The most well-known parts of Christi Thomas’ basketball career happened in the U.S.
A dominant high-schooler at Buford, she earned All-SEC honors at Georgia and also completed seven seasons in the WNBA after being selected in the first round in 2004. For all the success state-side, the most lucrative portion, as is the case with most WNBA players, came during her offseason play overseas.
The 6-foot-3 Thomas, who will be inducted into the Gwinnett County Sports Hall of Fame on Friday night, has played the past four seasons in Turkey after previously spending two seasons in Israel and one in Italy, along with stints in Spain, Russia and Latvia.
“Who would have thought a little country girl from Buford, Georgia, would be all over the world?” said Thomas, now 32. “It’s been a great experience. Women’s basketball is not going to make me millions, but what I’ve gained in experience is priceless. Not many people get to do what I’ve done. I’ve traveled the world and met so many people.”
Thomas’ road to a pro basketball life started at Buford, where she was a three-time all-state selection and Miss Georgia Basketball as a senior in 2000. She finished her career as one of Gwinnett’s most prolific scorers with 2,174 career points.
She made an immediate impact at Georgia for Andy Landers, winning the SEC freshman of the year award and making the All-SEC team three times. She was an All-American as a Bulldog senior, which led to a first-round selection, 12th overall, in the 2004 WNBA Draft by the Los Angeles Sparks. She was with the Sparks for five seasons, the Minnesota Lynx for one and the Chicago Sky for her final WNBA season in 2010.
“I decided not to play WNBA anymore after that,” Thomas said. “My body couldn’t handle it anymore, playing two seasons. I had to do the most lucrative one (overseas).”
Pro basketball abroad has treated her well despite various ailments, including four knee surgeries, an ankle surgery and a foot surgery. In addition to soaking up the sights and culture, she learned conversational Hebrew during her time in Israel and speaks Turkish well.
She also played at a high level on the court, averaging 13.5 points and a team-high 8.7 rebounds in 2013-14 with Altay Konak Belediyespor in Turkey. She averaged 6.4 points and 6.9 rebounds this past season, an injury-plagued one that ended in December because of a partially torn lateral collateral ligament in her knee.
Because of the injury, she has been back in Atlanta since January. She has enjoyed the free time and especially the family time, which includes shuffling her 11-year-old brother, who is already 5-foot-6, to and from basketball practices.
“The past couple of months I’ve been back overseas to see my friends play, but mostly I’ve been supportive of my little brother, taking him to practices, hanging out with family,” Thomas said. “I’m enjoying it because over the years I’ve sacrificed so many times, special moments, being out of town for holidays, weddings. It’s just nice to be back home.”
How long she stays in the Atlanta area will be determined soon.
Her agent is working on overseas contracts for the next basketball season, but she is considering retirement from pro basketball and taking a more conventional job closer to home — she has a bachelor’s degree in consumer economics and a master’s in criminal justice, and is studying to get her real estate license.
“I’m on the verge of trying to decide if I’m going to (play basketball) one more year,” Thomas said. “I don’t know how to let it go since I’ve been doing it so long. I know I’ll be sad when it’s over. … The last year and half or two I’ve been thinking about (retiring). Overseas is fun and everything, but sometimes they don’t give you money like they’re supposed to, sometimes you have to fight for your money. … I feel like I could play for two more years before I need to stop, before the younger girls come and take me over.”
While basketball still may be in Thomas’ future, this week is about celebrating her successful past and the memories that led her to this week’s hall of fame honor.
“What I’ve been able to do, what God has blessed me to be able to do, has been great,” Thomas said. “I can always say I would have done things differently or better, but I wouldn’t trade my experience at Georgia, overseas or the WNBA for anything. They shaped who I am. Basketball gave me so many great experiences. I could never repay the game for what it’s done for me.”