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White Elephants
Posted: January 13, 2006 3:31 p.m. ET

Have you ever wondered where the phrase "white elephant" came from? It's from Thailand, and describes a backhanded way the monarch used to punish courtiers who had displeased them. White elephants were royal property, considered sacred because of their unusual hue, and the king held the right to give them to whoever he pleased. But because they were both sacred and royal, the noble "privileged" to receive one, and unable to use it as a common work beast, was stuck with the giant burden of feeding, housing, and otherwise taking care of it. As such, it was a huge burden, and quickly bankrupted the recipient.

How does this apply to the WNBA? It's my earnest belief that Janel McCarville and/or Lindsay Whalen would be white elephants to the Minnesota Lynx. If Roger Griffith had given in to the cries of fervent Gopher fans and taken McCarville in the dispersal draft, or had given in to the Connecticut Sun's high trade demands for Whalen, it would have set a precedent that I don't think the Lynx could have survived. Giving up everything for a hometown girl isn't good basketball sense, period, end of conversation. More to the point, it would have shifted power from the front office to a small slice of the fandom. Fanatic Gopher fans, if you're bothering to read this, I pose a question to you: suppose McCarville had gone to the Lynx in the dispersal draft? Would you have been satisfied with her just on the roster, no matter what the coach decided to do with her? Or would you have, after a season or perhaps two, threatened to revoke your newly-bought season tickets unless she played a certain amount of minutes? Or unless she started? I realize the slippery slope argument is a dangerous one to use, but look at the paradigm that would have been set up here. It would have been putting the power of personnel decisions into the hands of not only fans, but a small group of fans, and not only a small group of fans, but a small group of fans that admittedly doesn't pay attention to the WNBA past the select players who catch their fancy. Does this sound like a good idea? Would you put the University of Minnesota's entire scouting and recruiting apparatus into the hands of parents at two or three Minnesota high schools?

Roger Griffith did what he felt was best for the Minnesota Lynx. The Lynx are already a young team; while it's almost always preferable to go for a younger player over an older player, the Lynx have a surfeit of players who came out of college in the last three years. A veteran player comes in handy for pulling those younger players together and making them work. The fact that Tangela Smith knows what it's like to win in the Western Conference, as a former Monarch, and comes in as an All-Star post player is even better. She'll be ready to contribute immediately, whereas McCarville still has to prove that she was as misused and underappreciated in Charlotte as Nicole Powell and Erin Buescher had been, and that she can compete in the WNBA.

Believe me, I want to see Janel succeed almost as much as you do. I am a Liberty fan, after all, and she's one of our girls now. If she turns out to be better than Tangela Smith, you can laugh at me all you want. I'll be laughing at myself along with you. I'm not writing this because I have anything against the woman.

I've been lurking the Minnesota boards since some Lynx fans on the Women's Hoops Blog turned me on to some of the, um, more interesting posts some of the more, um, intense fans among you have written. I recognize that you have a lot of emotional investment in the Cinderella Gophers, but if you're going to say that you think of Whalen and McCarville like daughters, then you're missing a very important step in the parent-child relationship: kids grow up and leave the nest. (Generally, in fact, parents encourage their children to spread their wings and leave the nest, not hang around.) Your little girls aren't little anymore. They've moved out of the house. They've taken up their careers and made friends out there. It's unhealthy to try and drag them back into the house at this point. Let them fly.

To me, that's actually one of the more fascinating parts of being a sports fan: watching the way that people from all kinds of backgrounds come together in a place that most of them don't know at all. I'm a Liberty fan. My home base is New York. My favorite Liberty players hail from California, Washington, Utah, and Pennsylvania. None of them are local girls, not by a long shot. None of our players are real local girls. But we've learned to adapt. We adopted South Dakota's Becky Hammon as our own. We love our Arkansan Shameka Christon. We want more, more, more of our California girl Loree Moore. We made Texans, Louisianans, Oklahomans, and all sorts of other distinctly non-native players feel right at home here in NYC. As for the last New York City native on our roster? Well, um, you really don't want to get into a debate with most Liberty fans about Bethany Donaphin, you really don't…

So if you want to find some new young women to attach yourselves to, or that you want to serve as role models for your children, what's wrong with the Minnesota Lynx? (Other than the lack of Gophers. We've covered this.) If you could open your hearts to someone from Wisconsin- from Packer territory, for heaven's sake- then anyone else should be a piece of cake. You've got a great bunch of people playing their butts off at the Target Center on a regular basis, all of whom care about fans, all of whom love the game, all of whom want to be loved by you. You've got a tenacious bunch of point guards in Amber Jacobs, Megan Duffy, and Shona Thorburn. You've got Tamika Williams, who's got a winning pedigree, an eye for the game (she's an assistant coach at Ohio State, you know), a way with words, and great taste in music. You've got Svetlana Abrosimova, who can make a whole lot of things happen just when you least expect them. And that's only half the roster. I've interacted with the Lynx. Nicest team I've ever had the privilege of meeting.

Oh, yeah, you've also got a stupendous shooting guard, name of Seimone Augustus. She dragged LSU to the Final Four in 2004. Yes, the same year the Gophers went. She's amazing to watch. She might even be as good as Lindsay Whalen. ;) If you're not watching her, you're missing magic every night, and I would think that having watched Whalen, you'd have gotten an appreciation for magic.

The way I see it, there are two choices here. One is to accept the Lynx for what they are: a professional basketball team headquartered in Minnesota, with no required tie between any colleges in the area, and to appreciate them for what they are instead of what they aren't. This doesn't mean giving up ties to beloved hometown heroes; there are cheers in the Garden when Cappie Pondexter comes to town, and cheering sections for anybody from the area. It does mean putting the team in front of the player- putting the name on the front of the jersey before the name on the back of the jersey, if you will. It's possible to be glad for a player while hoping her team loses and your team wins. And in the long run, it's better to fill the Target Center seventeen times than twice, y'know?

The other is to keep on keeping on. Keep demanding that Griffith and the Lynx find a way to acquire McCarville. Keep focusing on the local, on the parochial, on the past. Keep ignoring the fact that things change, that this is a business as much as it is a game, that there are colleges outside of Minnesota and conferences outside of the Big Ten. I just wonder how the Lynx would feed the white elephant, and what it would cost them to do so.

PS- if you still don't want Roger Griffith, or if you just want him run out of town on a rail, I'll be more than glad to take him. A basketball person who thinks that putting together a winning team is the way to get fans into the seats? My kind of guy!

Growing Pain
Posted: January 3, 2006 7:31 p.m. ET

That's not a typo. There's a world of difference between growing pains and growing pain.

I can try to look at this objectively and say that every league, in its early stages, goes through a period like this as it sorts out where it truly belongs, carefully placing teams in markets that will bear them and moving or folding teams that are woefully out of place. I can say that leagues in existence for fifty or a hundred years are still moving teams around, as the recent examples of the Washington Nationals and Memphis Grizzlies might indicate. I can point out that attendance was through the floor, or that on the worst nights it was possible to count every person physically present in the building, that it made no sense economically to keep the team in Charlotte. All of that would be very appropriate for a blog entry titled "Growing Pains".

But if I were that kind of fan, I wouldn't be passionate enough to have this platform, and instead of taking the philosophical view on the dispersal of the Charlotte Sting, I am seething with rage. This was a sucker punch not just to the loyal Charlotte fans, but also to any true WNBA fan. A team that always showed class and dignity to their opponents and even to the opposing fans deserved better than to be pushed aside, run into the ground, and cast off like an old jacket.

This was a proud franchise once. This was a team that, more than any other, drew upon the rich basketball tradition of its home turf to create its identity. From North Carolina State's Andrea Stinson (whose name I always, appropriately enough, start typoing as "Andrea Sting") to Duke's Monique Currie, the Tar Heel State and the ACC provided the Sting with the players that shaped it. NC State sent not only Stinson, but also Rhonda Mapp and Sharon Manning, who provided power in the post; later, Summer Erb was the culmination of a four-year tradition of ACC first-round draft picks. North Carolina gave the Sting some of their best, such as Tracy Reid and Charlotte Smith. Other schools in the ACC also shaped the Sting. Vicky Bullett, one of Charlotte's first All-Stars and one of my all-time favorite players, was out of Maryland. Until this season, one of Virginia's Cavaliers always ran the point: the first was Tora Suber, the second was the legendary Dawn Staley. There was a time when the people making decisions for Charlotte understood the tradition and glory of local basketball, and rooted their franchise deeply and strongly in that tradition. How hard did someone have to pull, how deeply did they have to dig, to find those roots in order to pull the team like a weed and throw it away?

This was a franchise to be feared once. Playing Charlotte, you always knew that there would be pain. If the post players in the middle, Bullett and Mapp passing their mantle to Tammy Sutton-Brown, Shalonda Enis, and Janel McCarville, didn't get you, the outside shooting would. There was a reason Stinson's nickname was Miss Jordan, and even in her twilight, she still had some of the moves. Staley, and later Allison Feaster, Kelly Miller, and Kelly Mazzante, would make any defender pay for leaving them open to double down on Stinson. Coached by familiar names such as Dan Hughes and Anne Donovan, those teams didn't make too many stupid mistakes. These people knew what they were doing, and as a result, the Sting spent most of their early years in the postseason. Their 2001 run to the Finals after starting 1-10 may be one of the most famous stories of the first ten years. But that stable foundation was undermined with bad hirings and worse drafts. Who made those decisions? Why did they make said decisions?

This was an honorable team once. Its veteran core set the tone for the younger players coming in, which resulted in a team that always behaved classily towards fans and fellow players. I've spent many years at the edge of the court at Madison Square Garden, and I've seen every team there ever was to see, and no team has been consistently and constantly as classy and polite as the Charlotte Sting were. The rights to drama queen Mery Andrade aside, the Sting have never been involved in any major dust-ups, questionable situations, or other unflattering affairs.

This was a great franchise once. In 1997, almost nineteen thousand people saw the Sting beat the Comets. Though 2000 saw them suffer an 8-24 season with low attendance, the 2001 and 2002 playoff runs helped the team get back on an upswing. After 2003, though, attendance fell and fell hard, and the team declined in equal measure. It's hard to believe that it's a coincidence that 2003 was the year that the Sting were sold, and the year that the new owner started making front office personnel decisions.

