Tuesday, September 30, 2008
I've been writing since I was 4, which is why I'm a perfectionist about the art form. If I'd had a little extra time the column could have been better, which is why I responded to my own work on the site. I had to outline a few story ideas I've had for the WNBA for a long time, in light of the original columnist's jab. The women of the league have to go through so much to play the sport they love and make a living. Wouldn't it be nice to read about their lives in other countries? Wouldn't it be interesting to find out a bit more about the new Sparks owners?
Even at my age, there are times when I marvel at what a cruel and unforgiving world this is. It took Title 9 to get a level playing field for women in sport. Women's basketball has been an Olympic sport only since 1976, and the sport wasn't seriously practiced collegiately until the early 1970's. The WNBA is all of 12 years old, and some people criticize its players and teams for not playing like the 62-year-old NBA. It's like so many other things in life: that's the breaks, kid.
Last summer I got into an email argument with one of the Times' female sports staffers. This was her closing paragraph in her first reply to me:
As for your assertion, "If you would write something uplifting about women's basketball, it might help the sport rather than tear it down. You are contributing to the problem by writing columns such as yesterday's," it is not my job to be the public relations person for the WNBA. It is not my responsibility, because I'm female, to praise a female-dominated enterprise that I know to be flawed and that I find less than compelling. As a columnist, it's my job to voice an opinion based on my experience and knowledge. I't's my opinion that the WNBA is at a crossroads and may need to alter its business plan to survive.
She's right in that it's not her job to be a public relations agent for the WNBA. But the other comments are illuminating. It's obvious she doesn't like the WNBA, and neither does the rest of the sports staff. And it's easy to attack it in this Kobe and Lakers-obsessed town.
I used to be a newspaper reporter, and when an editor and/or a reporter like something, they'll write about it; they'll push it. Don't let anyone tell you differently. Did anyone see the column following the Olympics that praised Kobe Bryant for his behavior at the games, i.e. giving him props for acting like he should have been acting all along? I hope no one did, because it was vomit-inducing. It's obvious the Times has its collective head too far up Kobe's rear to care about other types of basketball. High school games barely get any play in that paper, either.
But I have to give the Times sports editor credit for letting me speak out, and take a few jabs at the paper in the process. I hope someday the Times will give women's hoops a fair shake on their pages. In the meantime, I'll fill in the blanks as best I can for all the great things they're missing.
One of the great people who I've met on the Summitt message board, Mike, has helped me with quite a few pictures the last few months. Now he's allowing me to share some of his.
The lucky homey goes to all the Lady Vol events, and has taken a lot of pics lately of our new team. I'm getting excited. I mean, I barely know them, but I'm excited for the future. I have good feelings about it. An inside source at Tennessee told me today that "Everyday in practice is a new adventure unfolding on the court. Like a soap opera, you've just gotta tune in tomorrow to see what happens!"
Try to keep me from doing that.
The thing that strikes me are the similarities between the new team and the team that just left. Mike says there's another beautiful one, like CP, and Brianna Bass is just as short as Bobbitt and wears her hair similarly. Mike's letting me share his photos, so I thank him.
The new Vols sign autographs after the football game a few weeks ago. Bass is the one in the stutters.
Being introduced at the game.
Get used to this sight: the huddle.
At practice 2......
The new Nikki Caldwell, aka Daedra Charles.
Did I say I'm excited???!!!
Sunday, September 28, 2008
I don't know if we could have handled it if we would have made it to the finals. There are still too many glaring holes in our game. One of the biggest for me all season long as been the lack of offense geared towards the posts. There is no high-low game, and that's one thing I thought would be a staple for sure, given that we have the two best posts in the league. Secondly, why can't we shoot the lights out from outside, like San Antonio? We should be able to do that. And why aren't we experts at the free throw line? Finally, where's our stifling defense?
These questions will undoubtedly be answered over the off-season. In the meantime, I'm really concerned about our two rookies - both of whom have played non-stop for a year now.
Candace Parker dislocated her shoulder six months ago, and has kept playing on it. She is about as mentally tough as they come, but I sense she's not only physically but emotionally drained, because sometimes lately she'll seem to zone out briefly during games.
I'm a sensitive schmuck, and I pay attention. Unless I'm really exhausted, I notice just about everything, and saw a couple things our rookies did the last two games that gave us a brief glimpse into where their heads are at.
Yesterday, as that last shot went in, Sophia Young started rolling around on the floor. A few feet away, Parker sank down to her knees on the same floor and put her head on it. The camera was focused on the Stars, but you could see Parker on the bottom right of the screen. For a woman who pretty much always has her game face on, that was amazing to see, as was her reaction to a foul called on her today late in the fourth quarter. The camera showed her, dead on, in complete disbelief. She was just standing there saying "what?" over and over, and I thought she was going to start crying, for real. Here's the side view:
She seemed to be completely torn up about it, which bothered me.
