Back from cloud 99

What a night last night. I was truly overstimulated by the time I walked out of Staples Center around 11 p.m. I couldn’t even look at the Internet, much less write about everything that transpired. That’s what happens when some of the things you love most in the world all converge at the same time. But today I can process it all.

The evening started at the sports bar, where I met people from both the Summitt board and the rebkell board. Many of the Tennessee folks, including Summitter Larry from Nashville, had got off the plane and come directly to Staples Center. Larry said about 80 percent of his plane was wearing orange. They began to show up shortly to the bar, and outside to claim their tickets. It was truly exciting to see the place fill up with Tennessee orange. Larry said it was beginning to look like Knoxville, and I liked that.

It was truly great meeting people I’ve known only from the message boards; it’s always great to be able to put the screen name with a real name and a face. We talked Vols, Pat Summitt and particular Tennessee games for a long time. It seems we all pretty much like and dislike the same players in the WNBA and in colleges, which isn’t surprising.

I went around to talk to some of the other orange-wearing people at the other tables, and that was fun. I got a few inquiries about my orange CP3-style Adidas – people wanted them too. So I told them where I got them.

We got our tickets and found that everyone was seated in three different sections in the arena. So we went our separate ways for a bit. I went back to my regular seat, which I love anyway, since it’s right by the tunnel where the Spark players come in from their locker room.

Larry and I watched warmups until all the Sparks had left the floor. Then I went up to the concourse. At least I tried to. I kept getting stopped and stopping myself to talk to some other Tennessee fans. Heck, even New York Liberty player Loree Moore’s mother was in the house (Loree is a Narbonne High School and Tennessee graduate).

Players from both teams came in for warm-ups, and with about eight minutes before game time, in strolls Her Greatness, Pat Summitt. I saw her the minute she walked in from the tunnel opposite me. She stood there for a bit, watching and talking to her assistant coach Holly Warlick, whom I didn’t know was coming too. I was so excited to see Pat; it literally gave me an adrenaline rush, and I went to talk to two of my new friends just because of that.

The game started out slowly, and the first quarter ended in a painful 16-11, San Antonio. Things brightened a bit in the second quarter, with the Sparks outscoring the Stars 14-7. But LA got cold in the third quarter, going five minutes without scoring. It felt like someone had let the energy out of the entire arena, as the Sparks kept taking stupid outside shots and couldn’t hit one of them to save their lives. I was getting a little sad, because I’d been so high before the game. I was thinking, how are we going to party after this?

But the fourth quarter – usually the Sparks’ worst – became their best last night. And who else was leading the charge but my girl Shannon Bobbitt. She scored on a reverse layup off a baseline drive, with 2:17 to go. Right after that, she shot a three, and cut the Stars’ lead to one. Lisa Leslie made two free throws and one shot, and Candace Parker and Bobbitt each made a free throw to give LA the victory, 58-53. It was an exciting finish, and the crowd came alive and got loud.

Pat Summitt? She sat to the left of the Sparks’ owners, Carla Christofferson and Kathy Goodman. Warlick and former assistant and new UCLA basketball Coach Nikki Caldwell were on Summitt’s other side. Summitt spent most of the game leaning forward to watch, and she kept turning to her left to say something to Warlick and Caldwell. Some of the Summitteers and I were hanging out today, and we all wish we knew what she was saying.

But Summitt was gracious when introduced last night, of course. The announcer also recognized all the Tennessee fans in the audience, having them stand for applause. It was a very pretty sight to see all that orange in Staples.

The UCLA women’s basketball team was also introduced at center court during a timeout, and an ad on the big screen encouraged the audience to become Bruin season ticket holders. So are the Sparks supporting UCLA hoops now? I don’t know if that was special for last night, or something they’ll continue to do. I’ll have to ask Goodman and Christofferson.

Parker did the post-game interview, and delighted the crowd by singing “Rocky Top.” Immediately after that was over, all of us in orange rushed upstairs for the UT Night thang. It was quick to get started, which was a pleasant surprise.

At SEC Night last month, fans stood around for 45 minutes waiting for players. Last night I went to the restroom about as quickly as a person could, and when I came out, Summitt was standing by herself in front of the podium, with a small line formed to talk to her. I jumped in the line where my friends already were standing.

When I first met Summitt last December after Tennessee played UCLA, I was freaking out and starstruck for the first time in my life. Last night there was none of that; I was cooler than the North Pole. I had her sign my “Got Summitt?” shirt, and while she was doing so I asked, “how are you?” She looked up and smiled and said, “good, how are you?” I said I had met her in December and it was nice to see her again. She was nice about that too. I love Summitt. She’s got a great big heart.

Right after I went through, they called off the line (whew). Summitt did kind of an intro to the evening, and then Goodman and Christofferson each said a few words. They are nice women, and I love that they own the team. Goodman joked that her mother claimed she drafted Sidney Spencer and Bobbitt, but that she “gave them Candace.” Goodman also said that she had told Summitt during the game, “keep making them and we’ll keep taking them.” That was awesome on so many levels.

Summitt served as the questioner as she introduced all three of her former players. The questions were from fans, and all three “interviews” are on youtube, below. Thank god for that, too, because I could never remember it all. The UT President, Caldwell, Warlick, and former Vol and Caldwell’s assistant Tasha Butts were also introduced. It was a family reunion.

All players, former and present, were presented with special embroidered bags that are now being sold at UT, apparently. They were pretty, and every recipient loved them.

All three players then went to their separate corners for autographs. I talked to two of them, as well as Caldwell and Butts, who remembered meeting me in the restroom at a Sparks game earlier this summer. They were delighted that my Sparks seatmate and I have become Bruin season ticket holders, and Butts promised to slap my hand since we’ll be behind their bench. I’m not sure if she’ll actually do that, but that facxt that she even thought of it is so cute.

Bobbitt’s parents were also there, and I said hi to them. The ever-present Shelden Williams sat at a table next to CP, talking to friends while she signed autographs. It was just all about the love.

And I mean that in a grander sense, too. Vol fans really do seem like one big family. We are all over the country (note the guy in the section next to mine wearing a Tennessee Hawaiian shirt – “we live in Hawaii now”). We travel well. And when we do get together – well, I just wish the world could be that nice all the time.

I’ll say the same of the coaches and UT staff. It’s like when you get good customer service for a change, and you’re surprised. I am always floored by the friendliness and grace of those from the University of Tennessee.

And once again, I’m grateful that in my favorite sport, I am able to enjoy them as up close and personal as I do. It is one of the best things about being a women’s basketball fan.

Video of Shannon: