LAS VEGAS — In Rebekah Gardner’s 10-year professional career, her mother was one of the only family members to see her perform in person.
Traveling abroad isn’t exactly an easy getaway, and her professional career so far had taken place outside of the United States, so options for her family were limited.
On Thursday night, all the family has to do is hop in a car and drive 45 minutes to Crypto.com Arena from Upland, Calif., to watch Gardner live out his dream — live.
“Joy,” Gardner said. “It’s the only word I can think of that comes close to describing what it’s going to be like to be back in LA. [against the Sparks] in front of my family, playing on such a great WNBA team.
The first stop on the West Coast leg of Sky’s journey was Vegas for a meeting on Tuesday with the top-ranked Aces, which Sky will play for the Commissioner’s Cup on July 26.
After missing two games with a knee injury, Candace Parker was back on the court with no minute restrictions. She had a double-double with 17 points, 10 rebounds, four assists and two blocks in the Sky’s 104-95 win. Courtney Vandersloot scored 25 points to lead the Sky, which set a WNBA record by rallying from a 28-point deficit. Gardner had four points.
Gardner’s overseas career began in Israel, but it hardly started at all.
After leaving UCLA undrafted in 2012, Gardner considered retirement. She was having trouble connecting with the right agent and thought graduate school would be her next step. It was a right place, right time situation that ultimately led her to an agent she clicked with and an opportunity that suited her.
Since then, she has played for four other foreign teams, including one in Turkey with her Sky teammate Kahleah Copper. Most recently, Gardner played for Spar Citylift Girona in Spain.
“Sometimes you just have to take risks,” Gardner said. “I’m glad I ended up taking that one.”
After achieving her goal of playing in the EuroLeague, she found herself considering retirement again, but this time it was a desire to spend more time closer to home that drove her decision.
When free agency began and it received attention from the WNBA, including Sky coach/general manager James Wade, that changed quickly.
The first time Wade called Gardner, she wasn’t convinced it was a real opportunity. When he kept calling and attended two of his games with Girona, she knew it was unlike any WNBA opportunity she had had in the past. She had previously been invited to two WNBA training camps, including Sky’s in 2017.
In 14 games, Gardner was averaging 9.4 points and shooting 56% from the field off the bench.
Gardner’s mother was the person who suggested he start playing basketball in the WNBA’s inaugural season in 1997, and his father coached her during those early years.
As a child, Gardner spent a lot of time attending Sparks games, admiring New York Liberty’s Lisa Leslie and Rebecca Lobo.
Since picking up a basketball at age 8, the top of Gardner’s list of goals has been making it in the WNBA. After scratching that, she had a chat with her mom about adding new goals.
Right now, she’s taking game by game. The next game is one she’s been waiting for since leaving UCLA in front of family and friends who haven’t watched her play in person since her days with the Bruins.
“The way I got here makes me more grateful,” Gardner said. “It also taught me patience and to stay optimistic. If I had to go back, I would always make it happen the same way.