Then there is Shannon Bobbitt. The girl is a real rookie, unlike her teammate, but she didn't get much of a chance to be treated like one. She was thrust into the starting position when Temeka Johnson left the team to care for her dying grandmother, and the others weren't performing as expected. Bobbitt shouldn't have been put in the role, though, because she wasn't ready. She should have been groomed for it, but she found herself in over her head. No doubt she was feeling pressure, and fans and journalists were relentless in criticizing the Spark guards all season, including today.
Cooper had told his guards to step up and shoot today, and Bobbitt tried. She did score a couple times, but she also missed some shots. I thought I read defeat on Bobbitt's face today, and then came her last foul in the fourth quarter. She was chasing Hammon toward the left corner, and Hammon tumbled out of bounds:
Bobbitt landed on her stomach, and Hammon's lower leg slightly brushed her head as she flew into the camera zone. Bobbitt looked up at the ref who had whistled the ball dead, and then she put her head down on her hands and just laid on the floor, face down, for several seconds.
Our poor girls. I am worried about them both, for different reasons.
I wanted to open up the floor for discussion and observation. Was there anything anyone saw in either this game or the New York-Detroit games this weekend that provided insight into the state of mind of the player? Please share. Because I've always believed that it's this kind of stuff that is the most important thing in life: figuring out the real stories behind the fronts.
Saturday, September 27, 2008
I need to get out of the house and not think about basketball until 2 p.m. tomorrow. Seriously.
Edit to add that I understand Coach Michael Cooper, Lisa Leslie and Candace Parker were very upbeat in the post-game interview. Good sign! Because if the Sparks can play well through all four quarters tomorrow, rather than collapsing in the second and third quarters..........you know.
I've been asking for and getting women's basketball team prospecti (at least I think that's the plural for prospectus) from the PAC-10 and SEC conferences. I may do a few other schools, but there are many conferences in the US and I'm not sure if I'd have time to preview every single program. The PAC-10 is of interest to me as it's our main West coast league, and because my friend and I are new UCLA season ticket holders. The SEC conference is a gimmie for me (duh). So those are my main focus points for now. But if anyone would like to see a team outside those conferences previewed, please drop a comment and I'll see what I can do.
It's interesting to see how fast some schools respond to requests for prospecti. Some media relations reps respond almost immediately; they check their email on weekends. Others take a few days. Some have to be asked again. And again. One school so far hasn't responded to three email requests and a phone call from me, and that is Stanford. If they end up ignoring me completely, who knows what I may write about the Cardinal.
Friday, September 26, 2008
Have I lost my mind? I’m trying to sort it all out. It doesn’t help that my former team and present team have always had something against each other, though I sense that the Seattle Storm’s grudge is bigger.
I was a Storm season ticket holder for that team’s first five years. During that time I was as passionate as the next Storm fan. From the get-go, for whatever reason, Storm fans got to hating the LA Sparks, and a rivalry was born.
Back in 2001, 2002 and 2003, the Sparks were the bad girls of the WNBA. Latasha Byears, Mwadi Mabika and Tamecka Dixon would do anything to win, including throwing punches and/or shoving or throwing objects at the opposition. Lisa Leslie and Delisha Milton didn’t go that far, but they did use elbows a lot. Storm fans called Leslie “horse face,” “diva,” and other names. They didn’t like Milton, AKA “D-Nasty,” either.
I remember the night that the “Beat LA” chant in Seattle became routine procedure. It was July 12, 2002, when the Sparks came to visit. On a running play, Storm guard Michelle Marciniak fouled Byears hard on purpose, and Byears turned around and threw the ball at her head. Marciniak, furious, pushed Byears, and Byears responded by shoving Marciniak to the floor. Storm teammate Amanda Lassiter stepped between the two, and then the refs intervened. Both Byears and Marciniak were ejected, and both walked off the court to the deafening chant of the crowd (myself included) screaming “BEAT LA!!!” It’s been modus operandi ever since to chant that when the Sparks come to town.
Fast forward to 2008 and you have a completely different LA team. The only two left from that 2002 championship squad are Leslie and Milton – now Milton-Jones. Both players are a little older and a lot more mellow. There are also three new Sparks players from my beloved University of Tennessee. But the “thing” between the Sparks and the Storm remains.
This past Sunday during playoff game two in Seattle, “Beat LA” was flashed on the jumbotron to incite the crowd to chant it. The Storm powers that be also ran some kind of video in which they compared Sparks Coach Michael Cooper to Grover on Sesame Street. The Sparks organization objected, and apparently the WNBA asked the Storm to stop running the videos.
Seattle fans then complained after the Sparks won game three and lingered on the Key Arena court celebrating after the game. No doubt the Sparks did it because of the videos, so I guess they got even. But I guess I don’t see the point of hating the Sparks so much anymore.
Last season, which Leslie took off after the birth of her daughter, the Sparks lost more games than they ever had before as a franchise. Fans of other teams made comments on message boards that it was “hard to hate LA now” that Leslie was gone and the team was losing. When Leslie came back this year, some of those same people went right back to hating the Sparks.
