Hot Summer Jams

The heat of the Orlando afternoon (which is really no different than the heat of the Orlando morning or evening) beats down on the parking lot to the north side of the TD Waterhouse Centre where thousands of fans are showing their basketball enthusiasm at the WNBA All-Star Summer Jam.

Ashley Cole (left) and Christa Curette post with Starzz forward Natalie Williams at WNBA All-Star Summer Jam. (WNBA Photo)

Over more than 50,000 square feet lies the ultimate interactive hoop experience with games, activities, clinics, live music and performances. Even the WNBA All-Stars from both squads stop by on Sunday to get in on the fun and sign autographs.

The fans soaking up the excitement (and the humidity) come in every size, shape, color and age group. But there is a special light in the eyes of the teenage girls who have finally found their heroes, live, in-person and here at the Summer Jam, close enough to touch.

Christa Curette and Ashley Cole stand in line to get autographs from Monarchs center Yolanda Griffith and Lynx guard Katie Smith. The line extends down the stage and weaves along the grassy quad, but there seems to be little impatience - only anticipation - in the mood of the crowd. Curette and Cole, ages 15 and 14 respectively, started hitting their parents up to make the trip to Orlando from their homes in Port Arthur, Texas as soon as All-Star 2001 was announced. Now, finally here, they can't start talking about everything they've done until they first describe their favorite team.

Curette: "Houston Comets, four-time WNBA champs!"

Cole: "Sheryl Swoopes!"

Curette: "They're the best!"

Cole: "Swoopes!"

Curette and Cole have hit the traditional Orlando hotspots of Universal Studios, Disney World and the Wet n' Wild waterslides, but they don't lose focus on the main event. And at Summer Jam, games can come later. With the players here there's only one goal in mind.

"Autographs!" Curette says and when pressed for specifics, they both laugh. "Everybody," Cole confirms.

Asha Neal gets ready to clear the rack on the Shootout Court at Summer Jam. (WNBA Photo)

Both veterans of many Comets games, Curette and Cole already know the usual suspects but are excited to make new friends. Sting guard Dawn Staley is the consensus favorite of the players they've met today for the first time.

"She's nice," Cole explains and Curette agrees. "She's very very nice and she talked to us for a long time."

Both hoopsters themselves ("we're trying to get here one day," Curette says), the girls are thrilled to have a league of their own to follow because as Cole puts it "females rock."

Soon to be a high school junior, Asha Neal is rocking the Shootout Court on the other side of the lot. Throwing up bomb after bomb, she clears a rack of balls on each of three places on the court. The highlight of her day came in meeting her idol, Sparks center Lisa Leslie and now the young Daytona, Fla. native can concentrate on showing off her skills.

"I was so excited," Neal says of her encounter with Leslie. "I was scared at first, but I was really excited."

"She wants to play in the WNBA one day and I want her to see it," Neal's mother, Janice Teague explains while proudly running down the list of Neal's own accomplishments. "I'll take her anywhere she has to be. She's going to be in the nationals for three years. She has a 3.8 grade point average; she's an honor roll student. She wants to be in the WNBA so I want to put her in all the positive places."

During this discussion, a little girl about five years old approaches Neal and asks for an autograph. Neal bashfully declines, explaining that she's not one of the WNBA players.

"But you will be," Teague prods. "Sign it for her now and she'll have it then."

What you see at the WNBA All-Star Summer Jam is the Kids Zone, Obstacle Course, Slam Dunk Courts, Sling-Shot Jam, Shootaround Court, Three-Point Challenge, Bungee Run and Bank Shot - balls flying and people laughing. What you feel are dreams being built, not just here in Orlando but in the hearts of young girls all over the country as the WNBA shows them, just as Cole said, that "females rock."