZ: He just got out of the library.
SAGAL: And - but you said you were, like, not picked. You, the WNBA MVP, were not picked for the teams when they were, like, picking players.
CHARLES: Yes, exactly.
SAGAL: And your reaction to that was go, well, I just need to practice more to get better so they pick me next time.
CHARLES: Yeah, exactly. I just stayed on the court until I did get there, yeah.
SAGAL: That's amazing.
FELBER: Peter, this doesn't mean that if you had stuck with it you'd have been good...
SAGAL: I understand that.
FELBER: ...Or taller.
GROSZ: Oh, my God, the roles would have been reversed. She would've been interviewing you.
SAGAL: I have to ask you this. Now that you're a star, do you ever - I mean, are a very successful athlete as well - do you go back to the playgrounds where you grew up and go, hey, anybody want a game?
SAGAL: Hey, remember when you didn't pick me? Hey, just you and me, Horse. I'll spot your four.
GROSZ: I hope the people who didn't pick you are still on that playground. They've been there and have not moved on.
CHARLES: The only thing that I still do that I did as a kid is just - I'm always on the subway. I'm always taking the train. I refuse to drive. I'm your average New Yorker.
CHARLES: I hate traffic. So if there's anything that I still do, I'm still always either on the E line, C, A, you name it.
HELEN HONG: What time?
HONG: Do you want to catch it together?
SAGAL: I'm just imagining you standing on the subway reaching down to hold the strap.
SAGAL: I have to say, I mean, there are a lot of differences between the two styles of play in the NBA and the WNBA. Is the best thing about playing in the WNBA the fact that Drake doesn't show up at your games?
CHARLES: You know, and it's actually a shame because Kia Nurse, who's a fantastic player - All-Star, starter, she's in her second year - she's from Canada. So I'm actually expecting to see Drake at the game.
SAGAL: And so Drake - and he always listens - Drake...
SAGAL: ...We're expecting you at the next Liberty game. Show on up.
HONG: Take the subway, Drake. You'll get there faster.
SAGAL: What is the dumbest question that people ask you about playing in the WNBA?
CHARLES: The dumbest question...
FELBER: And is it one that you've heard in the last five minutes?
SAGAL: Yes, because I have a list of more questions here, and I'm going to knock them off if you mention them.
CHARLES: Man, I can't - I don't know. I think every question is a good question. There are really some individuals who don't know that, you know, women play basketball, that there is a professional league. So I'm very - I like to enlighten them, you know? I don't take it as a joke. I like to tell them yes, I do play professional...
HONG: Wow, you're so diplomatic.
SAGAL: You have been probably the nicest most sort of friendly and diplomatic person I've ever interviewed. We have not been able to entice you to say a bad thing about anyone, which I admire because we've tried very hard. On the court, is that what you're like?
CHARLES: I wouldn't say - I wouldn't say so.
SAGAL: No. Oh, OK.
SAGAL: So put Tina Charles on the court, another side of you comes out. Do you, in fact, trash talk?
CHARLES: No, I'm not a trash talker, no. No, I just let my game speak for itself.
CHARLES: I just try to just get it done, yeah.
SAGAL: But, yeah.
HONG: Oh, that's even better. You're like a silent flexer.
HONG: You're like, suck on that.
SAGAL: But you're not - so your attitude - what you're saying is your attitude when you get on the court is not, these are all valuable people who are pursuing their careers. And I respect every single one them. That's not what you're thinking?
SAGAL: So I wanted to ask - we're here in Newark. As someone who grew up in Queens, did you have an impression of New Jersey?
CHARLES: I did. I did. (Unintelligible).
SAGAL: And keeping in mind, you're somebody who can stand there in the paint and just take it from the opposition, are you willing to say what you thought of New Jersey to an audience of New Jersey?
CHARLES: Probably not.
SAGAL: Wise. You didn't get this far in life by being rash. I admire that. Well, Tina Charles, we are delighted to talk to you. We have invited you here to play a game that this time, we're calling...
BILL KURTIS: Mush. Hike. All Right, Let's Go.
SAGAL: All right, as an alumni of UConn, you are, of course, a proud Husky. But what do you know, we wondered, about real huskies - that is, sled dogs?
SAGAL: We're going to ask you three questions about those noble beasts of the far north. Get two out of three right, you'll win our prize for one of our listeners - the voice of their choice on their voicemail. Bill, who is Tina Charles playing for?
KURTIS: Linda Dunn (ph) of Ramsey, N.J.
SAGAL: All right.
SAGAL: Ready to do this?
CHARLES: Yes, I'm ready. I'm game.
SAGAL: OK, all right, you're game. Here's your first question. The rules now require sleds to be pulled by Huskies or malamute dogs. That wasn't enacted until 1988, when one team used what to pull their sleds in the Iditarod? Was it A, 400 hamsters, B, 14 standard poodles, or C, a John Deere lawn tractor?
CHARLES: Is this real?
SAGAL: One of those things is real.
UNIDENTIFIED AUDIENCE: B.
SAGAL: B. Want to go with B?
SAGAL: B is right.
(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)
SAGAL: It was, in fact, the standard poodles.
SAGAL: Turns out, by the way - just so you know, helpful tip - poodles are bad at sled dog racing.
SAGAL: Don't do it. All right, next question.
FELBER: Who would've seen that coming, huh?
SAGAL: You might find some interesting competitors in today's sled dog racing scene. It's very varied and interesting, such as which of these - A, the mystery musher, a man who always races wearing a big dog mask, B, the Jamaican national sled dog team, or C, extreme athlete Laird Hamilton who says, quote, "I'm already the best at everything else."
UNIDENTIFIED AUDIENCE: A.
SAGAL: You're going to go for A...
SAGAL: ...The mystery musher. No, it was actually B.
GROSZ: Way to go, audience.
CHARLES: My mom is going to kill me. She's Jamaican.
SAGAL: I know. It was inspired, of course, by the famous Jamaican bobsled team.
FELBER: That's why it sounded fake.
SAGAL: Exactly. But in fact, they said, well, we'll have a sled dog team, too, here in Jamaica. All right, now that's OK because we require 2 out of 3. And you have one to go. Here we go. Jujiro Wada was one of the greatest mushers ever. And he once went to what extreme measures to keep his dogs going in a tough race - A, he got off the sled, tied himself to the front and ran on all fours as lead dog, B, running low on food, he fed the dogs his pants, or C, he surreptitiously attached a female dog in heat to the back of a faster sled.
UNIDENTIFIED AUDIENCE: (Unintelligible).
CHARLES: B. B.
SAGAL: B it is. Yes, very good, everybody.
GROSZ: How you like Jersey now?
SAGAL: I should say this was a hundred years ago. His pants were made of seal skin. The dogs loved it.
HONG: Well, we missed that part.
FELBER: The unspoken ending to this story is him crossing the finish line without pants.
SAGAL: I know. Bill, how did Tina Charles do on our quiz?
KURTIS: Two out of three is a win.
SAGAL: Congratulations. Tina Charles is the starting center for the New York Liberty.
CHARLES: Thank you.
SAGAL: She's the founder of the Hopey's Heart Foundation. Her new documentary "Charlie's Records" debuted at the Tribeca Film Festival this year. Tina Charles, thank you so much for being on WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BASKETBALL")
UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing) They're playing basketball. We love that basketball. They're playing basketball...
SAGAL: In just a minute, we practice tolerance - that would be lactose tolerance - in our Listener Limerick Challenge. Call 1-888-WAIT-WAIT to join us in the air. We'll be back in a minute with more of WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME from NPR.
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