Leslie, they say, is a popular villain. So no matter who else is on the team, they will hate the Sparks. That seems pretty stupid to me, but hating on certain teams for the duration of your life is an American tradition.
I was raised by a father who hated the Dallas Cowboys, the New York Yankees and UCLA Bruins (I will spare the particular cusswords he attached to each team). Thirty years later, everyone that was associated with any of those teams are either retired or dead, but my dad still hates them. There are a lot of people around like my dad.
Personally, though, I don’t see the point. I don’t care what the Sparks did to my team six years ago. Grudges aren’t useful.
Take a look at the Sparks now and you see a group of close-knit women who are trying to figure out their high-low game, among other things. I still see a few elbows here and there from Leslie, but that’s about it. The Sparks are a team of which I can be proud, and I am. I have passion for them, and while I still like the Storm, I lost what was left of my passion for that team when they traded Betty Lennox last winter.
Then there is the issue of fandom. Somewhere between the two extremes of Storm fan and Sparks fan, there has to be a happy medium. And I want it to eventually happen in LA.
Last winter, fans at Mac Court at the University of Oregon in Eugene taunted UCLA forward Kevin Love when the Bruins came to town. Mad because the Beaverton player chose UCLA over the UO, Duck fans held up signs with Love’s cell phone number on them, and signs that accused him of being gay, among other things. It was a horrible display of bad sportsmanship. Seattle Storm fans come close to crossing that line sometimes, too.
Sparks fans, on the other hand, need to yell louder, bring more signs, and all stand up until the team scores at the beginning of each half without having to be reminded. They’re too nice. Hopefully, they/we can find that balance.
Which brings me to my final thought – actually, a question. Is booing the other team before the game acceptable? Or is it in poor taste and an example of bad sportsmanship?
The reason I ask is because before last night’s game, when the Silver Stars were being introduced, several fans booed most of the players. They hadn’t done that before this season, and I was surprised.
Personally, I don’t like it. You’ve gotta respect the other team, because without them there would be no game. But I want to hear from others. What do you think about booing the other team? I’d sincerely like to know.
They put the Sparks’ home court down, the bright yellow contrasting a little with the rust-colored seats. Fans were each given a Sparks rally towel at the door, and people really waved them hard during the team’s surges in the second and fourth quarters. It was a pretty sight.
Just inside the entry was also a table full of Sparks merchandise for sale, including T-shirts, beads, car flags, and other things usually found in the team store. (Owners Kathy Goodman and Carla Christofferson are no dummies). The goods were being peddled by USC students, who had to look up the price of everything before they sold it.
The ushers also were young and didn’t take the militant stance the Staples ushers do, so theoretically all of us season ticket holders could have sat wherever we wanted. But the Sparks staff did such a good job of arranging for us to all sit in the same area we would have if at Staples, that we didn’t move. Daniel and I were right where we usually are, behind the Sparks bench.
I guess I don’t need to go over much of the game, since it was broadcast, but we were pleased. Marie Ferdinand-Harris looks like she’s returned to her “old” self, i.e. someone who scores. Temeka Johnson had the hot hand, putting in points, and Lisa Leslie looked like the aggressive center who was missing for a time. San Antonio started strong and went on a run in the first quarter, but after that it was all Sparks.
Though Galen Center is a beautiful facility, it’s much smaller than Staples Center, so it was a little strange being there. But in the end, a W is a W, and I’ll take it.
My only complaint was having referee Kurt Walker officiate – the third out of four games this week that he’s done so. His calls have always been questionable, and I think they need to send him to the Eastern Conference for a while.
The Kryptonite Award of the night went to Candace Parker, who managed to score yet another double-double while suffering from the flu. She is one of the most mentally tough athletes I’ve ever witnessed, and even so, she continues to amaze. I hope she feels better soon.
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
Highlights for me:
- CP's wicked ass left-hand shot in the second quarter.
- Bobbitt's falling jumper on the right wing at the very end of the third quarter.
- The way the Sparks kept their composure.
- Bobbitt had no TO's, and CP was the high scorer with 20.
- When they showed the Sparks in the tunnel before the game and they were jumping up and down and screaming.
- Seeing the Sparks owners sitting right behind the bench, quietly slapping hands after the game was over.
- Bobbitt goosing CP in the post-game interview, while the entire team bombarded her and took her out of her interview persona.
- Ashley Robinson showing some spunk tonight; coming back to the huddle after a little pushing with Delisha Milton-Jones and saying to her team, "let's go, muthafuckas!" At least that's what I read on her lips when they bleeped it out. I didn't know the young lady had the chutzpah like that. It makes me love her more.
But it's a little sad, too. I will always love the Seattle Storm, and it was great to see the crowd at their screaming and hysterical best tonight. You could hear individual fans yelling weird crap when the rest of the arena was quiet. They are crazy, and I wish every WNBA arena could be like that. I also hope that someday the Storm can remain injury-free for a season and have another championship, because they've been so dogged by that problem the last four years.
