Globetrotting Guard Fluent In The Language of Basketball


Ken Rodriguez is a San Antonio native who covered his first Spurs game in 1981 for The Daily Texan, the University of Texas student newspaper. He spent 26 years in the newspaper business -- 21 of them covering sports -- before joining the marketing department at Our Lady of the Lake University in 2009. His Spurs.com column will appear every Wednesday.


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Edwige Lawson-Wade
Edwige Lawson-Wade
(Terrence Vaccaro/NBAE/Getty Images)
Her shot descends with a swish, her words tumble with an accent. From behind the three-point arc, Edwige Lawson-Wade looks like an American sharpshooter. Off the court, she is a French firecracker, a 5-foot-6 guard known for sinking jumpers, pulling pranks and, on occasion, struggling with a foreign language.

English.

We are sitting courtside at the Silver Stars’ practice facility, and this native of Rennes, France is telling on herself. Once, while sitting on the bench in Seattle, the coach pulled her aside and gave her an instruction the Storm could hear. Lawson-Wade nodded and ran onto the court as her teammates burst into laughter.

“I don’t know what she told me to do,” Lawson-Wade says, “but it wasn’t to go in the game.”

From time to time, she may misunderstand English but she’s fluent in the language of hoops. Driving. Passing. Defending. Shooting.

“She’s a great floor leader,” Silver Stars coach Sandy Brondello says. “ She’s smart. She’s a good three-point shooter, which helps us stretch out the floor. She gets what we want to do.”

Lawson-Wade’s story reads like a novel, her journey from France to the U.S. unfolding with adventure, romance, humor, and a twist in Russia. Let’s begin in a gym in the French city of Cambrai, where Edwige (pronounced ed-VEEGZ) Lawson is preparing for a game with her team, US Valenciennes Olympic.

The President of the local men’s professional team approaches Edwige in front of her teammates and says, “I’d like to introduce you to a man who wants to marry you.”

Edwige and her teammates erupt in laughter. Then a 5-foot-9 point guard steps forward with a bouquet of flowers.

James Wade Jr., a European player, had seen a striking photo of Edwige in a French magazine. He didn’t understand any words in the publication but he was smitten by her dimples. Later, he saw her face on a poster in the Cambrai gym where he played.

“I’m going to marry that girl,” he told his team president.

“Did you know,” the president replied, ”she’s going to play here tomorrow night?”

After the introduction, boom, fireworks exploded over France. “Right away,” Edwige says, “I really liked him.”

James and Edwige became an instant couple, and the funny thing is she had to work overtime on her English to communicate with a ballplayer in Cambrai who called Memphis, Tenn. home. “He didn’t speak French,” Edwige says.

Their dates could be a hoot. If James took Edwige to an American-made film, she could follow along, but only if there were subtitles. And if they went to dinner afterwards? “I would not always understand him,” she says.

Two years after meeting in 2001, they married, and before long, Edwige began playing for a team in Russia. A teammate, Svetlana Abrosimova, wanted to impress her French-speaking coach and asked Edwige how to say, “I am beautiful,” in French.

Edwige offered a phrase, Svetlana repeated it and the coach doubled over in laughter after hearing this in French: “I am ugly.”

“She’s always playing pranks,” says Silver Stars teammate Becky Hammon. “When we played together in Russia, she use to tell me we’d be on the train for three days to get to our next game, and I’d believe her, when the the trip was maybe 12 hours. She would tell me all this wrong information and It took me about 30 times before I finally figured her out.”

After distinguishing herself in Europe and winning multiple championships, Edwige landed in the WNBA, her long-time dream. She played two games with the New York Liberty and 17 with the Houston Comets in 2005. The next season, she averaged only eight minutes a game with Seattle, then returned overseas, thinking her WNBA career was over.

Her game flourished in Russia and one WNBA star took note. The small French guard who played sparingly against Hammon began wowing her as a CSKA Moscow teammate. Soon, Hammon began recruiting and talking Edwige up to San Antonio coaches.

“She was under-appreciated in the WNBA,” Hammon says. “But I saw her on a daily basis and I knew she could help us. So I planted a seed.”

In her third season with the Silver Stars, Edwige has started 17 games and averaged a career high 6.8 points. She belongs in the league, all right, even if she sometimes stumbles over her English.

“She always reverses her words,” James writes in an e-mail. “Toilet paper for us is ‘paper toilet’ for Edwige.”

James plays for Get Vosges Epinal in France, a world away from South Texas. How do husband and wife make a long-distance marriage work?

“Skype is a beautiful thing,” James writes. “We talk everyday, two, three, four times a day. We both have the same passions and goals. So, we understand each other very well and we both make each other laugh, so our relationship is pretty happy despite the distance. We also make it a priority to see each other at least once a month during my season.”

When they meet up, a fierce game of one-on-one may follow -- “she fouls me the whole time,” James insists -- along with an exchange of words. He says his French is better than her English. She says, no, it’s the other way around.

James wants to coach when he retires. If Edwige decides on the same career, who knows, she might join him on the bench. If they coach together overseas, no telling what language they might speak.

To prepare for her next European trip, Edwige is learning Spanish.

Ole’.