The fans spoke and Sheryl Swoopes listened.
The top vote-getter in balloting, the Comets forward and five-time All-Star set the tone for the Western Conference. For her efforts, she was named the 2005 WNBA All-Star Most Valuable Player. She showed why she is still deserving of the accolades she continues to accumulate.
2005 WNBA All-Star MVP Sheryl Swoopes |
Jennifer Pottheiser/NBAE/Getty Images
"I was so excited to have the opportunity to play in yet another All-Star Game with the best players in the league and the world," Swoopes said after the game. "Starting my season off, no one expected the Comets to have the kind of season that we are having.
"I don't think a lot of people expected me to have the type of season that I'm having, either. To come out here in this game with so much great talent on both teams and walk away with the MVP, that is very special to me."
In the sixth WNBA All-Star game, Swoopes scored 11 points in the first half to pace the West to a lead that they would never relinquish.
With the score tied at 32 with just under six minutes to go in the first half, Swoopes caught fire and conneced on two straight jumpers and sparked the initial run. She finished with 15 points, was 2 for 3 from three-point range and also converted on some fast breaks that left the East in the dust.
On one nearly-botched play early in the second half, an errant fast break pass got away from teammate Yolanda Griffith, but Swoopes caught up to the ball before it went out of bounds and flipped it behind her back to Griffith for the layup. Fancy passing is commonplace in All-Star Games, but Swoopes athleticism and speed showed that she is healthy again and again one of the best players in the world.
But more than anything, Swoopes showed that she is having fun again. Her Comets are currently riding a five-game winning streak and all alone in second place. She currently ranks second in the WNBA in scoring with 18.0 points per game. This comes just one season after the team finished with its worst record in franchise history, failing to make the playoffs for the first time ever.
"I think last season, as a team, was very frustrating and disappointing for us not to make the playoffs for the first time ever," she said. "For me personally, there were a lot of things that I dealt with basketball-wise and personally.
"The biggest thing was not being healthy and having to deal with nagging injuries on a daily basis. That was frustrating. I didn't know if it was something that I wanted to continue to deal with. I wasn't having fun and that is the biggest difference."
Swoopes had 11 points in the first half alone|
Terrence Vaccaro/NBAE/Getty Images
Her fun also stems from the constant presence of her eight-year old son, Jordan, who was the star among 'Stars. J.J., as he is affectionately called, tagged along with his mom everywhere she went all weekend long, from shooting three-pointers with Diana Taurasi
during Friday's practice to stealing the spotlight and looking dapper in his black suit in Friday night's President's reception. His youthful exhuberance is rubbing off.
"I came into this season with a completely different attitude and it is fun for me again," Swoopes said. "I'm enjoying the game again. I found my passion and I absolutely love my team and teammates. I feel like we got back to the point where our teammates are hungry and have the desire to win. I'm enjoying everything this year. "
So who said she's old?
In the promo spot for ABC and ESPN that aired before the game, Taurasi and Sue Bird asked that very question, referring to their more experienced Western Conference teammate. The spot was clearly intended to mock the critics who said she was finished after last season. But they were right. Fans may be enthralled with the talent, enthusiasm and excitement of the new breed of younger players like Taurasi, Bird, Alana Beard and Tamika Catchings, but Swoopes and Lisa Leslie represent the last of a select group of elite athletes, original WNBA players, who can still teach the youngsters a thing or two.
Meanwhile, Catchings was the second-leading vote-getter and plays the same position as Swoopes. The two were teammates together on the 2004 U.S. Olympic team and Catchings is the heir apparent for Swoopes' starting spot at the three in the 2008 Olympics should Swoopes choose to retire. Catchings led the Eastern Conference with 18 points in Saturday's game, including 13 in the first half that kept the East close before Swoopes took over.
"Sheryl is a tremendous player," Catchings said. "Yesterday I was talking about 1993 when she scored a career-high 47 or 44 points or something like that in college at Texas Tech. I watched her from that game to the 1996 Olympics with Lisa and Dawn Staley. It has been great to watch her and learn her game from afar.
"That Olympics was when I really started focusing on her and watching her game a lot. I've learned a lot from her and having the opportunity to play with her in Athens was definitely fun. It helped me to figure out new and different ways to help my game."
In a game where scoring records fell like Diana Taurasi's long-range threes, where Lisa Leslie dunked (again!) and where Detroit's 5-10 guard Deanna Nolan almost threw it down twice, the 34-year old Swoopes showed that this Comet isn't tailing off anytime soon.
Perhaps she will not remember the individual plays that got her team going, instead looking back on her All-Star Game experiences on the bench with her teammates (a place she is used to being with 35.9 minutes per game). As the game came to a close and Swoopes had her shooting shirt on, she sat on the end of the bench, joking with Taurasi, laughing, clapping and cheering her teammates on.
That is the real old Swoopes that fans know and love, the one who is having fun and dominating her competition once again.