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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:;_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.

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