Jones finds peace living in the US's Tornado Alley

10:01, May 19, 2010      

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When Marion Jones walked out of a Texas prison nearly two years ago looking for a fresh start, she knew Tulsa was a perfect fit.

When you live in Tornado Alley, squarely in the path of violent vortexes that routinely reduce once-vibrant communities to rubble, starting over is a way of life.

Second chances also come naturally in the heart of the American Bible Belt.

That was exactly what the disgraced sprint queen had prayed for since being stripped of her Olympic medals and sentenced to six months in prison for lying to federal investigators about her use of performance-enhancing drugs.

The Tulsa Shock, a WNBA franchise also getting a new start in Oklahoma after failing in Detroit, have provided Jones with a chance for the 34-year-old mother of three to undo some of the damage done during her stunning fall from grace.

"It is a really good fit," Jones said. "I knew there would be a day I would be happy and fulfilled again and satisfied that my life was going in a positive direction.

"Where it would lead me was a total surprise.

"Those people who don't believe in fate or faith, I would like those individuals to answer this; how is it possible that I could be here?"

The dark, deceitful road that brought Jones to Tulsa is a path she warns no one should follow.

Once hailed as the world's greatest female athlete, Jones appeared on magazine covers from Vogue to Sports Illustrated and earned millions in endorsements and appearance fees.

She now plays in a league where the average salary is about $35,000. Jones is no longer the headliner, logging just three minutes and no points in the Shock's season-opening loss to the Minnesota Lynx on Saturday.

Even if Jones was to develop into the WNBA's version of Kobe Bryant, marketing experts say she has little chance of reclaiming her spot as one of America's most beloved athletes.

According to the Davie Brown Index (DBI), developed by Marketing Arm to help companies measure how consumers view celebrities, Jones ranks 2,418 out of the about 2,500 names in its database.

"Her scores are pretty poor," Matt Fleming, a director in Marketing Arm's entertainment division, said. "She's on par with a number of folks you would not exactly consider to be good endorsers.

"In terms of trust she's on par with Howard Stern, Jerry Springer and Floyd Landis.

"Her move to the WNBA isn't likely to get a ton of attention just because of how little the WNBA is covered.

"People love a comeback story and if she is successful as a basketball player there may be some opportunities but she has a long way to go."
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