I'm so happy to have another game to go to Thursday. I wasn't ready for the season to be over yet. Again, I have to give credit to the Sparks for believing it into reality. That stuff does work.
PS - Yes, I did know it - I knew the Sparks were going to win. I knew it right before I went to sleep last night.
Monday, September 22, 2008
Tonight the New York Liberty defeated Connecticut in a close game, which made me very happy for that young team. Right after that, San Antonio and Sacramento went to overtime, where the Stars prevailed. What a night! I ended up doing some chores during the SASS-Sac game, or I could have sat on my booty for four hours and watched it all.
Of course I am nervous for the Sparks-Storm final game of the series tomorrow night. But what I truly adore is the attitude of the entire Sparks organization. All season long the players and head coach have been unwavering in saying they would win a championship. Season ticket holders today got an email from team owners Kathy Goodman and Carla Christofferson talking about how the next games would be at Galen Center, and how they were so excited to be in the playoffs. And I got a personal email from a Sparks staffer asking me if I was going to be at the next playoff game (duh!). Their philosophy seems to align with that in several of my spiritual books, and one I also practice: believe it into being.
I love it.
When the WNBA first started, the Comets took the first four championships, and the Sparks the next two. Good teams were great and the new teams were bad.
Since 2003 there have been five different champions - a different one every year - and the teams that used to be bad are all playoff contenders. It's difficult to make a team and then stay on it for the season. And this is the first time in the league's history that all four opening round series have gone to three games and no one's swept anyone in two. Tonight's overtime was also the second one so far in this year's playoffs.
Now that's parity, baby. It's a beautiful thing.
Sunday, September 21, 2008
I knew the Sparks weren't going to win when I got up this morning and felt it. It felt like a loss. So I'm going to pray really really really hard that Monday night or Tuesday morning, the feeling will be a good one.
Saturday, September 20, 2008
I arrived early, as usual, but I was a little wistful because it would be our last game at Staples Center this year. If the Sparks make it to the second round, the game or games will be played at USC's Galen Center, down the street. The Sparks were also bumped during the playoffs in 2006, so I guess I should be grateful we don't have to drive to Anaheim. But, the way women's basketball is still pushed to the side in this day and age makes me sad sometimes.
Almost the entire Storm team were out warming up, but as usual, only CP, Bobbitt and a couple other Sparks were on the other end shooting. I noticed Sheryl Swoopes, who sustained a concussion during a game in Seattle two weeks ago, was out with the Storm. I didn't think she'd be ready to come back yet.
Again, I sat with my two friends who like to say hi to the players as they come off the court. Christi Thomas, who had season-ending knee surgery in August, stopped to talk for a moment. She said it's hard to feel part of the team when injured - especially since she has to go do rehab now when the rest of the team is practicing. But she said she's hanging in there.
One thing I noticed right away was the different temperment of the entire team. Each and every one of them were much more serious and quiet than usual, which is normal for the playoffs. They all walked off the court and quietly said hello to people, or simply waved. Even the usually-ebullient Delisha Milton-Jones was subdued, barely mustering up a smile as she passed.
Before they were about to come out for formal warmups, I heard much more exuberance from the back of the tunnel. Thomas was "whooo-woooo"ing really loud, and the rest of the team was answering her louder than usual. I liked that (I guess I'm still a little haunted by that Atlanta game).
The music is better! Shoot-around started with Jay-Z's new song "Jockin' Jay-Z," which is so dope it should be illegal. More quality selections followed that one, and pretty much continued throughout the game. I liked that, too.
With a few minutes left to go in shoot-around, they pulled Parker out of the lineup and stopped the music to present her with her rebounds award. She's had 229 for the season, which is amazing. Lisa Leslie was then given her blocked shots award. I noticed that Swoopes paused in shooting to give Parker a few claps, but didn't clap for Leslie.
The Sparks have an unusual tradition of giving one player the mic as they all come to the bench just prior to tipoff. The player then welcomes fans to the game and usually asks for cheers. Last night it was Bobbitt's turn, and she asked the crowd for it's supp-owaht (New York for support). I think Bobbitt need to seriously try rapping - I really do. Anyway.
In the first half, the Sparks looked fantastic. They had good ball movement, and shots were falling. But what was really making the difference was their defense. They were really stepping up and limiting the Storm, forcing them into ugly shots, if not denying them in the first place. It was exciting ball, and with a 44-27 lead at halftime, fans were smiling.
The Sparks fell apart a bit in the second half, though, seeming to forget their brilliant defense. Seattle also started making more shots. But what was really irritating me and my seatmates for a while was the sudden total lack of offense on LA's part.
The point guard - whomever it was at the time - would set it up, and everyone else would just keep standing outside the key. No one would make a move to cut across the lane or otherwise go toward the basket. Then someone would end up taking a last-chance desperation shot from Michigan, which of course wouldn't fall. And the ball would fall into the Storm's hands......you get the picture.