Maybe some of the newer fans, some of you who have always known Detroit and Washington, Minnesota and Connecticut/Orlando, Seattle and Indiana, wonder why it's such a big deal that the team is folding. It's happened before in the WNBA, after all: Portland, Miami, and Cleveland are all on the list of former WNBA cities. But losing Cleveland hurt deeply, and losing Charlotte rips open that wound again, because in both cases it becomes clear that the team's owner let greed be his guide, and folded for the sake of a few hundred thousand dollars instead of making more sensible decisions with other properties.

It matters to me for one small reason. The original Eastern Conference comprised Charlotte, Cleveland, Houston, and New York. With Houston in the West now, that leaves New York as the last original franchise in the Eastern Conference, surrounded by expansion teams. It's a lonely feeling, and it makes me a little jealous of the Western fans who can point to these decade-old rivalries.

Here's another thing that boggles my mind about losing Charlotte. Without the Sting, the WNBA has no presence from Washington south and Houston east. That's an entire quadrant of the country that has absolutely no access to a live WNBA game. That territory covers essentially the entire SEC, plus most of the ACC, not to mention the mid-major conferences of the area. Am I supposed to believe that there isn't an audience for women's basketball in the South? Am I supposed to believe that the thousands of people who watch Tennessee, or who collectively watch the teams of North Carolina, or who support Georgia and its schools, are not interested in professional basketball? I find that extremely hard to believe. How badly does a franchise in the heart of two of the best women's basketball conferences in the country have to be mismanaged in order to NOT reach so many potential markets?

And how important is it to have a presence anywhere? Let's take a hypothetical teenage girl. Let's call her Charlotte, because it's a pretty name and it's appropriate. Suppose Charlotte Hypothesis is in high school and starting for her school's team. Like most high school teams, they're average, and so is her performance. Maybe she's thinking of a mid-major school, or a D-II, someone who'll give her a scholarship and not really expect much because they don't have much to expect. If Charlotte gets to go to Sting games, she gets to see that, hey, this basketball thing might be a stepping stone to higher education- look at Monique Currie and Allison Feaster, who got degrees from Duke and Harvard and got there because they could play basketball on a higher level. That encourages young Charlotte to work on her game so she can be just as good. Maybe she even dreams of a bright orange jersey with Hypothesis across the back, and playing in front of her family and friends. Without the Sting, Ms. Hypothesis has no real access to those players- sure, there's the game of the week on ESPN, but you can't talk to a televised player (well, you can, but they don't tend to respond).

Think Charlotte Hypothesis is just a fantasy? Let's take another situation. Let's get in the Wayback Machine. It's 1997, and a 14-year-old girl, tall and talented in several sports, is celebrating her birthday at a Mercury game. She takes in the wild crowd, the party-like atmosphere at America West Arena, and thinks that she'd like to be a part of this for a good long time. She keeps up with the other sports, but she makes basketball enough of a focus that she gets a scholarship to a top school. Maybe she's pretty good. Maybe she goes on to influence other kids. Maybe she gets drafted in the first round. Maybe she wins a WNBA championship. Maybe she's fictional.

Or maybe she's Nicole Powell.

Let's go to another city. Let's go to Cleveland. It's still 1997, and we have on our hands a slightly younger player. She's always wanted to play pro, although before now she wouldn't have had a chance. Maybe she even pressured her family into buying Rockers season tickets. It doesn't really matter. What matters is that she's at the Gund, seeing these women fight and battle. Maybe, even though Merlakia Jones and her style first catch her young eyes, she sees the broad shoulders of Isabelle Fijalkowski and Janice Braxton as they stake out their positions in the lane, and maybe that encourages her to use her size, because she's stronger than most girls her age; maybe that keeps her from doing something stupid to her body the way other girls do. She gets pretty good, good enough that she can go to an elite school and appreciate its tradition while trying to extend said tradition. Maybe she even wins a couple of championships. Why not? Hey, maybe she's even a first-round draft pick. Why not stretch this as far as it can go? She's hypothetical, right?

Or maybe she's Barbara Turner.

Maybe Charlotte Hypothesis is just that. Maybe there isn't a single teenage girl in all of Charlotte, or of North Carolina, or even aaaaaaaaall of the southeastern United States, who would be affected by the presence or absence of the Sting. And maybe Nicole Powell and Barbara Turner would be the same women they are today if they hadn't grown up with original franchises when they were in high school and college. Somehow I doubt it, though, if only because I know I am not the same woman I would be if it hadn't been for June of 1997 and the New York Liberty.

Maybe, just maybe, by folding the team, Bob Johnson, has robbed the future WNBA of All-Star Charlotte Hypothesis. Maybe, by folding the team instead of waiting a year to sell it to a group ready for 2008, the leadership in Charlotte has ensured that we'll never see Rookie of the Year candidate Mizzourah Hypothesis, or their very distant Southern cousin, DPOY Arkansaw Hypothesis. But one thing is certain: by folding the Charlotte Sting so abruptly and underhandedly, we have already been robbed of one of the league's most historical franchises.

Long Cold Winter
Posted: October 14, 2006 2:13 p.m. ET

"Reports of my demise have been greatly exaggerated."

"I'm not dead yet!"

And other such hoary clichés. In retrospect, I suppose I should have saved my more retrospective/introspective/philosophical entries for the offseason and talked more about the games during the season. My only defense is that talking about Liberty games this past season involved language that Matt can't put on the site, and I got very depressed watching blowout after blowout.

And now we come to the long, cold winter. I don't have to tell you guys how hard it is to be a WNBA fan during the offseason. Our hot stove is best paralleled to a small campfire lit in the face of a snowstorm- it isn't very large, nor is it very hot, nor does it get the attention that offseason transactions get in almost any other league. It's hard to keep up with players once they're overseas; many fans, including yours truly, are indebted to Paul Swanson keeping track of European scores on a weekly basis- check the Junkie Boards for his postings, because you'll be able to find out not only about your team's players overseas, but former players (it always amuses me just a touch to find Bethany Donaphin in a boxscore). Matt also does lively recaps in his blog. But meanwhile, I'm not sure where half of my team is, if only because they're not sure yet either.

So how does a WNBA junkie like me cope with the offseason? And is there any way this can help you? Well, obviously, I hope the second answer is yes, because otherwise we've both wasted our time here.
Of course, spend as much time as you need to on the Web, especially wnba.com. Kevin did a wonderfully exhaustive list of sites in one of his entries, so I won't waste my time duplicating it here. I will say that if you only have time for one WNBA message board a day, make it Rebkell's. You get your recommended daily values of basketball savvy, possible insider information, delicious snark, and world news, all in one convenient pill form… erm, website. :-) Hit Google every so often to see what your team or player(s) of choice might be up to in this long offseason.

While I'm surfing the Web, and even while I'm not, I crank up my iPod. Well, I do that all year 'round. But if I get a jones for the feel of the Garden, I turn on the playlist called "Liberty" and turn up "Gotta Get Up", the Liberty rally song, or "Strike It Up" by Black Box, which has long been the cue that there's a team in seafoam green waiting at the mouth of the tunnel to the court. Listening to "Every Rose Has Its Thorn", "Boogie Shoes", "Sister Christian", or "Love Is a Battlefield" reminds me of sweet shots from Liberty players, since our DJ has a dreadful love of bad puns. Fever fans, you can search the team website for "Fever Believer", the little theme song that Olympia Scott and Charlotte Smith recorded for your team. Shock fans, lurking somewhere on the Detroit site is your team's theme song- it's hopelessly cheesy, but I'm sure it'll make you think of your championship ladies and smile. If you happen to be a Sacramento fan, or a fan of country music and the WNBA, I recommend tracking down the CD "Experiment on a Flat Planet" by the group Soulhat, which contains the adorable song "WNBA". If the album hadn't been recorded in Houston and released in 1998, I would suspect that the song was about Chelsea Newton. It's fun. Go. Procure it legally.

While you've got the WNBA-themed playlist of your choice on your music player of choice, grab a book. There's more of a variety if you happen to be a college fan, but there are quite a few good volumes on the professional and Olympic games as well. Start with Shattering the Glass by Susan Shackelford and Pamela Grundy, as it covers everything and does so quite exhaustively. It'll instill in you respect for the players who came before the WNBA. Then go pick up Karra Porter's Mad Seasons, the story of the WBL. (While you're immersed in that book, go on Women's Basketball Online for the three chapters that Porter had to cut from the book, then hit the Shock's Statistical Warehouse to see how the WBL's numbers and players stack up against the WNBA.) Going forth chronologically, you'll want Sara Corbett's Venus to the Hoop, about the 1996 Olympic team that was the catalyst for the creation of both the WNBA and the ABL; its afterword contains one of the best moments of unintentional irony ever, and the rest of the book is pretty good too. Now that we're into the WNBA era in our perusal of the bookshelves, it's time to recognize Houston: I tend to recommend Fran Harris's Summer Madness over Cynthia Cooper's She Got Game, but that's a purely personal preference, and if you have time to read both, you really ought to- after all, we've got a very long offseason to get through. I can't recommend Worst to First yet, if only because I simply haven't read it, and I wouldn't recommend a book I haven't read. Jayda Evans's Game On is another good one, containing one of my favorite moments of "the more things change, the more they stay the same". For a light finisher, I highly, strongly, and gladly recommend Stephen Burt's Shot Clocks: Poems and an Essay for the WNBA. It's short but sweet, and it shows the love that the poet has for this league. I'm already on my second copy.

Okay, so you've raided your local library, bookstore, or Internet kiosk for some reading material, and you're either waiting for the books to arrive, have finished the books, or really aren't in the mood for the books at this point. The next step is to watch whatever games you have recorded, if you happen to have any kicking around. Even if you know the results in advance, you can remind yourself of all the reasons why you love your team, or just love the league if you don't have a team or don't have tape of your team. It feeds the addiction admirably, or so I've been told; it's a method I don't use because I don't have cable, and therefore don't get enough games to make it worthwhile. The only tapes I have, ironically enough, are from overseas, tapes from the Israeli league that were acquired through well-placed friends and astute bartering.

The next step is to get into college basketball. Various cable channels have various levels of coverage, and sometimes you can be pleasantly surprised to discover, 'hey, there are women on my screen! and they're playing basketball!' Women's Basketball Online has an exhaustive TV page. Again, this isn't an option I use, because I don't have cable and am thus at the mercy of the one double-header that CBS decides to show on an annual basis. (And if it's Tennessee-UConn again this year, I'll scream. I swear. I mean it. I will scream. Any other combination. Please.) While you're watching college games, who knows? You might be seeing the next big thing for your team (or for the league), or even the next player whose jersey you'd be honored to wear. These ladies are the future of the game. Isn't it fun to get in on the ground floor of that? Isn't that one of the fringe benefits of being a WNBA fan?

