Monday, September 25, 2017
Page 725

Round 2, Game 1

The Sparks organization did a great job of simulating the Staples Center last night at USC’s Galen Center.

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.

Just wow

The Sparks came out with the energy tonight that was missing on Sunday. I was calling and texting people; they were calling and texting me. That fourth quarter was pretty damned scary for a minute, though. My heart was beating really fast. I’m so glad that my young neighbor (the high school student who I watched a lot of the Olympics with) came to watch that part of the game with me, or I would have screamed even louder and scared people.

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.

Parity? Yes.

I haven’t enjoyed a WNBA finals series this much before. I’m not usually compelled to watch every game, but I have been since Thursday.

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.

Not much to say about that game

Refs were horrible. Sparks were bad. Seattle crowd was great. Swoopes played well, as did Bird. It was just no fun to watch at all. At least I was at a viewing party and didn’t have to be in misery by myself.

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.

Round 1, Game 1

I thought I’d have nerves before last night’s game, but I didn’t. I just had a good feeling about it, and my feelings about games are always right. They really are.

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.

Extras:

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:

http://www.spmsportspage.com/images/WNBA/2008/Los-Angeles-Sparks-77-Seattle-Storm-69-WNBA-09-19-2008/ART_340_filtered.html

Even funnier, Black was sitting next to Shelden Williams, who was texting someone before Black began his performance:

http://www.spmsportspage.com/images/WNBA/2008/Los-Angeles-Sparks-77-Seattle-Storm-69-WNBA-09-19-2008/ART_338_filtered.html

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.

Tomorrow:

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.

‘Twas the night before playoffs………….

Tomorrow it kicks off with Connecticut facing New York, and then San Antonio vs. Sacramento. Unless something really freaky happens, SA should romp on Sac. But with the Eastern Conference, I’m not so sure.

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:

http://sports.espn.go.com/wnba/news/story?id=3594331

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:

http://www.wnba.com/playoffs2008/temekajohnson_080917.html

wnba.com needs to do more features like this.

End of the regular season……and on to the playoffs

In talking to other fans before today’s Sparks-Storm matchup at Staples Center, I wasn’t the only one who went there today with her defenses up a little bit. Even Sparks Coach Michael Cooper remarked on the team’s inconsistency at the after-party today, saying that “other teams are afraid to play us because they don’t know what we’ll bring.”

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:

http://sports.yahoo.com/wnba/boxscore;_ylt=Au9ZzzNsM4GDsGgrWriGxo1bvrYF?gid=20080914004

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.

Just sad

Last night the playoff-bound Sparks lost to the Atlanta Dream – the team with the worst record in the league. It was a deserved loss, too, as the Sparks played like crap. It was webcast and on NBAtv, so many fans have already seen the total lack of offense on LA’s part, and the coinciding absence of defense. While the Sparks struggled and worked for every point they got, the Dream seemed to throw in shots easily, after effortless transitions.

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.

Sparks open practice

The drive out to Corona is a long but pretty one. I love looking at desert mountains. But just when I thought I wasn’t ever going to get there last night, I found my exit.

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.

Ah.

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:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kqnHqHxqDec

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.

In!

I don’t know who that team was that showed up last night in San Antonio saying they were the Sparks. But tonight the real team descended on Houston and systematically took the Comets apart. As a result, we’re in the playoffs!

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:

http://www.wnba.com/games/20080906/LASHOU/boxscore.html

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.

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