NEW YORK, September 4, 2001
The Los Angeles Sparks proved that they could handle the pressures of top billing during this postseason, and the No. 1 team celebrated its first WNBA Championship on Saturday after a commanding 82-54 victory at the STAPLES Center to cap a two-game sweep of the Charlotte Sting.
The Sparks were led in their crusade by a familiar figure, as center Lisa Leslie recorded 24 points, 13 rebounds, six assists and a WNBA Championship-record seven blocks in the season finale. Leslie's Most Valuable Player performance made her the first WNBA player to sweep all three MVP awards -- regular-season, All-Star and Championship -- in the same season, and put to rest the demons of the past.
"The one thing I learned about myself going back and watching tapes of all the losses that we've had, is that I'm physically capable of doing this and dominating the game, but the mental part was not there," said the 29-year-old Leslie. "I don't know if it comes with age, but I had to learn to be mentally tough."
The Sparks' championship -- the first in the five-year history of the league by a team other than the Houston Comets -- gives the city of Los Angeles a sweep of professional basketball titles. It was only two and a half months ago that the Los Angeles Lakers captured the NBA crown by defeating the Philadelphia 76ers.
The Sparks, who finished with a 34-5 record overall, also received strong contributions from their supporting cast. DeLisha Milton scored 15 points and grabbed eight rebounds, and Tamecka Dixon added 13 points and seven assists. Dixon, who earned her first selection to the All-WNBA Second Team on Thursday, played with an injured right heel that had forced her onto crutches after Los Angeles' 75-66 victory over the Sting in Game 1 on Thursday in Charlotte.
"I told the ladies this was going to be, at the beginning of the season, one of the hardest things they ever had to do, yet one of the easiest," said Coach Michael Cooper, who won five NBA championships as a member of the Lakers in the 1980s. "But the easiest thing is popping the cork off the champagne and letting it flow because these young ladies worked hard for this."
** From WNBA News, September 4, 2001