Then there's watching live basketball. It's not professional, not anymore, since the NWBL seems to have disappeared off the face of the earth, but there's bound to be a collegiate team somewhere near you, at least if you're in the United States. I've become a season ticket holder for the St. John's Red Storm, and it's an even better bargain than the WNBA; my season ticket is $56, $87 if you count in the doubleheader with the men at Madison Square Garden. For that, I get a full slate of Big East play and a rather large number of America East teams, for an average ticket price of $4 for the games in Queens (and even the regular tickets aren't all that expensive- it's only $7 general admission at Carnesecca Arena!). Yes, the college game is slightly different from the professional game. Yes, obviously the players aren't all as good, since the winnowing out of the draft hasn't happened yet. But it's still basketball, and the stylistic difference between the college and professional games isn't nearly as large in women's basketball as it is in men's. The season's underway now, y'know. Somewhere at Local U, there's a lonely seat that yearns for your warmth, just as you yearn for the oatmeal and orange spinning into the net. Don't disappoint that poor seat. Make it feel loved. Maybe it'll help you through this long, cold winter.

Secret(ive) Shopping in Liberty Land
Posted: October 11, 2006 12:43 p.m. ET

Warning: this entry is chock-full of numbers and even arithmetic, and extremely Liberty-centric, although its main points can be applied to any team. Read on if you dare.

Ah, the offseason, that absolutely wonderful time of year that just goes on so very long. I especially love that lull that comes between the end of the playoffs and the beginning of the NBA season (or, for me more properly, the beginning of the college season, since I'm not all that into the NBA). It allows me to focus on things other than basketball, such as how much I miss basketball and how long until there's basketball again. How else would I be able to maintain this fine level of insanity without such an insanely long WNBA offseason?

This time of year is also the time when fans turn to the free agent market and the holes (or potential holes, with free agent defections) on their roster. As a Liberty fan, I see lots of holes, and the opportunity for some serious upgrades: a veteran point guard to mentor Loree Moore and split time with her, because while Moore is a fine point guard, she's not ready to start quite yet; a bit more offense for the bench, especially in the two/three region, because while I love Ashley Battle's defense, her offense is inconsistent; and the most important, an upgrade in the post position, preferably someone who can actually score while she's banging down low, a combination of traits that the Liberty's posts lack except for Cathrine Kraayeveld on her good days, and she prefers her three-point shot. I also figure we'll lose our only free agent, Erin Thorn. Blaze's absolutely sterling retention rate notwithstanding (see: Baranova, Frett, Johnson, Robinson, etc.), it's better for all concerned: Thorn can get more money out of another team that has need of her specific skill set, the Liberty can pursue a better-rounded player for the roster spot, and we're all spared more "jokes" about how she's managed to stay on the Liberty roster for four seasons.

So, considering all these things, like any good sports fanatic, I sit down with my shopping list, the free agent list, a bag of chips, and a dose of reality. (No, the Comets are not going to let Sheryl Swoopes walk. Yes, I'm fairly certain the Sparks will core Lisa Leslie. Yeah, I think Seattle would match anything short of a DiPietro contract on Sue Bird. No, I don't think the market for Edwina Brown is going to be very cutthroat.) Like any good sports fanatic, I'm plotting what I would do if I ran my favorite team, as something to do while I wait for the season to roll around… or at least for some season to roll around so I don't have to hear about football and baseball all the time.

Unlike most sports fanatics, though, I'm suffering from a severe handicap. I don't know my team's payroll, for one. I can make a few guesses, knowing that the salary cap will be $728,000 and that there is a floor of $655,200 (unless the team wants to divvy up the remainder at the end of the season, which seems rather a silly thing to do when it could be used to sweeten the pot for a free agent). I recall hearing that Becky Hammon was cored, which means she's making the maximum salary, which for 2007 is $93,000. Draft picks from 2004 forward are still on the rookie scale if the fourth-year option is picked up; since Shameka Christon is supposed to be the future of this franchise, I certainly hope this means her option has been picked up. That covers Christon ($41,212), Loree Moore ($35,693), Sherill Baker ($35,680) Christelle N'Garsanet ($32,436), and the presumable lottery pick that dreadful season earned us ($43,200). Ambrosia Anderson and Emilie Gomis, between them, took up a roster spot for a full season, so they would, if I'm calculating correctly, each have a prorated share of the same $32,436 salary slot. This tells me seven salaries out of a roster that holds thirteen, and $313,657 of that $728,000 cap, and while I love N'Garsanet's potential and Anderson's enthusiasm, I don't think either of them will make the 2007 roster.

That's not very much to go on, and it leaves a lot of question marks. I've read through the CBA, and I can't tell whether a player with three or fewer years of experience who signs not in her draft year with a team that didn't draft her goes under the rookie scale or the veteran scale. (If you can answer this question, I will be quite grateful- shoot me an e-mail at QnsQueen@aol.com.) That means I'm not even sure where to begin calculating numbers for Cathrine Kraayeveld, Ashley Battle, and Iciss Tillis, at least two of whom I fully expect to be back in Liberty uniform next year.

And then there are the straight-up veterans. I have no idea what Barbara Farris, Kelly Schumacher, and Kiesha Brown are making, only that it's on the veteran scale, so each of them would be making at least $49,134 in 2007, and there's no way high rotation post players like Schuey and Farris would be making veteran minimum when they had options. There's an awful lot of space to err between 49K and 93K. Even if it's unlikely that Brown would be back, freeing up her salary space, it would be nice to know what that space *was*… and knowing what Schumacher and Farris are making would be really handy.

And then there's contract status. While I know that everyone except Thorn is under contract (or at least hasn't been not tendered yet), I don't know how long those contracts are. Occasionally, if whoever's writing the press releases feels generous, I'll find out that Whatshername has been signed to a multi-year contract, which isn't very helpful except that I know we have Whatshername until… well, the next time we don't. So if I'm sitting at my computer or my desk and pondering what I would do if I ran the Liberty, I can't really throw around the possibility of throwing an escalating contract at, say, Janell Burse, because I have even less idea how much money is tied up in the future than I do about how much is tied up now. That doesn't even factor in the occasional rumor of a guaranteed contract, which means I don't know if I can ditch, say, Kiesha Brown or Iciss Tillis.

Why am I so frustrated? This oh-so-mellifluous phrase: "As per team policy, terms of the contract were not released." A similar phrase appears in just about every press release regarding a player signing. I find it an interesting coincidence that apparently every team has the same policy of not releasing contract information, a policy that frustrates me to no end. It makes me think that the league is afraid to release any information about player salaries because then people will realize how little the players are making. One problem with that: the CBA is available online, which gives minimum and maximum salaries for four years of rookie scale and the veteran scale. Fans who care enough about the players already know the scales; fans who don't really aren't going to freak out. This policy of secrecy (which I wouldn't be surprised to find comes from the single-entry era of the league) also seems to suggest that the league doesn't want the kind of fans who pore over the salary cap and try to figure out what their team can do in the offseason. That would be mind-bogglingly stupid if true, because why turn away fans? And what kind of sports league doesn't show their numbers?

Yes, there are people with inside information, and they share it with fans, little tidbits like "Oakland signed Unrestricted Whatshername for 80K when no one else was bidding" or "St. Louis re-signed Restricted Wossname and Jane Doe at the veteran max" or "Can you believe that Denver gave Whozat a guaranteed contract when she couldn't break into a two-guard rotation for the Sunrays?" (Obviously, teams and team names are fictional to protect the innocent and the informative.) I'm sorry, but a sports fan should not have to get information about their team from an inside source who has to spill things in secret and may occasionally be wrong. It's only in the last year that we've even been told when offer sheets are extended to players (thank you, Phoenix, for being the first to reveal such information).

I gave this example to a friend and mentioned it in passing above. As a Liberty fan, I know my team needs a post, and Janell Burse has always been "the one that got away" (the draft pick Minnesota used to take her formerly belonged to the Liberty, laundered through Washington in deals involving Andrea Nagy and Annie Burgess). Seattle has been known to be in cap trouble, since the Seattle press covered Donovan's agonizing decisions during training camp; with Bird, Jackson, and Lennox alongside veterans like Tiffani Johnson and Wendy Palmer-Daniel, there's precious little money for Burse. She might be available (although she'd be more available if she'd get her shoulder fixed) and in the East she would almost certainly be an All-Star. But how am I supposed to know if we can make a play for Janell Burse when I don't know half our roster's salary, how long anyone's under contract for, what scale some of our players are on, if any contracts are guaranteed, what she's making now (and thus what might entice her to move), and what the market value of a talented post (Eastern All-Star-caliber, third-or-fourth best in the West; her tier would probably include Chasity Melvin and Tammy Sutton-Brown, with Ruth Riley perhaps a notch above) is? Can you imagine an NFL fan sitting quietly by while this important information stays hidden and young free agents go on the market? Or an NHL fan twiddling his or her thumbs, not knowing whether they could fit, say, former scoring champion Jarome Iginla under their cap? There'd be insurrections. League offices would be stormed. Men in spiky pads and floral dresses would be setting things on fire and screaming curses. Hockey sticks would be used in highly inappropriate manners.

Meanwhile, though it's early in the offseason, WNBA fans are… well, doing none of the above. Setting aside the fact that our sport and our fans aren't known for violence, we've become so used to not being told things that other fans take for granted… become so used to half the time the WNBA being more of a cause than a sport… that there's no furor.

Enough of the secrecy. I want to be able to go to wnba.com sometime in the near future and see that the Random Team Names have signed Restricted Wossname to a three-year deal totaling $220K that her previous team did not match and think "Okay, that's what, 73K a season? She's worth it for now, but I wouldn't have matched a three-year deal either, they'll be lucky if she's got two good seasons left, and then they're on the hook for the last year." I want to be able to look at a deal like… well, the fanatical sports fan that I've become because of the WNBA, in the kind of detail that other sports have caused me to expect. I realize that 13 teams in this league hail from the single-entity era, and I'm willing to give them the benefit of the doubt by assuming 1) that the policy was a league one pre-2003, and 2) that no one's looked carefully over these "team" policies. Chicago, on the other hand, has no such excuse, being the first franchise born after the single-entity era. So I'm looking to you, Chicago Sky. Break the cycle. Break the silence. Come February, when you make your first free agent moves, show us the monetary value. Tell us what your players will be making. Set an example for the rest of the league.

