A way to extend her WNBA career? opening an ice cream parlor

Some professional athletes (hello, Roger Federer) try to preserve their bodies by skipping a few competitions. Others, like many baseball and basketball players, take a seat on the bench a little more often late in the season if the games are inconsequential.

Then there is Angel McCoughtry, one of the top scorers in the WNBA. At 30, her body was signaling that it needed a break, so she devised what might be the most novel approach yet by a professional athlete looking to extend a career. She stepped away from her sport for a season and opened an ice cream parlor.

McCoughtry’s Ice Cream in Atlanta occupies a storefront on Peters Street next to a popcorn shop and two doors down from Old Lady Gang, a restaurant owned by “Real Housewives of Atlanta” star Kandi Burruss. McCoughtry’s already seems to have a following. WNBA players have come in for scoops, and rapper Killer Mike visited one recent afternoon.

“My body was speaking to me,” McCoughtry said about her decision to leave the WNBA for a season. “I was always tight. I was always mentally drained from playing all year round. I had plantar fasciitis. It was tough and I knew that it was time to recover if I wanted longevity in my career.”

It is rare for any athlete to willingly step away from a sport. It is even rarer for an athlete who is thriving on the court. McCoughtry was a dominant college player at Louisville and was the first overall pick in the 2009 WNBA draft. She was fourth in the league in scoring last year for the Atlanta Dream and earned about $115,000.

She has played overseas every offseason since leaving college, adding several months of physical exertion to the three-month WNBA season.

The ice cream shop, she said, is her “happy place.” The color scheme is Tiffany blue, and the walls are adorned with life-size cutouts of McCoughtry holding ice cream cones.

Flavors rotate. Recent offerings included Salty Bae, a salted caramel and chocolate variety dedicated to Turkish chef Nusret Gokce, who recently rose to prominence as an internet meme; and Space Jam, a blueberry cheesecake ode to the 1996 movie starring Michael Jordan.

“Tomorrow, we can eat broccoli, but today is for ice cream!” a sign outside reads.

McCoughtry had considered opening a hookah lounge that served desserts after she discovered during her time playing in Turkey that hookah was a communal activity. But she figured the hookah culture in Atlanta did not promote the same kind of inclusivity. Also, she doesn’t smoke.

But McCoughtry has a sweet tooth. At dinner recently at Seasons 52, an upscale restaurant in the Buckhead neighborhood of Atlanta, the waiter brought her a glass of Jam Jar Moscato. It wasn’t sweet enough. She wanted the most confectionary wine they carried. She was satisfied with a syrupy dessert riesling that tasted more like honey than wine.

A store that sold sugar (ice cream) was a better fit than the hookah lounge.

Last summer she found the space, in a part of Atlanta that she said used to be a “dump.” It had previously been a hair salon. She needed a year to build out the ice cream counter, get city permits, redo the wiring and paint, and decorate the interior. Opening day was June 1.

McCoughtry said she did not have any financial backers in the store and was hoping to see a return on all the money that she has put into getting it up and running. But, it is a passion project, and she is committed to keeping it open, regardless of costs.

Brande Serrano, her fiancée of three years, said McCoughtry had been happier since starting her own business.

“Opening up the ice cream shop is showing herself that she can be responsible for something else outside of basketball,” Serrano said. “That’s huge, because then she feels more fulfilled. More purposeful.”

McCoughtry’s only frustration, she said, was that the WNBA has not promoted her venture.

“If you go look on the WNBA page, I don’t think you’ll see me and the ice cream shop,” she said. “Why not? I’ve done so much for the league. Why am I not on there? Why haven’t you guys posted something about the ice cream shop? Is it because I’m sitting out? Who cares? I’m getting rest. Give me something. Nothing else against the league or the WNBA, but you guys have to promote us and what we’re doing to show people she’s doing something in her community.”

(In an email statement, Lisa Borders, the league’s president, said: “WNBA players are not only world-class athletes but they’re also multidimensional people with varied passions and skills off the court. Sharing their unique stories across our assets continues to be a priority.”)The ice cream shop is a step toward building McCoughtry’s post-retirement life. She will report to Russia for her final international season in October and plans to return to the Dream to play in the WNBA at least until the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. (She has played for two Olympic teams.) Then she will re-evaluate.

“I feel like a lot of people play ball and that’s the only thing they know how to do. And so after they retire, they’re lost,” she said, but “not Angel McCoughtry. I got an ice cream shop.”

About the Author