If it were my team, I'd have made them keep going to the rack. If you can't make the shot, then you'll draw the foul.
There was one extremely hot play under the basket, though it was in the first half. Parker did a no-look, over-the-shoulder pass to a cutting Jessica Moore, who laid it up and in. I nearly had a heart attack, the play was so beautiful. Apparently it made Sportscenter's #4 play of the night last night. No wonder.
The Storm did make their run in the second half, but the Sparks contained them, and as the final buzzer sounded, they sent some really beautiful purple and gold confetti (ribbon pieces) down from the ceiling, creating a snowing effect.
Margo Dydek's son was in the house. A short dude was sitting behind the bench holding him, and she took him into the locker room at the half. She put him back in the guy's arms when she came back out, and he wandered off somewhere. The baby was cute.
One of my friends told me that a fan who CP slapped hands with after the game accidentally pulled her arm back and made her tweak her right shoulder. She grimaced, they said. That scared me. I hope she's allright, but then again we're talking about Iron Woman.
Jack Black was in the house again. He's a regular, and they always put him on the jumbotron because he does some crazy shit. Last night he was doing the "walk like an Egyptian" dance, among other things, before he finally waved the camera off:
Even funnier, Black was sitting next to Shelden Williams, who was texting someone before Black began his performance:
Black kept going on and on, and Shelden finally stopped and just stared at him, giving him the horror look. Obviously, Shelden will not be dancing courtside at a game anytime soon.
Besides Black, Penny Marshall was in the house.
Right now the Sparks are in a hotel somewhere in rainy, cold Seattle. They will play tomorrow at 2 p.m., at which time I'll be hunkered down at a viewing party in West Covina with a bunch of other crazy ass fans. I am worried.
For one thing, there's the season-long problem the Sparks have of peforming poorly in the second half. Then there's the Storm's home record of 16-1. The reason they have that is because of Seattle fans. Seattlites always pack Key Arena, and they're loud. It's the worst arena in the league to play at if you're the visitor, and the Sparks will really have to focus to win there. With their sometimes-lapses.........well, I worry.
I don't have a feeling about tomorrow's game yet, which is weird. Maybe I need to sleep on it.
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
A few weeks ago I would have said Conn hands down, but the Liberty are looking really good lately - particularly Janel McCarville. We shall see, but I hope New York comes out on top. They've been down for a while and it's their turn to rise.
Friday it's Detroit vs. Indiana and once again, barring a miracle, the Shock should wipe the floor with them (though I really want Catchings to have a great series). The last game is, of course, Sparks vs. Storm.
I know I said I'd ponder it a bit, but I haven't come up with anything new. We've got the same unpredictable Sparks facing the same injured-with-a-really-deep-bench Storm. Either team could win, though I'm praying hard it'll be LA, because it's challenging to win games at Key Arena if you're the visiting team.
Nerves! I'm gonna have nerves by Friday. I can feel it.
Candace Parker, Diana Taurasi and Lindsey Whalen received the WNBA's Peak Performers awards today for most rebounds, scoring and assists, respectively. Parker averaged 9.5 rebounds per game this season, while Taurasi averaged 24.1 point. Whalen had 166 assists this season. Here's the link:
On its website today, the WNBA linked probably the best and most intense player feature they've ever written. It's about Sparks guard Temeka Johnson, who was gone for a long time in July dealing with the death of her grandmother. Several reactions to the piece were from people who had also been close to their grandmothers, but you don't have to have had that to appreciate the humanity of this story:
wnba.com needs to do more features like this.
Sunday, September 14, 2008
Tell me something I don't know. So I was hopeful but in a guarded way, because Thursday's Atlanta game was truly, truly painful.
As usual when I arrived, both teams were already warming up on the floor. I sat with my two friends who like to come down and say hi to the players as they leave the floor, and they did that. I was sitting directly next to the tunnel, and glanced up just as the Storm's Ashely Robinson emerged. We made eye contact as she passed, and I smiled and said, "A-Rob." She smiled back, probably seeing my pimped out Tennessee Vols ensemble, and said hi.
I used to be a Storm season ticket holder, and I will always have a little bit of love for them. I just don't have passion for them anymore. Hell, I don't even know who's on the team now. I noticed another white girl with a ponytail who wasn't Sue Bird shooting baskets with them, and I said out loud, "who the hell is that?" It was former UW baller Kristin O'Neill, it turns out, but I barely recognize the team anymore except for Bird and former Lady Vols A-Rob and Shyra Ely. Anyway.
It was great to see the Sparks come out strong and composed. The thing that really stuck out to me was their strong defense, which had been missing last game. Everybody was hustlin', and it made all the difference in the world. Seattle didn't score until 5:18 left in the first quarter.