Playoff Ramblings
Posted: August 12, 2006 7:45 p.m. ET

It's been weird being the only member of this group who cheers for a non-playoff team. It was kinda lonely, especially when you're a Liberty fan and you've grown to consider the playoffs part of your season. I already miss my team, and one of them is still on TV.

But I'm a fan of the league as well as my team, and just a little bit of a hoops junkie, in case my presence here wasn't enough of a hint. (And it might not have been. I don't update all that often.) I've been watching as much of the postseason as I can manage- oh, it was wonderful to watch the first game of the Connecticut-Washington series on my computer, with no extraneous nattering from the commentators and no redundant graphics cluttering my screen. It was a little piece of hoop heaven, and I'm unbelievably grateful to whoever hooked up the webcasts. I don't have cable, and getting to a friend's house to watch games is a bit awkward. That's tonight's plan, though.

Saturday's plan, on the other hand, involves heading up to Connecticut for the second game of the Eastern Conference Finals. It'll be the second playoff game this season for me and my honey- we drove up last weekend for what turned out to be the elimination game of the DC-CT series. Seems like a strange thing for a pair of die-hard, true-tropical-blue Liberty fans to do, doesn't it? After all, it's at least a two-hour drive to Mohegan Sun from my place (it was two hours going out… four hours coming back), and another hour and change back to his place in Middle-Of-Nowhere. The bus? Well, that's about three hours, plus travel time to get to where the bus is, not to mention there's always some creep on the bus. You know how it is.

So why do we do it? Why spend the money and the time to go see two teams we have no loyalty to?

We love this game, that's why.

Okay, so it's also nice to have an excuse to go to Mohegan Sun- it's a lovely place with a great barbeque joint. I've been to about ten games there, and only half of them were Liberty road games. It's close enough to be a practical trip, and far enough that it's an event. It's a great little arena, if a bit steep- the stairs will kill you if you're not careful. The regular announcer is a joy to listen to, with a knack for making every name a little dramatic (well, except for Laura Summerton, on whom the burden of being a Cheesy Musical Hook falls). I've been known to imitate the semi-whisper of Asjha Jones's name, the low-high-high-low of Lindsay Whalen, or the growl at the end of Taj McWilliams-Franklin. I do wish they'd quit flying in Scotty B., though. I think the Sun crowd is more than capable of making a racket without his nudges, and I find myself screaming some variant of "SHUT UP ALREADY!" whenever he asks for some noise.

Plus, of course, there are the fans, but any commentary from me on them would be redundant, since that's been a topic for a couple of Melissa's posts. The only thing I have to add is that with the die-hard fans, there is a sense of kinship that transcends the team- you can't really disrespect someone who shares your passion, even if you think they're misapplying it. With the casual fans, though, who don't appreciate a fan's loyalty to another team, it can get a bit ugly. At the Washington-Connecticut game, I had the misfortune to sit next to a man who was taunting a Mystics fan three rows down from us, and encouraging his daughter to do the same. Such behavior is rare at Sun games, though.

It helps that I'm pulling for the Sun out of the East, too. There are several reasons for this. The tongue-in-cheek one is that this conference has room for only one bridesmaid, and the Liberty's four trips to the Finals in six years make it their title. Connecticut will just have to settle for a WNBA championship. ;) The more serious reason is that they are my favorite of the East teams who made it into the playoffs. Detroit just rubs me the wrong way, I can't cheer for Byears's Mystics, and I'm surprisingly indifferent towards Indiana despite their three former Liberty players. So in one way it was a process of elimination thing.

On the other hand, I also do like at least some of the Sun. Watching Mike Thibault coach and run his team is a pleasure to a cerebral basketball fan- his COY award has been long-deserved. It's hard not to like Taj McWilliams-Franklin, either on or off the court. I loved to watch Katie Douglas on both ends of the floor, even though that privilege has been taken away for the duration of the playoffs. And they have Aussies. Aussies are awesome, and I kind of want to be one when I grow up.

Out West, I'm cheering for Sacramento. Would've been anyway, unless it were a Sacramento-Seattle series, and then I'd just be rooting for the best team to win. The funny thing is, I don't really like the Storm all that much, not since Simone Edwards and Alicia Thompson retired- but I'm rather fond of Storm fans, and I hate seeing them heartbroken. A strange phenomenon, cheering for a team for the sake of their fans, but it's all part of the game. Sacramento, on the other hand… Yo and Ticha are awesome, and I love watching Tante Maïga-Ba on defense. DeMya Walker, of course, owns one of the most famous lines in WNBA history, regarding Lisa Leslie (this is a family-rated blog, so we'll be glossing over what she actually said; suffice it to say she was not happy). Kara Lawson's intelligence, neat handwriting, and three-point shot make her a favorite of mine as well. And I've long felt that Rebekkah Brunson was New York's by right, since the Liberty have traditionally had the Rebeccas of this league (see: Hammon, Lobo, Richman). Since I was deprived of fellow Rebeccas in my childhood, I feel a strange, irrational kinship with anyone who shares my name, unless they choose to abjure it in favor of a nickname.

I'd write more- after all, I do have quite a bit of time to make up- but if you'll excuse me, I have to get ready for tonight's games. Go Monarchs and go Sun!

Oh, and if you're in Connecticut this Saturday, I'll see you there. I'll be the one in a Liberty jersey. After all, that *is* my team.

The Bright Side
Posted: August 14, 2006 11:05 a.m. ET

So it's the end of another Liberty season, and it's a strange ending, one that's unfamiliar. Not that we couldn't know the destination looked something like this, but it's still strange. Still and all, it's been an interesting year, and no matter the record, there are still reasons to be thankful and to appreciate the fact that there's still a women's professional basketball team in New York City. As much as I may curse about them and lament some of the decisions being made, this is still my team. I can't deny that, even if it does occasionally mean people wonder about my mental health.

So this is just a little open thank you letter/note kind of thing to the New York Liberty for the high points of this year.

Thank you, Iciss, for the Houston game, and for all the other games where you positioned yourself under the basket for the offensive rebounds. We never did get to see too much of your full-on fashion diva self, and personally, I'd like to find out next preseason if those stories are true. It's hard to go wrong with good looks and a Duke degree, so whatever happens, you're set.

Thank you, Erin, for stepping up when Becky went down. Without a doubt, you had the shot of the year against the Sun, and we won't forget that game from you any time soon. It's been a treat watching you go from rookie to veteran this year, learning how to be a leader when needed. Whatever you and the Liberty choose to do with free agency this offseason, I wish you the best.

Thank you, Kiesha, for those moments few and far between when you got a chance to roam the sideline looking for steals. Maybe this wasn't what you expected when you signed away from Chicago, but I hope you at least got a chance to enjoy New York (or will in this offseason- it's a great city!)

Thank you, Sherill, for the flash and panache you brought to the Liberty defense this year. Queen of Thieves is truly an appropriate moniker for you. Rookie mistakes are mostly forgivable, but next year, spot your teammates and opponents will tremble in fear of you. You showed such promise of fulfilling the praise heaped upon you on draft day- keep bringing it!

Thank you, Christelle, for your minutes off the bench. I love watching you hustle for rebounds and the physical defense you bring. I see so much potential in you, and I hope to see that potential realized in a Liberty uniform. I know that someday you'll lose that endearing awkwardness that comes from being in a strange country; don't worry about it, though, we think it's kind of sweet (see Elena Baranova).

Thank you, Schuey, for your fierce blocks. Stupid MCL ruined the end of your season, but I do recall the Indiana games. You proved yourself to them; next year, show the league what you've got. Okay, so you're not as intensely physical as Ford or Jackson, but when all's said and done, you did lead us in rebounding, and that counts for something. It's almost enough to make me forget you're a UConn girl. ;)

Thank you, Shameka, for cranking it up on the defensive end this year. The hype and the high expectations lead me to be hard on you. Over the last few years, you've worked on your offense; this year, you showed that you were paying attention to Crystal's lessons on the other end. If you can put it all together next year, that all-important fourth season, maybe you can live up to that Baby Swoopes reputation… or maybe you can just be the first Shameka Christon so that someday there'll be a prospect they call Baby Christon.

Thank you, Loree, for stepping your game up this year. I admit I was one of your naysayers last year when the Liberty's draft picks made everyone scratch their heads. I'm happy to be wrong. Watching you rebound has been an absolute pleasure, and we know no woman in her right mind is ever going to step in front of you on the fast break. I plan on being in the seats at the Garden next year when you lay a triple-double on some team.

Thank you, Ashley, for your defense, your hustle, and your enthusiasm on the bench. I still don't know what Seattle was thinking with that midseason waiver, but the Storm's loss is our gain. If there's been a bright spot in this last week or two, it's been your resurgent offense and steady defense. You remind me of the old-school Liberty, and that's always a good thing. The brain, the rings, the D, and the three- you *do* have the whole package, don't you?

Thank you, Becky, for the deep threes and the circus shots (at least the ones that fell). It was your show this year, and you did what was needed of you. You remember what it was like when the Finals were part of the season- show these kids that as they mature, remind them that their homecourt is the World's Most Famous Arena. "To whom much is given, much is expected-" but I'm pretty sure you can live up to the expectations.

Thank you, Ambrosia, for your endearing enthusiasm on the bench. This can't have been an easy summer, what with bouncing from team to team the way you did. The ruffled skirts are adorable (but there are nicer flats out there, believe me, I should know).

Thank you, Emilie, for the half-season you gave us. We didn't get to see very much of you on the court, but your fashion sense made watching the Liberty bench a pleasure. I never thought anyone would give Tari a run for her money in that respect, but you did. Good luck to you, wherever you are!

Thank you, Cathrine, for the physical play on the boards. That Screen of Death against Minnesota was NOT an offensive foul, and I think we both know it. Keep taking it to the hole, and no one short of an Olympian can stop you. The long ball may put them off balance, but it's in the paint where you do your best work… well, there, and out on the perimeter, setting Screens of Death, Screens of Just Where Do You Think You're Going, Miss Defender?, and Screens of You Shall Not Pass.

