Hitting Home

WNBA Finals MVP Yolanda Griffith helped bring the first basketball championship to the city of Sacramento in 2005.
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When the WNBA debuted in 1997, I was still living in my hometown of Sacramento. I was attending college at Sacramento State, where I would become a journalism major and cover women’s basketball among other sports for my school newspaper.

I was there in the stands when the Monarchs tipped off their inaugural season and I was here working for the WNBA when it was announced that Maloof Sports and Entertainment would no longer operate the Monarchs. I have to admit this one hit me pretty hard.

The Monarchs were my introduction to the WNBA and now they would no longer call Sacramento home. When it was announced Tuesday that there was not enough time to get a new ownership group in place in the Bay Area to move the team for the 2010 season and that the Monarchs players would be subject to a dispersal draft, it confirmed my fears that the team that introduced me to professional women’s basketball would be no longer.

I was a fan of women’s basketball prior to the arrival of the Monarchs and will continue to be now that their time has come to pass. But quite frankly it still sucks that my hometown team is now gone.

My first taste of women’s hoops came in high school. I was friends with some of the players on our team and made it a point to come out to their games and support them.

Soon after high school, the 1996 Olympic team caught national attention and opened my eyes to many of the great players that I had not known. At the time I knew some of the big names like Sheryl Swoopes, Lisa Leslie, Cheryl Miller, Dawn Staley and Rebecca Lobo. I was less familiar with players like Katrina McClain or Nikki McCray or Teresa Edwards, but the play of that team and the coverage that it garnered helped me appreciate the women’s game even more.

Then when the WNBA debuted in 1997, Sacramento was awarded a franchise and it was warmly received by the community. At that time, the Kings had been in town for a dozen years but had yet to have much success. But the Sacramento community loved basketball and supported the Kings through good times and bad. And with the Monarchs in town, we now had a summer hoops fix as well.

It was interesting to see the similarities shared between the NBA and WNBA teams in Sacramento. The Monarchs struggled in their first two years just as the Kings had struggled for so many of their first dozen years in Sacramento.

But then something special happened as both teams made huge strides in 1999. The Kings welcomed Chris Webber, Vlade Divac, Peja Stojakovic and Jason Williams to the team and brought a new style of play that energized the city. And the Monarchs kept that energy going in the summer as they welcomed Ticha Penicheiro in 1998 and Yolanda Griffith in 1999, the two cornerstones of the franchise.

Having Williams and Penicheiro playing in the same building just made sense as both point guards consistently dazzled the crowd with their flamboyant style of play. If anyone could rival J-Will in a no-look pass contest it was Ticha.

Ticha Penicheiro frequently dazzled the Sacramento fans with passes like this one.
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As the teams each began to make noise in the playoffs and began to contend for a title yet another similarity emerged – a nemesis from Los Angeles dressed in purple and gold. While the Kings were never able to get past the Lakers, the Monarchs eventually took down the mighty Sparks and brought the first hoops title to the city when they won the 2005 WNBA championship.

Unfortunately when the Monarchs won their title, I was no longer living in Sacramento. I had already moved to New York by then, but I watched as the purple and white confetti fell to the Arco Arena floor. It was a sight Sacramento fans had hoped to see for years, but the Kings were unable to win a title during their small window of opportunity. The Monarchs, on the other hand, were able to finish the deal.

Obviously the championship is the memory that will replay most vividly in the eyes of many Monarchs fans, but there were plenty of moments and players to remember. I won't forget Ruthie Bolton-Holifield's arms, Griffith's passion, power and tenacity, Penicheiro's flare and grace, Kara Lawson's intensity, Nicole Powell's shooting range, the white-line defense and the post move that every Monarchs post player used - and DeMya Walker perfected - that always looked like a traveling violation but wasn't.

And I surely won't forget the final game of the 2002 season, when fan-favorite Edna Campbell triumphantly returned to the court for the Monarchs just five months after being diagnosed with breast cancer. The courage that Campbell showed throughout her battle with cancer, the outpouring of support from fans while she went through treatment and the ovation she received when she entered the game were amazing.

After winning the 2005 title, the Monarchs were unable to repeat as WNBA champs in 2006 and over the next three years their level of play hit a decline as they were bounced from the playoffs in the first round for two straight years before enduring a difficult final season in 2009 that saw them finish at the bottom of the standings.

And even though the Monarchs will not play another WNBA game, their impact will be felt by Sacramento basketball fans for years to come. They remain the only team the city has had that could be called a champion.

Thanks for the memories.