Apparently Cooper had a mic on for the game, and had been irritated that the Storm pulled their starters out so quickly. He said something about how the Sparks were going to blow them out, which proved to be true. I'm not sure what happened, actually, because Bird only played 3:08. Maybe the Storm didn't care about this game and wanted to rest everyone. But both teams gave their benches a complete workout, and in this case, LA's bench beat Seattle's. Here's the box score:
My only question is what happened to Storm forward Yolanda Griffith, who slipped in warmups and laid there for a few minutes before being helped to her feet. She also only played 3:08, and I don't know if this was due to an injury or if Seattle Coach Brian Agler was resting her.
Of course I was pleased to see Sidney Spencer have a good game and get some quality minutes. It was also nice to welcome back Marie Ferdinand-Harris, who had a solid game after being MIA for a few.
Margo Dydek? She got minutes, but she looked pretty rusty. She recently had a baby and has been out for a while, so I cut her some slack, but when she missed a layup, I cringed. I have always wondered why she's never dunked. It wouldn't take much for her to do so.
After the game, 400 season ticket holders then trudged upstairs to the Staples Center Arena Club for an MVP Reception. Half the players were on the court doing an autograph session, and as Sparks owners Kathy Goodman and Carla Christofferson addressed the crowd, the remaining members of the team slowly trickled in to be greeted by fans.
Cooper took the podium and thanked season ticket holders for being dedicated fans. He said Laker fans were fair weather fans, and he commended Spark fans for not being the same way. Cooper assured everyone that in the remaining games, the team would "show an effort that you can be proud of."
Lisa Leslie also came to the mic, baby sitting in her left arm, and acknowledged that the season "hadn't been what you expected." But she echoed something else Cooper had said, which is that it's not how you start but how you finish.
While waiting for the other players to come up, I ran into Candace Parker's fiance, aka Shelden Williams. He wore jeans, a printed brown T-shirt and a diamond-studded key (old-fashioned kind) on a chain. A woman asked him why he doesn't stand up and cheer during the games, and he said it's just his nature to be quieter. I told him I hoped he would try to convince Parker to not play overseas this winter and rest instead. He replied that she "has to do what she has to do." This didn't make me feel any better or start to worry less about our fatigued MVP.
The players who had been there left, and the ones who'd been signing autographs came in and took the mic. To no one's surprise, Delisha Milton-Jones and Shannon Bobbitt were the biggest jokesters.
After assuring the crowd that they'd win a championship, M-J began to sing. (She should stick to her day job). Then she began introducing team members as "the finest" from wherever they were from. Bobbitt was introduced as New York's finest, and she did an impromptu rap that got the crowd calling for more: "Go Shannon! Go Shannon! Go Shannon!"
After a couple more minutes, that was done, and it became an autograph session. People were following players around, and Bobbitt seemed to be running from fans. She was trying to leave (her brother was there) and told one fan she'd already been signing for an hour downstairs, which mildly irritated the fan. I tried to talk the fan out of her irritation.
As usual, I can see both sides. As a teacher, there are moments on hard days when I close my door and avoid students, who will keep knocking/barging into my office all day long and try to suck me dry if I let them. On the other hand, it's a good idea to be nice to fans - especially season ticket holders. Parker and Leslie have this down to an art form.
Parker didn't come to the mic at all, but while the second group of her teammates were there, she quietly sat down at a nearby table..........and suddenly there was a mile-long line in front of it. She graciously posed for picture after picture and signed item after item, with a poise I'm used to seeing in her, though it still amazes me because of her age. I've met her enough times now to have formed an educated assessment: Candace Parker is a really cool young lady - a sweetheart and a nice person. She's got her shit remarkably together. And she's a few light years ahead of her time. The Sparks and Los Angeles are so lucky to have her.
I was leaving as they began to call off the line for Parker. She was the only player left hanging around. As I hit the sidewalk outside, I was thinking how nice it was of Goodman and Christofferson to have that gathering for us season ticket holders; they sure didn't have to do it.
Now I have four days to think about how the Sparks and Storm will match up here on Friday. I have to ponder that a bit.
Friday, September 12, 2008
I'm not going to rag on individual players like a lot of people are doing today, as there is plenty of blame to go around in last night's game. I'm not going to pretend to know what the problem is with the team's record; fans have been trying to figure that one out since the slump began in June. And I'm not going to lay out a plan for what "should" be done now; that's up to the owners.
I'm just a bit down today.
It's not that I had humongous expectations for the Sparks, as so many did. Both fans and non-fans were projecting the Sparks to win the WNBA title this year. I wasn't sure if they could go that far, but I did think they'd do better than they have. That's the core of my disappointment. I feel that for whatever reason, the Sparks have underachieved this year. And for someone raised on track and field, that's one of the worst things that could happen in sports.
The art of middle- and long-distance races is to go out hard, but not too hard. You want to save some for the end and not die in the final stretch, but you don't want to have too much left over, either. If you do, you're left with a stinking pile of "what could have been"s. That's how I feel about the Sparks this year.
There have been flashes of brilliance this season. We have seen them play like a championship team a few times, with all cylinders clicking and things running 100 percent smoothly. They have the capability to be a championship game team, but it's not happening. That just kills me. It also doesn't help that I really like this group of women, and that three Tennessee Volunteers who I really care about are on this team.