Thank you, Barbara, for the games against Detroit and Minnesota. You were a hoot and a half at the season subscriber meet-and-greet, although I don't think Coach Laimbeer would be too happy with you. ;) Keep bringing the bodying up on defense and the veteran leadership, and you'll be indispensable. Hey, if you can make Iciss willing to engage in chest-bumping, you can do miracles, right? ;)

Thank you all for the drama and the excitement, the wins against Los Angeles, Washington, Chicago, Minnesota, Detroit, and Charlotte- and the road wins too. It might be a season to forget, but some moments are worth remembering: Erin's two buzzer-beaters against Connecticut, Shameka's monster block on Catchings (or the one on Dydek), Barb's putback against Charlotte, Cathrine's screens on Duffy and Nolan, Becky's halfcourt shot (although I never did get to see that- darn my lack of cable!), and Kiesha's first steal of the season all come to mind. Most of all, thank you for this last game of the season, the high note on which you ended this year and gave us hope.

It was a roller-coaster ride of a season. Too bad I'm not a big roller-coaster person. :D Next year, though, we'll have smoother sailing, right? You guys will make sure of that?

Regretfully, affectionately, ruefully, and still proudly,

Rebecca

Section 227, row A, seat 5 (or 6)

Tales from the Ink Junkie Files
Posted: August 7, 2006 6:26 a.m. ET

So by now every team's been to the Garden, which means that theoretically, I've had a chance to see every player's signature. Of course, this is purely theoretical, owing to delays in entering the arena, players not coming out for shootaround, players not signing, or players just not signing on one side of the passageway.

On the surface, it doesn't look like much: a plastic shoebox full of cards in rigid protectors, a plastic portfolio full to the brim with roster sheets and postcards, a couple of t-shirts, and a grimy white Liberty cap. But looks can be deceiving. Unprepossessing as the packaging is, this is my autograph collection. All images linked from this entry are scans from that collection.

I've been collecting autographs, specifically WNBA autographs, for almost eight years- this October marks the anniversary. My first was Rebecca Lobo's rookie card at the opening of the NBA Store in Manhattan. Since then, I've been diligently adding to my collection. As it stands now, I've gotten signatures from over 200 players, a sprinkling of coaches, and one general manager (and a few women who fall into multiple categories). While I include cards from insert sets, and a couple of gifts from friends, I've still done pretty well for myself.

I have an ingrained preference for cards, partly because that was my first experience, but also because they're easy to carry and store; it also guarantees that I'll be able to recognize just whose hurried scrawl that is. Of course, it also means smaller signatures, limited availability (since not every player has her own card), and having to master timing so that the right card is in the right place for the right player. I mind me of one time someone tried to hand Linda Fröhlich a Korie Hlede card to sign- that was uncomfortable for all concerned. For players who don't yet have cards, I use the roster sheet handed out at games. I also have a rather worn-looking white Liberty cap that's probably more Sharpie than fabric at this point, signed by the entire 2006 team and a healthy whack of other former Liberty players; it was my old default for players for whom I didn't have cards. I have a few oddball items as well: a menu signed by a pair of preseason Monarchs (I swapped with a Haynie fan because I had gotten a Haynie signature before the game and already had one at home); some stray photos, a copy of Steve Burt's villanelle "For Lindsay Whalen" signed by the subject of the poem.

I admit that I'm just a little hypocritical when it comes to being an autograph collector, because while my handwriting is small and horribly messy, I value autographs that have every letter clear and have a little flair. It's not necessarily about the fame of the player, although that's a draw too. Actually, out of all the ones I have, my favorite is Amber Jacobs, whose signature is both clear and stylish. Kara Lawson, when given leisure, also has a beautiful signature. For sheer whimsy, it has to be Ticha Penicheiro; while she only signs her first name, she accompanies it with an elaborate sketch of a basketball and a matching hoop. Linda Fröhlich and her topical smiley face also rank up there, since her last name means happy (although I do miss the tongue sticking out). At the other end of the spectrum, you have Diana Taurasi, whose quick strokes might, if viewed with a modernist art critic's eye, resemble DT 3. Janel McCarville takes a very close second in the "um, WHAT is that?" sweepstakes.

For years, the only place I would go for autographs was the NBA Store, when they had events there. (Yes, this was back when they hosted events to go with almost every game.) It was a good place to load up on stars, both home and road. Getting the 2000 national team there was pretty nifty. There were also some very cool moments, such as Jennifer Gillom signing autographs while having a conversation with a friend… in rapid, fluent Italian. Sometime around 2000, when I had gotten to the Garden earlier than my norm, I discovered that some (at the time, most) of the players came through the very same entrances that we little people did. I started bringing Liberty cards to every game. Near the end of that year, some fellow collectors clued me in that you could hang out courtside during shootaround. I started at the endline, but by 2003, I was at the railing by the tunnel everyone uses to come on and off the court.

I have this… thing, for lack of a better word… where I want to see if I can get signatures from every player on a team, not just the stars, which is why I started going courtside. Part of it is curiosity about just how they sign, and part of it is a thing about completion. Example: when the Liberty played Phoenix this year, my honey and I were both down by the court, trying to get signatures. He only really wanted Cappie (it's a Rutgers thing), but showed willing by being ready for any Mercury player who came off the court. I eventually prevailed upon him to trade signed roster sheets with me- not because he had gotten Taurasi, or Kamila Vodichkova, but because he had gotten Belinda Snell. (There were four Phoenix players coming at us; we had to make our choices, and mine had been Kayte Christensen.) Sure, Taurasi's a nice bonus, but I pulled one of her autograph cards from Rittenhouse last year and braved the crowd her rookie year to get one for a friend- in short, I didn't need her.

So, little things I've noticed:

1. The legibility of autographs is getting worse by the year. New players are coming in with autographs that aren't full signatures, and older players are shortening their signatures. (Tamika Whitmore and Kiesha Brown, I'm looking at you.)

2. Usually, the legibility of a signature is inversely proportional to the fame of the player. See above examples of Amber Jacobs and Diana Taurasi. I think it may be because more famous players have been signing since college, or even high school; some of them may be sick of scribbling their names (especially if they have longish names), while others may have developed a monogram or other short but distinctive autograph. A superstar, such as Seimone Augustus or Tamika Catchings, tends to be recognized more and get more requests, while the Laurie Koehns of the world (to pick a relatively unknown player with a relatively neat signature) tend to just sign their names. There are exceptions on both ends of the spectrum, summed up as Sue Bird and Cathrine Kraayeveld. (Sorry. No samples. The only Bird I have in my collection was signed in silver, sideways, in the dark, and the only Kraayeveld I have is on my cap.)

3. International players have a one-name thing going. It might be the first name (Margo Dydek, Bernadette Ngoyisa, Iziane Castro Marques), it might be the last name (Tante Maïga, Anastasia Kostaki), it might be an initial and a name (Elena Baranova), but rarely will you see a European, African, or South American player sign her first and last name. The exceptional continents are North America and Australia; among North Americans, players from the Caribbean tend to have nice, clear signatures, while Canadians… not quite so impressive. Aussies, except for LJ (who has a rather antisocial signature that hides in corners), tend to sign beautifully. (Please note: these trends are observed solely from my collection and my experience, which is why I don't have anything on players from Asia. Your non-American player may vary.)

4. I haven't spotted too many correlations by school. There's some similarity among the recent Kansas Statealumnae, but not too much. Former UConn Huskies tend to be more legible than most, if only because Chris Dailey made them back at school, for which I am extremely grateful. Of course, some have forgotten that stipulation. I'm also not currently curious enough about handwriting by locale to see if there are any patterns dependent on a player's hometown/home state.

The collective Miss Congeniality award goes to the Lynx; during their visit to the Garden this season, every single player on the active roster came out for shootaround, stopped either coming on or coming off the court, and signed for folks who asked. Very cool. The Fever are also a very nice team- really, you can't go wrong when you have Tully and Catch, although I'm sure some of their comfort comes from having three former Liberty players on the roster. Most teams tend to be very accessible- actually, the only one I've had a serious problem with this year, especially late in the year, is New York. (Dear Liberty: we don't bite. Honest. Please don't hide from us.)

If you want to get into the hobby… well, it's a little late for this season, but here are some tips for next season. Feel free to adjust these as needed.

1. Be prepared. If you're going to do this, always carry at least a pen, paper, and something to steady the paper- the signatures come out neater that way. If you're going to use anything but paper, sub in a Sharpie or other permanent marker for the pen. It'll show up better. Just remember the permanent aspect; my Liberty cap is so grungy because I can't wash it, and that's because I used washable marker for a few of the irreplaceable signatures. Black works best, although if you have something light colored, you can also use colored Sharpies, and thus create a more interesting effect. If you like the card thing, as I do, don't use rare cards; the card loses its value as a card- after all, someone's scribbled all over it in permanent marker. I used to make that mistake. Now the only time I use relatively rare cards is when it's the only card a player has, and even then, I would advise against getting any of the Rittenhouse rookies signed.

2. Set your boundaries. For me, they're relatively simple: the arena, or its immediate entrance/exit; an event, or its immediate exit. I don't go after players on their own time. Some people include the team hotel in their boundaries. I don't. The only time I ever did that was at Mohegan Sun, because I felt there was a slight difference, and I later felt so unclean that I swore never to do *that* again. There are other kinds of boundaries, too; if a player's carrying something, or is on the phone, or is attempting to enjoy a fruit salad, leave her alone.

3. Be polite. After all, these ladies are doing something nice for you; the least you can do in return is let them know that you appreciate what they've done. At least say thank you. I have a tendency to use "Excuse me?" as a way to get players' attention, though it also helps that I've taken to hanging out with people who scream for attention a bit more loudly.

4. Know who you're dealing with. See the mess with the Korie Hlede card. If you're the type of person who prefers to get a player's attention by calling her name, make sure you're calling the right name. Besides the fact that it wouldn't really be effective, I can't imagine any player being pleased that she had been mistaken for someone else. Speaking as both a fan and a collector, it also bothers me when someone decides they're going to hang out without any clue of who any of these players are- and this is with the numbered warm-ups teams usually wear. 4a) Get the name right. This doesn't just subsume calling the wrong name, but calling the right name wrong. Some names have very tricky and non-intuitive pronunciations- "Key-dra" for Kedra Holland-Corn, for example. Alana Beard won't look at you twice if you call out something that sounds like "Uh-LAH-na!", because it's supposed to be more like "Uh-LAY-na". Some playerfiles have pronunciation guides in them; you might want to check those, and the rosters in general, before you head out to the game.

I think that's enough. It certainly seems like enough. Any questions, hit me up at QnsQueen@aol.com.

