How Tiffany Hayes of the Dream spent her summer after opting out

Dream guard Tiffany Hayes drives against Washington Mystics forward Elena Delle Donne during a WNBA semifinal playoff game Sunday, August 26, 2018, in Atlanta.  Curtis Compton/

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Dream guard Tiffany Hayes drives against Washington Mystics forward Elena Delle Donne during a WNBA semifinal playoff game Sunday, August 26, 2018, in Atlanta. Curtis Compton/

For the first time in eight years, Tiffany Hayes didn’t put on a Dream uniform this summer.

The Dream selected Hayes with the No. 14 overall pick in the 2012 WNBA draft and Hayes has been a lineup mainstay in Atlanta ever since. But as the WNBA began to make plans for the 2020 season amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Hayes realized she felt uncertain about playing.

She had questions about the logistics of the bubble at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. and what it would be to live in that bubble environment for a minimum of two months. The fact that the WNBA would be playing in Florida, where COVID-19 cases were steadily rising, didn’t help Hayes' concerns about safety.

Along with her safety and logistical questions, Hayes was uncertain about diving headfirst into basketball while conversations about racial and social injustices were intensifying.

“There’s a whole pandemic going on, and I just felt like I didn’t want to be away from my family at that time,” Hayes told the AJC. “Plus all the social injustices going on in the world, I think that definitely contributed to my decision to sit out. I think it was time for my body to get a break anyways, so that kind of contributed to my decision as well.”

Many WNBA players go overseas immediately after the WNBA season ends, and Hayes is no exception. After a few years of nearly year-round basketball, a break was welcomed. And while Hayes said that at first, not playing basketball in the summer felt wrong, she quickly adjusted to having more time on her hands.

It was the first summer Hayes has gotten to spend with her family in years. Though some of her family members live in Atlanta now, in a normal summer, playing basketball takes up the lion’s share of Hayes' time. This year, everyone got to be together for an extended period of time and for once, Hayes didn’t miss any birthdays.

“We actually got to just spend time,” Hayes said. “They came over a lot. They were staying at my house. ... It’s just all a lot of little things, but (they’re) little things that I wasn’t here for before.”

Because racial and social injustice was on her mind when she opted out, Hayes knew she wanted to spend some time working in the community.

Hayes owns a gym in College Park with her sister, LaTisha Jones. Hoopnation had been open for only a few weeks when they had to shut down operations because of the pandemic, but when they were able to reopen, Hayes and Jones focused on helping the community around them. In early June, they held a drive-up event and gave away food and cleaning supplies to local families.

“We would give away to people who couldn’t afford food,” Hayes said, “because there’s a lot of people in the neighborhood who had to pick between the food and lights or the food and something, anything like that. ... (We) tried to open back up and just do little things that we could for people. Shockingly, we were able to do pretty well, so I’m glad that we got to help out the people that we did at the time.”

Hayes took an online class this summer at Connecticut, her alma mater, about urban communities, which inspired her to do what she could to help the College Park community. Whether it’s giveaway events at her gym, voter-registration events in the building next door, or the mere presence of an elite basketball gym in a historically underserved community, Hayes is passionate about her work and feels that she’s making an impact.

“All the things that I learned over this past summer, I tried to take that and use it because I know this community is overlooked,” Hayes said. “Even just a small thing as putting an elite gym in the area is a start because then maybe another company might want to come in and be like, ‘Oh, let’s put something else nice in this area for this community.’ Just to start there was a big thing for me.”

Because she owns a gym, Hayes was able to keep up with her basketball training while not playing for the Dream. A couple of weeks ago, Hayes returned to the court with CB Avenida in Salamanca, Spain.

One season without basketball was enough for now. Hayes enjoyed a break to rest, spend time with her family and focus on work in her community but now, she’s ready to get back to work on the court.

“Even if you work out in that time you’re gone, it’s different,” Hayes said. “There’s nothing that compares to playing against professional women, even during workouts. It was different, but I’m still glad I did it. I wouldn’t change my decision.”

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