I didn't have a good feeling before last night's game, and my instincts are always right about such things. I just didn't think that by three minutes to go in the fourth quarter, I'd be slunk down in my seat at Staples Center, head in my hand and pressed against the back of the chair, hardly able to watch the Sparks self-destruct.
If I could figure out why teams with talent sometimes can't pull it together, I would be living in a Hollywood Hills mansion. The Dream didn't look like a bad team at all last night, and on paper, they should be much better than they are. What happens in these cases? It's no doubt a unique set of circumstances in each case that come together correctly, for bad results.
On the upside, it was good to see the Dream's Betty Lennox have a good game last night. Girl deserves it.
Tuesday, September 9, 2008
The gym at Centennial High School was packed with people at 4:45 - 15 minutes before the practice was to begin. The Spark players and staff had arrived earlier than they'd planned, so they were already on the court warming up when I walked in. Not long after that my girl "Rhapsody," aka youtube, arrived and found me.
So, Margo Dydek. The Sparks picked her up almost two weeks ago, but visa issues had kept her from arriving in the US until this past weekend. Spark players finally met their new teammate Sunday, after they arrived back in LA from the Texas road trip. This was literally our first look at the 7'2" Polish center, who has played professional ball for 10 years, as a Spark.
She's just so damned tall. You can see it on TV, but you it's hard to appreciate the largeness of her every dimension until you see her in person. When they were all stretching with one leg up, Dydek's upper leg was almost as long as 5'2" Shannon Bobbitt's entire leg. Sitting down, her knees ride way above everyone else's because her lower leg is so long. Dydek makes our forwards look like runts; she is a head taller than Candace Parker and Lisa Leslie. It's really something to behold.
Of course, Rhapsody and I were waiting for Bobbitt and Dydek to stand together. It finally came when they circled around Coach Michael Cooper after warmups. Though they were a few feet apart, Bobbitt stood in front of Dydek with her arms crossed. The top of Bobbitt's head reaches Dydek's stomach, just below her breasts. Rhapsody and I giggled. We have both the shortest and tallest players in the league. Gotta love it.
After stretching, players worked on a three-team shooting drill and then a three-woman weave. Typical stuff. As they finished up from that, Bobbitt started some sort of hopping dancing thing, showing why her teammates called her the silliest one on the team a few weeks ago. Delisha Milton-Jones, who needs barely anything to be egged on, joined her.
Some players flipped their jerseys, and the starters took the floor to run the offense alone, while the rest of the players and the coaches stood at the half-court line. They ran it allright a few times. Shannon made a great shot and CP picked her up from behind, bringing her friend all the way up to her chest. Shannon tucked up her legs a little and smiled real big. The effect was funny. CP also was clowning with Milton-Jones, calling "ball ball ball!" exaggeratedly when M-J was trying to pass it.
The second team then got on, which included Dydek. So yes, she will be used as a key reserve. Just making sure.
This is when the "arguing" started. One of the teams would run through the play and then stop and come back and seem to argue with the other players and/or Cooper. CP even pretended to push him at one point. It was all a joking vibe, like a lighter-hearted version of street ball. I finally turned to Rhapsody and said, "what's going on?" She didn't know. And I guess no one else did either, because when CP was at the edge of the court, someone in the front row asked her a question.
"We're messin up," she said to the girl, shrugging.
I guess they finally worked it out, because pretty soon both teams were actually running a play or two, with all the possible options. And there was an option for all five players on the floor, which I liked.
Some guy with a microphone periodically interrupted to tell people to quiet down "so the players can hear instructions from their coaches," because "this is a real practice for them."
With all due respect to the Centennial Huskies, no way. The Sparks practice from 9-noon daily, and this jokefest was in no way a real practice. If this was Cooper's idea of an actual practice, he would have been fired a long time ago. But it was cute that school officials tried to pretend it was legit.
They worked on shots some more, and since I've already seen the other Sparks do that ad nauseum, I watched our new Spark. Dydek had a nice mid-range jumper that always went in, but technically it wasn't a jumper because her feet hardly left the floor. When two balls became stuck in the basket net, Dydek didn't come forward to help; CP jumped up and got them out. I know Dydek just had a baby. Maybe she's just going to put her arms up and block.
After this, the "practice" further degenerated into silliness, to the audience's delight. Players made a circle and put Dydek in it, shouting, "Go Margo! Go Margo!" She did bust a little dance move for a second, and then giggled; they laughed with her. This was good to see, because I was wondering how she'd fit into such a close-knit team.
There was more silliness. Leslie was in the middle for a moment, and shook her shoulders. Coop laid down in the middle, and Bobbitt sat on top of him for a second, drawing lots of laughter. She and M-J danced some more, from their sides of the circle. The Centennial High basketball coaches were put in the middle. Then Sparks players started taking half-court shots. CP kept trying to throw it backwards.