Come Together
Posted: July 19, 2006 1:54 p.m. ET

Lisa, forgive me for stepping on your toes. I realize the Storm and Seattle are your turf, but I can't sit by and not comment on yesterday's news.

If you haven't heard, the Seattle Supersonics were sold yesterday to a group of investors from Oklahoma who are bound and determined to take the team to Oklahoma City just as soon as the Hornets clear out and they can get out of the lease on KeyArena. Oh, yeah, and that other Seattle basketball team was part of the package, although you'd never know it from some of the quotes about Oklahoma City being ready for its professional basketball team.

But to those of us who write, host, and read this blog, it's the Seattle Storm- the afterthought in the deal- who matter most. The Seattle Storm have easily the most passionate and diverse fans in the WNBA, and the entire league is the better for it. Stormfans.org is a labor of love, with an active message board that attracts fans from all over the world- it's the kind of place where you can hang out no matter what team you cheer on. Stormfans will do crazy things- last year, the board members got together a collection to send the New York Liberty a gift basket for their 3-1 road trip, because the Liberty had defeated three of Seattle's Western Conference foes and lost to Seattle. They're generous and giving- threads for fundraising efforts attract great interest and lots of suggestions. They're devoted to this game- some of them have already seen one or two of their teams fold, shifting loyalties after losing the Seattle Reign and Portland Power of the ABL, or Portland Fire. Where lesser souls would have stuck to online following, some of these people travel from Portland on a regular basis to see their team.

Why does the Seattle fanbase matter to me? Because I'm a WNBA fan, and if you're a WNBA fan, it should matter to you too. If the Storm leave Seattle, we lose the best home crowd in the league- can Oklahoma fans claim to hit over 110 decibels for their teams? Will fans in Oklahoma provide the same noise and color as Seattle fans do for national broadcasts? If the Storm leave Seattle, we lose the masterful photography of Katrina Vannoy and Scott Larson, who bring games to life with their work. We also lose the best beat writer in the league, Jayda Evans of the Seattle Times, who cares about the team (and also travels with them- does ANY other paper send their writers on a regular basis?) and lets her passion show through her writing. Seattle in general has great press coverage. Considering the issues New York's papers seem to have with knowing when games are, or even what year it is, I'm especially jealous that Seattle fans can just stroll down to their local grocery and pick up a paper that cares about their team. This young league cannot afford to lose what has become one of its steadiest markets because of NBA demands. What happened to independent ownership? Why were the Storm tossed into the Supersonics package when all press coverage makes it clear that the Sonics were the sole reason the ownership group made the purchase?

If this league loses the Seattle market… it says that one of the top teams in this league, one with two of the most recognizable players in women's basketball, a franchise with a championship to its name, is just an afterthought to its NBA brother- that they are completely and totally unimportant. What does that say about the WNBA as a whole?

Tell me there's nowhere else in the Seattle-Tacoma region where this team could play. Tell me there isn't a single arena worthy of a WNBA team. I'm not asking for an NBA-caliber arena here. I'm not asking for 20,000 seats, luxury boxes, frills and bells and whistles. I don't know the first thing about the Seattle area, but in a city of any size, there's got to be a place where the Storm could play, a place with 10,000 seats, two locker rooms, a scoreboard, and access to/from other parts of the city. And in the city that Microsoft transformed, there has to be someone (or several someones) who's willing to step up and buy the team to keep them in Seattle.

I've just come from stormfans.org, and never will you see a sadder group of fans as those are right now. Even the non-local fans are heartbroken that the team might move- because the people in Seattle are about to lose the team they love. At the same time, though, they're brainstorming ways to protect their team. http://www.okisnotok.com/ is the hub for the efforts to save the Storm, with links to Seattle's coverage, the Storm fans' brainstorming, and contact information for local politicians. If you care about the WNBA, give it a look, make some suggestions, help however you can.

Because it's not just about Seattle.

By The Fans, For The Fans
Posted: July 10, 2006 5:54 p.m. ET

Yes, I'm still avoiding blogging about the Liberty. I don't think wnba.com would appreciate the sheer amount of profanity that sums up how I feel about this team right about now. Suffice it to say that any cheery optimism I once had has been replaced by "when's the other shoe going to drop?"

So instead I'll talk about the All-Star game and its associated festivities. I'm one of those weird fans who, when asked what kinds of players she'd like to see in the game, would happily reply, "The five best players in the Eastern Conference versus the five best players in the Western Conference, with the next best six players in the Eastern Conference and the next best six players in the Western Conference on the benches." I don't vote for my team, especially not this year, because I don't think any of them have been playing up to All-Star level, except possibly Becky Hammon, and the masses put her in the game. I don't want to pay $40 for a ticket just to see the players I see seventeen or more times a year on the court. I certainly don't think an All-Star spot is a lifetime achievement award. As of this writing, I'm still holding out for Candice Dupree as a replacement.

Because I have such an unconventional view of what an All-Star team should look like, I don't tend to enjoy All-Star games all that much. (This may also have to do with my undying love for defense, a commodity sorely lacking in ASGs from the second quarter on.) But All-Star isn't just about the game, or even the players. There's a very good reason why my mom and I have been to every All-Star game except Phoenix, and it's not just because three have been in New York. To quote Gretchen Wilson, "I'm here for the party."

For me, All-Star is about the fans. It's about making connections. Ever since the 2001 game in Orlando, I've been collecting fans, seeing if I can find fans from every team in their gear. So far I've yet to fail. I have a pricelessly cute photo of a young girl in a Chamique Holdsclaw #23 jersey from Orlando… a group shot with an obsession of Sacramento fans (an obsession being the collective noun for a group of three or more fans; the equivalent term for referees is a confusion, and for players a lineup)… a little girl in a Zheng Haixia jersey that had to be older and bigger than she was… a joyous, exuberant Miami Sol fan with her Miracle-loving friend… a pair of girls in Lisa Leslie jerseys, one home and one road, and I still don't know if they actually knew each other or it was a bizarre coincidence that they were standing next to each other. Here's my All-Star '05 gallery for an example of what I mean. For all the talk of bad attendance and lack of fan support, I have found at least one fanatic for every team in every game since 2001… that means that there are die-hard Silver Stars fans, die-hard Lynx fans, die-hard Monarchs fans, fans who are all devoted enough to cross the country for their team. It's easy for me to go to games when the furthest I've had to travel is to Orlando. It's not so easy for them. So for all y'all coming from west of the Hudson River, I salute you joyously. Hopefully you've all packed your gear and will be parading along 33rd Street in orange, purple, black, green, and red, along with the East Coast fans in blue and orange. (Seriously, we have GOT to get some more color variation in the Eastern Conference's road jerseys. Six shades of blue and shiny orange tinfoil don't cut it.) So if you see a young woman in a Rebecca Lobo jersey asking to take a picture of you, please don't be alarmed. I'm not the bad kind of crazy.

There are people I only see at All-Star events because they're from Houston, or Sacramento, or somewhere far, far away. But we recognize each other and we know each other, and we do nice things for each other. It's the best excuse professional basketball fans have ever created for descending upon a city and putting faces to the text they see on the screen or in other correspondence. The night before the game, just as soon as the poor, beat-up Eastern squad finishes its practice, I'll be running out of the Garden and heading for a full-blown shindig with a whole bunch of Board Junkies, mostly New York-based, but with a healthy dose of West Coast folks and a few DC and CT fans. (Actually, surprisingly few of those.) I'm expecting lots of fun.

I also enjoy Summer Jam, the official fun of the league. I'm very glad they managed to get 33rd Street again, because the 35th Street Jam in 2003 was claustrophobic and depressing- trying to have a party pressed up against Macy's backside isn't exactly the world's greatest atmosphere. The block next to the Garden is a wider street and more convenient, since it's, well, right next to the Garden. It'll be nifty. Just remember to take some time off in the middle, because your feet will hurt a LOT otherwise and you'll get hungry.

Hope to see y'all at the Garden, if not Tuesday for the practices and skills challenges, then Wednesday for the big show!

Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory
Posted: June 29, 2006 8:00 a.m. ET

Blogging about the present Liberty would be depressing, and about the future too foggy, although I really ought to take on the task eventually. Instead, I turn to the past. It makes sense in a way; I think of my role on this blog as a chronicler and a storyteller. My strength lies in spinning a yarn better than most people can. So for this 10th anniversary, let me tell you a few tales from what we like to call the Mecca…

As the song says, "I've been everywhere, man." I've sat so high up that you can put your hand flat on the ceiling, so high that if you were brave enough, you could lean out from the seats and reach for the banners in the rafters, touch Knick and Ranger and Liberty history. I've sat first row, center court, so close to the action that I nearly lost my laptop screen to an errant pass. Okay, so that was at All-Star open practice. But I *have* sat first row behind the bench a time or two, where my view kept getting impeded by this frenetic blonde woman who just would not stop pacing. I've been on the court twice, shot there once- free throw shooting is harder than it looks, you know- and never lost the wonder of stepping onto the Garden floor.

I spent five seasons, half the Liberty's lifetime, in Section 210, across from the Liberty's bench, angled to the action. Sharp enough eyes could spot facial expressions and occasionally lip-read; playing "name that shade" on Richie Adubato's face was one of our favorite pastimes. I was there on June 30th, 2000, when Tari Phillips dropped 30 points on Indiana, including a 3 to tie and two free throws for the lead; it's still the only 30-point game a Liberty player has had on the Garden floor; I was there when Tamika Whitmore scored 28 on the Mercury and consciously passed off instead of going for 30 near the end of the game, and we all knew she could have taken the shot instead because she was having that kind of season. I was there on June 27th, 2003, that fateful night when Becky Hammon lost her footing against Detroit and the season slipped surely away as her ACL tore; though it was at the other end of the court, closer to the low 200s, I heard her fall and I saw her scream, and I will never forget that sight, just as I will never forget Stephanie White screaming and falling when Indiana visited the Garden later.

Just as I will never forget hearing Rebecca Lobo scream, seeing *her* writhe, 43 seconds into the 1999 season. That night I was in 233. We all heard. And I try to forget with games from 1998 and 1997.

