10th Anniversary Special Milestone For Palmer
The Seattle Storm chose an apt time to celebrate the WNBA's 10th Anniversary tomorrow when the Houston Comets visit KeyArena (8:00 p.m., ESPN2, ).
Of the seven players who have been in the WNBA all seven years of the league's existence, four will be on the court tomorrow - Comets stalwarts Sheryl Swoopes and Tina Thompson and newcomer Tamecka Dixon, who previously spent nine years in Los Angeles, as well as Storm forward Wendy Palmer. Add in the pair of Los Angeles Sparks 10-year players who played in the Storm's 90-67 Opening Night win on Sunday and six of the seven most veteran players in WNBA history will have played at KeyArena in a three-day span, with only San Antonio guard Vickie Johnson left out. (In addition to those seven, inaugural players Latasha Byears and Bridget Pettis remain in the league, though both have spent multiple seasons out of the WNBA.)
"It's a dream come true just to be here," said Palmer after she recorded a double-double (18 points, 12 rebounds) in her first game in a Storm uniform. " Lisa (Leslie) and I actually congratulated each other on 10 years. To look around and see the players that have been there all 10 years, it's touching. We've all been a part of this for such a long time."
That is hammered home by the presence of young players like Storm rookie Barbara Turner, who attended Cleveland Rockers games while she was growing up and was 13 when the WNBA came into existence.
"They don't know what it's like," says Palmer. "Sometimes they take things for granted, assuming that it's always going to be here or it's just what's supposed to happen. They came along at different times. They've grown up always seeing a WNBA."
Palmer was part of the last graduating class of college players in this country who did not have the opportunity to immediately go to the WNBA. When she finished her NCAA career at Virginia in 1996, the leagues that would become the WNBA and the ABL were in their developmental stages. Palmer spent the following winter overseas before joining the WNBA and being assigned to the Utah Starzz for the league's first season.
Palmer went to Utah with no expectations.
"What can you expect of something that has never been there?" she says.
While Palmer established herself as a star, earning All-WNBA Second Team honors and averaging 15.8 points and 8.0 rebounds per game, the Starzz struggled. At 7-21, Utah was the league's worst team by three games.
What Palmer remembers is not so much anything on the floor but the close bonds that formed off of it for pioneers in women's basketball.
"Those early years, there was so much camaraderie with the players," she recalls. "Those first few years, because no one knew what to expect, it was like one big family. We were just so happy to have our own league. I miss those days. But it's something I can take with me the rest of my life."
"You can look at as if she's been on six different teams," Palmer says. "Well, obviously, six different teams needed her ability. Looked at that way, it's a blessing."
Palmer takes pride in outlasting most of her 1997 peers. After experiencing her worst season in 2003, averaging just 4.7 points and 3.3 rebounds per game, Palmer bounced back to share the league's Most Improved Player award in 2004.
"It's such a sweet moment for me," says Palmer. "Throughout the injuries and changing teams, I'm still here. I'm right here. I'm still playing as hard as I was day one. There's been many times where people counted me out and said, 'She's old. She's washed up.' I'm 31 years old. I'm not old. Just because I've been around the league, I've been here since day one, people think I'm old."
Nobody was calling Palmer old after her performance against the Sparks, though Los Angeles Coach Joe Bryant did break out the phrase "old school." If there was any doubt that Palmer is still a valuable contributor, she erased it in replacing injured center Janell Burse in the starting lineup.
"It's going to be tough to sit her down," said Storm Coach Anne Donovan on Monday. "Are you kidding? She's been dynamite."
Burse Working Back
Burse remains sidelined by a partial tear of her left shoulder labrum, but if there was any doubt that she is feeling better, it was erased when Burse spent some time after practice working on dunking. Burse scrimmaged throughout practice, the first time she has experienced contact since aggravating the shoulder in practice two weeks ago.
"It only bugged me a little bit," Burse said afterwards. "I just started feeling it toward the end a little more than I wanted to. Other than that, it was fine."
Nonetheless, barring a surprising reversal, Burse will not play against the Comets.
"I just really want to make sure I'm healthy when I come back," she said. "Hopefully, we're a better team when I come back. I don't want to hurt the team. That's my biggest concern because we're playing so well. Hopefully, we're even stronger."
Burse will travel to Phoenix with the Storm for Thursday's game (7:00 p.m., FSN) and could play against the Mercury. If not, she will have five more days to work her way back before the Storm takes on the Monarchs in Sacramento.
As far as the dunking, Burse has made a couple of attempts at dunks on runout fast breaks during practice this month. She believes she's close to putting one down.
"It's a matter of not losing the ball on the way up," Burse said. "When I do my vertical jump testing, on paper, I can dunk. It's just a matter of controlling the ball and not losing it on the way up and stuff like that."
And why try to dunk?
"It's something different," she said. "Nobody ever did it in Seattle. I think it would be nice."
"It will be an emotional night for Simone," said Donovan, who coached Staley for two years in Charlotte. "That's really all I've been focused on. It will be unfortunate that this will be the last time our fans get to see Dawn Staley play. But our focus tomorrow night will really be on Simone and making sure it's a special night for her pregame."