Wednesday, February 28, 2024
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SASS 67, Sparks 66

So painful. So very incredibly painful. I can’t even think of a word right now that matches the hurt in my gut. I’ve been sitting here for almost 20 minutes and may be able to get up in another five, I don’t know. I’m trying to visualize the Sparks locker room right now. Maybe not.

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.

College previews coming up

I realize that I’ve been going on and on about the WNBA lately, and obviously, because it’s the playoffs. One of the best series in years, too. But I love the late season this year because almost the minute it’s over it will be time for college ball. Basketball year-round, baby!

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.

*evil laugh*

Pondering changing teams, and the meaning of fandom

As long as there has been WNBA basketball, I’ve been watching it. But this season has been strange for me because I’ve crossed a bridge I never thought I would cross, and I’ve become a raving fan of a team I used to dislike. What’s more, I predict I’ll be a fan of this team for at least the next 16 years or so, or until Candace Parker retires – whichever comes first. And knowing me, by then I’ll be so attached to the team I’ll never be able to let go, so I might as well say “lifelong fan”.

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.

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.


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.

‘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:

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: 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:;_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.