~*~

I always thought it was section 83 we sat in for the Houston game in 1998, the night they gave out rattles and I was bound and determined to convert my friends (including the star guard for our high school basketball team) to love of the WNBA. Of course, the game we chose was one of the few nights where Houston laid a smackdown on the Garden floor, because they never did that except during the playoffs, that was part of what made the rivalry so interesting. But I remember being off in a corner, and section 83 is center court. Maybe it was 63, then, a corner seat, the kind of seat they take pictures of the court from in order to get its most aesthetic angle. It was the most we had ever spent on tickets at the time, before 2003 and the All-Star Game and fun in section 49 with the railing in our eyes and everyone walking back and forth through our line of sight, because I was so determined to convert my friend and her mom.

Going to the last regular-season home game, the home closer as we call it to match the home opener, has been a tradition for me and my mom since 1998. We like the free t-shirts, or at least we used to before the shirts got too cheesy and too small. In 1999, we were in section 132, dead center of the first row, straightline level with the Jumbotron. The home closer for the Liberty that year was August 19th. That night, they announced the death of Kim Perrot, the beloved Houston point guard.

I have spent seven seasons since then in the upper echelon of the Garden, in seats across from the Liberty bench and in seats facing the three conference champion banners. But when I close my eyes and imagine the Garden, I'm straightline level with the Jumbotron, dead center of the first row of section 132, and the Garden is dark and silent, and there on the screen is Teresa Weatherspoon the tears streaming down her remarkable cheekbones, her face framed by her braids, and I remember this so clearly because while Spoon was always the emotional firestarter for the team, we never, EVER saw her cry until that night.

The Liberty went on to wallop Cleveland that night (for some reason, the bad things always happened when Cleveland was in the building; they were the opponent the night Rebecca Lobo tore her ACL), behind the career-high 16 points of a a much loved reserve guard. You could say that there was a little birth on that night of death. You could say things have changed a little since 1999, too.

~*~

I've been to three heartbreaking Finals games, including 2002 when Sue Wicks seemed bound and determined to win that game, what she maybe knew would be her last game at MSG, come hell or high water, so in the last minute, she stepped back and canned a corner three like she was Becky or Crystal or something. (Well, technically I've been to four heartbreaking Finals games, but one of them didn't involve New York, so it falls outside the purview of this entry.) I don't know how many first and second round games I've been to, though I'm sure I could do the math. I saw the Liberty hang 96 on the Mystics on an unbelievable afternoon in 2002. I was behind the bench the night Becky Hammon passed off to Bethany Donaphin for a short jumper against Detroit, and I wouldn't trade that experience for the world. I sat in the 400s for the first ever All-Star game, back when the Liberty occasionally needed to open the highest deck, and maybe seven rows off the court in 2003, and this year I'll be sort of in the middle, center court in 224.

Radio City, too. I've been in two of the mezzanines and traded a Lauren Jackson swatch card for a seat in the pit the night of the exhibition game against the Olympic team and sat upon the stage the night Crystal Robinson put up a shot clock-beating, game-changing, four-point play to beat Charlotte. Most Liberty fans try to forget the Radio City experience, because the Garden is our home, but it was that Charlotte game that my honey and I finally got our signals uncrossed, and after the San Antonio game that we planned our first date.

~*~

Since becoming a season subscriber, and including the one-year hiatus in between, I've missed about eight games. Some of them were because I was deemed too young to go to games alone when my mom was on the road, and she was always on the road for at least one game. I missed the Detroit game in 2002 where VJ won it with two free throws in the final seconds because my parents guilted me into going to my prom instead, and I still regret going to the prom. I missed the Indiana game later that month because I had to graduate high school, and I still regret that scheduling conflict. We've cut short Father's Day celebrations and small birthday celebrations for my dad in order to get to games, rescheduled family shindigs around the Liberty schedule. Last season, when I thought I was as angry at the mismanagement of this team as I was going to get, the only game I ended up missing was because we had matinee tickets. I cadged tickets off friends, spent maybe fifty bucks the entire season to go to sixteen and three-quarters games, and caught four games up at Mohegan Sun as penance.

~*~

I've dragged my mom to two games, both in 1999, once against Houston for one of the most unforgettable regular-season games ever; we sat in the highest deck and watched Coquese Washington and the Spoons (because we used to have plural, you know) lead the Liberty to a dramatic win over Houston. The other time was against Utah, when I was convinced that they had really pulled it together. They hadn't, but we did get to see the Spoon/Debbie Black/Venus Lacy smackdown, the first instance of the hostilities that would be, um, rather well known in later years. (By the time Spoon and the Pest mixed it up again, it was just part of the New York-Miami rivalry, and I was back upstairs in 210 to watch the whole thing.)

She's only had to drag me once, but it was the most important time of them all. It was a game against the Mercury. The first game against the Mercury. The first game ever played on the Garden floor. Even after we watched New York at Los Angeles, I hadn't been convinced that this WNBA thing was for me, but she was bound and determined to get me there. I still remember the first-night electricity. I think I still remember the view, once I push section 132 out of my head. It's probably not as high up as I remember it being from all those years ago, but then, that was my first sporting event of any sort, so I really didn't know the Garden the way I know it now. It probably ended up being around the same level as my season seats have always been, somewhere in the 200s. I was young and dumb then, and I didn't save my souvenirs, so I don't have a ticket stub to match up with the Garden seating chart. What I do have is the memory of the slightly mellower orange of the Phoenix road colors, of Michele Timms's hair shining in the light of the Garden's floodlights, of the first time I ever invested myself in the wins and losses of a basketball team.

That was June 29th, 1997. Happy 10th anniversary, Garden basketball of the summer variety. Here's to many more years of Maalox moments, dancing at the center court logo, laughter, tears, and curse words in I don't know how many languages.

History Lesson
Posted: June 15, 2006 9:13 p.m. ET

Good morning/afternoon/evening. My name is Rebecca, and I'll be your history teacher today.

I've just received your All-Decade votes, and I'm very disappointed. It seems that some of you didn't read the directions thoroughly and thought you were voting for simply the best players, not the greatest players or the most influential players. Players like Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi didn't make the league what it is today… but they're making it what it will be in the next ten years, and those accomplishments- both the ones they and their generation have and the ones they will- ought to be acknowledged at the next milestone, not this one. No handing in assignments early, class.

In light of these events- really, how could some of you have forgotten the league's all time assist leader, one of only three five-time All-Stars, one of the greatest rebounders America has ever produced, or the Comets' glue during the glory years?- it seems that someone needs to provide a refresher in basic WNBA history. Pay attention; this may make a return.

The WNBA was not born this year, though Cappie Pondexter and Seimone Augustus have taken their teams to new heights.

The WNBA was not born in 2004, although Diana Taurasi and Alana Beard are two of the best in the league.

The WNBA was not born in 2002, although UConn's Fab Four brought incredible notoriety and skill.

The WNBA was not born in 2001, although Tamika Catchings and Lauren Jackson headlined the deepest collegiate draft in league history.

The WNBA was not born in 1999, although the addition of the ABL players definitely brought the league to a new level.

No, the WNBA was born in 1997. It was born with eight teams, none of which were Seattle, Detroit, Indiana, or Connecticut. It was born on the backs of Charlotte's Andrea Stinson, Vicky Bullett, and Rhonda Mapp; on Cleveland's Janice Braxton, Merlakia Jones, and Michelle Edwards; on Houston's Cynthia Cooper, Sheryl Swoopes, Tina Thompson, and Janeth Arcain; on Los Angeles's Lisa Leslie, Penny Toler, and Tamecka Dixon; on New York's Teresa Weatherspoon, Vickie Johnson, and Rebecca Lobo; on Phoenix's Jennifer Gillom and Michele Timms; on Sacramento's Ruthie Bolton and Latasha Byears; on Utah's Elena Baranova, Wendy Palmer, and Tammi Reiss; on the rest of those rosters, the other 65 players who were there at the beginning; and yes, even on the developmental players, some of whom (Latasha Byears, Rushia Brown, Simone Edwards) turned into pretty good WNBA players. Without those teams, without those players, I might be posting on ABL.com about the New England Blizzard and the Philadelphia Rage… or I might not be here at all, because I would never have known the joy that this game could bring.

There are some things I know better than schoolwork, better than my own phone number. Any discussion of the greatest of all time doesn't start with Jackson and Taurasi. It starts with Cooper and Swoopes. Pick a Comet, either Comet, and you'd be right. Maybe you bring in Leslie, and I really couldn't argue that. But to start the discussion with anyone who came in after Cooper left? It tells me that someone has forgotten their history, forgotten that Coop was a cold-blooded sniper when she needed to be, and that it was her horrendous shooting night that lost Game 2 for the Comets as much as Crystal Robinson's second-half barrage and Teresa Weatherspoon's SHOT won it for the Liberty. Maybe in five years, ten years, twenty years, you can have Jackson and Taurasi in the discussion, along with whoever follows them. But right now, the discussion starts with "Cooper or Swoopes?"

There are little things that bother me, too. The Liberty have been exhorting their fans to raise the roof. It's in the list of things they've been raising for ten years. It's in the rally song. But true Liberty fans, old school Liberty fans, remember that Cynthia Cooper brought raising the roof into the WNBA and did it on the Garden floor. No true Liberty fan would ever associate with a Comet tradition, because we remember so many years of despair. It tells me that even the Liberty don't care about their past. It would sure explain why they couldn't mention voting for Vickie Johnson for All-Decade, though they mentioned Becky Hammon and Rebecca Lobo, neither of whom earned the right. It would explain why #24 has already been through two iterations after Tari Phillips, why Iciss Tillis is allowed to wear Crystal Robinson's #3 without even a year's break, why Monique Coker was allowed to put #23 on a blue jersey (because real Liberty fans know, #23=Suuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuue Wicks, and Sue never wore the blue), why Bernadette Ngoyisa was allowed to take #50 the year after Rebecca Lobo left- again, what, no time lapse? It explains why Carol Blazejowski felt she was entitled to tell Liberty fans to push their Robinson and Baranova jerseys to the back of the closet when Crystal went to the Mystics and Elena stayed home- she seems to think that a franchise as storied as the Liberty can choose when to acknowledge its past and when to pretend it never happened.

Oh, but the Liberty aren't the only team that do this. I nearly pitched a fit when I saw Brandi Davis in #21 for the Sparks, because Tamecka Dixon has always been #21 for the Sparks. It takes a lot of nerve, or a lot of anger, to take the number of an inaugural player from an original team and, as soon as she's signed elsewhere, hand that number to a player who is never going to have half the significance of Dixon. It's an insult to the number, it's an insult to Dixon (a key piece to two championship teams), and an insult to the fans who have remained loyal to the Sparks even since their horrendous beginning. Though the Storm weren't an inaugural franchise, Francesca Zara wearing #7 for Seattle- Kamila Vodichkova's #7- was another example of teams forgetting their history. (Of course, sometimes it works out okay. I think Deanna Nolan is doing justice to Cindy Brown's #14 in Detroit, don't you?)