I've also noticed that Bobbitt and CP seem to have a standing joke from college, where CP goes to take a shot and Bobbitt boxes her out in an exaggerated way. They do it over and over, exactly the same every time. You'd have to see it to understand how funny it is to watch them do it, and they did it again last night.
The Mayor of Corona then presented Cooper with a proclamation from the city in honor of that day, that the Sparks were there. I was surprised. These people were serious!
I had met the Centennial Booster Club President, Gretchen Beard, before the practice. and she told me the story of how this event came together. She knows Sparks Account Executive Pati Freund, and they were talking earlier in the summer about how to increase interest in the team in the Inland Empire, and the idea for the open practice was hatched.
Booster Club members sold almost 1000 tickets to the event, which included a ticket to Sunday's Sparks game against the Seattle Storm. They were also selling T-shirts at the door and raffling off items, so they could make some money themselves.
Anyway, the Corona Mayor also gave proclamations to the three Olympians on the team. M-J and Leslie were more subdued about theirs; after all, they've had their share of such awards over the years. But CP took hers and went back to her seat with Shannon, and they giggled while they looked at it. So funny.
The Q and A session began, which can largely be seen on Rhapsody's home video:
After this, a young lady asked the tall players where they got their jeans. Lisa Leslie named a few places, but said buckle.com was the best. I didn't know that, probably because I'm not 6'5". A younger girl asked what she could do to be as good as them, and CP said "grow the baby hair" before answering more seriously.
Cooper got tired of all the questions being directed towards CP and Leslie, so he started asking questions and going down the line of players. Education came up, of course. Everyone extolled the virtues of staying in school, but Bobbitt might have been funniest when she said that in high school she "tried to stay out of the lunch room where people were playing cards and go to class."
They were asked to each give one word that keeps them going. When they got to Sidney Spencer, she said "Jesus." Bobbitt, sitting next to her, said "believe," and next CP said "character." Leslie, next, also said Jesus, then pray and then Jesus again.
Her little girl Lauren was toddling around this entire time, and good lord is she cute. She doesn't seem to be shy, either. And she's going to be ridiculously tall.
The players were then excused by their coach. Bobbitt walked off in her socks, carrying her shoes. Later, when they came back out for a half-court throwing encore, Dydek stood in the hallway and shadowed the doorway.......literally. Her body framed the side of the doorway, and she had to bend her head to see inside the top of it. The woman can never hide.
I'm glad I had a preview before Thursday's game against the Atlanta Dream. No surprises for me.
Saturday, September 6, 2008
I've not seen a more balanced team effort in quite some time. Everyone scored, and everyone contributed. No one person really stood out from the others; they really were, as forward Delisha Milton-Jones said in the post-game interview, "working as one."
The Sparks kept their turnovers down, and mysteriously enough, the team scored 21 points in each quarter, for a total of 84. Dig it:
Point Guard Shannon Bobbitt tied her personal assists record, equaling the 10 she garnered in the July 27 game at Target Center in Minneapolis. The Sparks shot 52.5 percent. I'll take that any day of the week.
The placings will be decided within the next week, as the regular season winds down. The first and fourth-place holders in each conference then face each other in the first round, as do the second and third-place teams.
I would be interested in anyone's opinions on how the rounds will go, and who they think will make it to the finals. I have my ideas, but I want to hear from others.
This week was my first week back to school and meeting my new students, which is why the entries here have been a little short. But I am back in my work groove, and I have some cool stuff coming up. For one thing, I had an interesting interview yesterday with a Tennessee staffer who is a semi-celebrity in her own right. I will be posting on that soon, as I will write about the Sparks' open practice on Monday, Sept. 8. I'm also doing preliminary college scouting for the fall.
Blog ideas are always welcome, so don't be shy. And also, feel free to start a comment-fest and/or a basketball dialogue. This is a year-round sport now, after all.
Thursday, September 4, 2008
The same folks put together a great gallery of Shannon Bobbitt, too. Pictures 7-12 show Bobbitt's infamous crossover moves, ala Rucker Park. She did that in both the Saturday and Monday games this past weekend, to the point where the crowd went "OOO!" Dig it:
I also like picture number 2, which I call "sit down," and picture 13, where Bobbitt is calling the play.
The photographers for this organization do good work, and I appreciate it.
Tuesday, September 2, 2008
Sparks beat first-place San Antonio Saturday, and second-place Seattle lost Sunday. Sparks beat Minnesota last night, putting them solidly in third place in the Western Conference. Now, the Liberty just beat Houston in OT (fun game to watch, too), which puts them another game back and out of the playoff race for now.
In the meantime, New York and Detroit are neck and neck in the East. Only Connecticut has a playoff berth so far. The next week and a half will be a tangled fight for several teams. Yum! I love playoff time.
The Sparks looked real good last night. Spencer was lookin like the old Sid. I hope she and Bobbitt are getting their confidence back, as it appears to us fans. Sparks were puttin on a defensive show, and Leslie was havin a block party. Parker was the one who really dazzled, though. The girl is ridiculous.
Like Neo, she is The One.