Yes, I know. If you don't want to see a number worn, you retire it. Some teams have done that- Phoenix with Timmsy's #7, Houston with Coop's #14 and Kim Perrot's #10, Sacramento with Ruthie Bolton's #6, Charlotte with Andrea Stinson's #32. And I'm fairly certain it's no coincidence that no Liberty player has worn #34 since Kym Hampton, or #11 since Teresa Weatherspoon (especially since Kelly Schumacher's collegiate number was #11, and she changed to it in Indiana as soon as Texlin Quinney vacated it, and Loree Moore has also said she prefers #11). But sometimes the sentimental value is more important than the player's actual value on the floor. Much as I love Sue Wicks, her WNBA career did not merit retiring her number, but you had better believe that I'll be up in arms if anyone dares wear #23 unless she's proven, talented, willing to sacrifice her body on defense, proud to be representing New York… and okay, is preferably from Rutgers and has authorization from Sue to wear the number.

What I'm trying to say is that it seems in this year that's all about history, everyone- the league, the teams, the fans- seems to have forgotten the history already made, so fixated are they on the history they're planning to make or be a part of. Maybe I'm just reactionary, maybe I just don't like change, but it bothers me how many people make their choices or form their opinions without full information.

So, to return to the metaphor I opened this entry with…

Class, you have two assignments. The first, as always, is to go to the next WNBA game in your vicinity. Appreciate not just the present and the future, but also the past.

The second? Pick a 1997 player and Google her. See what she did. Don't take the easy way out and look up Swoopes, Thompson, or Leslie. Find someone less current, someone who seems to have been forgotten, and plug her name into a search engine. It might give you some more appreciation for the modern league if you know the foundations.

All the News... Riiiiight
Posted: June 9, 2006 12:09 a.m. ET

New York City has four major dailies, three of them among the top ten in national circulation. The New York Times is one of the most respected newspapers in the world. The New York Post is famous for some of the most sensational news coverage in the country. Both the Post and the New York Daily News pride themselves on having the best sports coverage in this sports-saturated city.

Together, these four dailies wrote barely over a thousand words on the June 7th game between the New York Liberty and the Connecticut Sun, no single article longer than 350 words. Yours truly alone penned over 1500 words of gameday notes, although I grant that I cover things unrelated to the game and not worthy of newspaper coverage. The Times, while noting the presence of Liberty owner James Dolan, neglected to mention either team's leading scorer, any critical analysis of the game, or the presence of WNBA president Donna Orender; in fact, President Orender's presence went unnoticed by any of the papers.

The Post mistook second-year guard Ashley Battle for rookie guard Sherill Baker, an interesting trick since they wear completely different numbers and have strikingly different physiques. It's not the first mistake in that vein the paper has made; for years, they were convinced that Richie Adubato was the only coach in franchise history and the team started in 1999.

The News could not be bothered to spell Shameka Christon's first name correctly, while Newsday fell prey to a spelling error in Cathrine Kraayeveld's given name. It's still better than the News's old penchant for mixing up Teresa Weatherspoon and Sophia Witherspoon, especially in Witherspoon's last year with New York, when she cropped her hair and dyed it gold.

New Jersey was not immune, either, although Sheila Miller's article for the Bergen Record is the best-written of the home press; however, Margo Dydek is only 7-2, not 7-5.

Only two of the New York metro papers, the Post and the News, even mentioned Shameka Christon's twisted ankle, surprisingly not including the Bergen Record, which opened with a listing of things that went wrong during the game. Only one gave any post-game prognosis. Shameka Christon is supposed to be the future of this franchise, and only one newspaper can be bothered to find out exactly what happened to her?

Now, compare this to the Hartford Courant- which, for starters, sent its Sun beat writer on the road, as did the Norwich Bulletin. Lori Riley's article, nearly 500 words long, offers detailed coverage of the game and the flow of it, along with information on their team's players- in the Sun's case, Katie Douglas (who had been poked in the eye in practice the previous day) and Taj McWilliams-Franklin (nursing a broken pinkie and off to Europe this weekend for her daughter's high school graduation).

Arthur Sherman's 557-word piece for the Norwich Bulletin is just as good, using Taj McWilliams-Franklin's great game and her postgame quotes as the jumping-off point for the article, with an interesting quote from Coach Thibault about the hour of the game.

New York's not the only city with this problem. Trying to find coverage of the Sparks has been frustrating… hey, at least it's not inaccurate, right? ;) Only recently has the Indianapolis Star, despite sponsoring the Fever broadcasts' league roundup feature, ramped up its coverage of the Fever. But New York City, home of the league office and one of the biggest media markets in the country, is slacking off, and that's bad news for the league… and for 8 million or so New Yorkers who are missing out on young players like Sherill Baker because they just don't know she exists (or think she's Ashley Battle).

What makes me sad is that it wasn't always like this. There was a time when game day articles took up a good quarter of the page. There were off-day features. There were pictures, the better to identify, and identify with, players. It's a problem that became glaringly noticeable in 2004, when the Times ran with the AP story for a home game. (It's also not limited to the WNBA, as the women of St. John's can attest to, but that's a topic for a different blog.)

Enough is enough. This Liberty fan is not going to stand for third-class coverage. I've already e-mailed Lori Riley and Arthur Sherman in appreciation of what they have done, and will soon be castigating the sports editors of the New York dailies for what they couldn't be bothered to do. I'd like to see others who care about the league, even if they don't care about the Liberty or the Sun, do the same. Only through input from the public can we get newspapers to respect the WNBA. This fan is tired of yet another article about the drama around the Knicks- there is, after all, a team *currently* playing at the Garden- or yet another article about whether Barry Bonds is or ever was using.

In Defense of... Well, Defense
Posted: May 30, 2006 12:49 p.m. ET

I have a little confession to make. When it comes to loving basketball, I'm just a little bit of a freak.

Oh, sure, I enjoy watching a good run-and-gun like that Seattle-Phoenix game the other day, and sure, my heart skips a happy beat when someone puts up 90 or even a 100 (unless, of course, it's on my team, but even then I try to look at it as the evolution of the game). I love to see a three-pointer arcing its way into the net. Hook shots make me leap for joy- the memory of Elena Baranova tossing in a hook shot is the only thing that mitigates seeing Becky Hammon writhing in pain the day she tore her ACL.

But one does not name Debbie Black among one's favorite players, nor the late lamented Miami Sol among one's favorite teams, without having just a slight fondness for no-holds-barred defensive play. Nothing gets me out of my seat faster than a monster block, especially in a game-saving moment. There is a strange, frantic beauty in watching a team desperately throw the ball around, trying to find the open man, in the 24 seconds allotted to them, and exciting triumph in the sound of the shot clock buzzer as they fail. The quick hands leading to a steal- gorgeous!

Seeing an offensive explosion like Alana Beard's night against the Liberty or Lauren Jackson's night against Phoenix tells me that there is talent and power in the game, and there's a lot to be said for that. But I enjoy seeing the reverse of that as well. I love to see a lock-down defender on her man, shadowing her every step, a hand up in her every shot, frustrating her into a 2-of-14, five-turnover night. Nothing ever came easy against the Sol, as nothing came easily against last year's Monarchs- one of the many reasons why I'm so glad they won the title.

Offense is easier in some ways. The instinct of most basketball players is to have the ball. You're in control when you're on offense, whether you have the ball, are getting into position to get the ball, or are helping a teammate with the ball. Defense rests on anticipating what the other person is going to do. I find it to be more cerebral. That's one of the things that makes me prefer the WNBA to the NBA, though I enjoy watching both.

Defense does not make for a traditionally beautiful game, unless you count fast breaks as beautiful, which they are in their way. Missed shots and turnovers are considered flaws- but because we look at things from the offense's standpoint, not from the defense's. But it takes as much talent and skill to force someone to miss her automatic jumper as it does to bank in a twisting finger roll. Take a moment to appreciate the effort required to keep an automatic and versatile scorer like Tina Thompson to five points, as San Antonio did earlier this season.

So the next time you turn on a basketball game and you see 35% shooting from the field or a single-digit quarter score, don't wince. Look at it from a different angle. There is some magnificent defense being played. Enjoy it!

Home Sweet Garden
Posted: May 14, 2006 12:18 a.m. ET

Hey, you! Yes, you, on your computer, reading this blog. There's an open seat here on my left. How about you come hang out for a while here in Section 227 with me? It'll be cool, I promise. Just make sure you grab a bite to eat, get that basic chore taken care of, before you get settled in.

Let me see if I can set the scene properly for you, if I can put the right words together in the right order to make you see, hear, feel this place I call my home when the summer comes. We're in the green seats, closer to the spokes of the ceiling than the hardwood floor; Section 227 is about three levels above the court. The view's still good, though; sharp eyes can make out facial expressions and body language. It's also a good vantage point to see plays develop, if you like the more analytical aspects of being a fan. The railing in front of the seats vibrates if you hit it hard enough, and it's satisfyingly loud. The view's slightly slanted, not quite center court, but close enough to have a view of both sides, behind the visitors' bench. Any flaws that a Liberty fan might find in the view of the court, though, are unimportant when you look up past the scoreboard, because straight ahead of us are the Liberty's three Eastern Conference Championship banners. (Yes, only three. When they went to the Finals in 1997, they weren't giving out conference titles in the playoffs; that didn't come about until 1999. Even if it had, the Houston Comets were in the East in 1997.) Those are memories of happier times, times that I hope the Liberty can bring back this year. Hey, it's the tenth anniversary; maybe everything old will be new again.

The music is playing and the crowd is filing in- a good crowd for a preseason game that's going up against a Yankee game at the Stadium. Still, things are a little quiet… too quiet? There's only the usual hubbub that you get with a few thousand people in the same building. And then the DJ cuts into the music with the amplification and horn opening of Black Box's "Strike It Up". The crowd lets it rip as the 2006 New York Liberty take to the Garden hardwood for the first time. For as long as I can remember, this has heralded the Liberty's arrival onto the court. It's like the return of an old friend, hearing that over the Garden speakers, because trying to crank it through a pair of cheap Radio Shack speakers… noooo, not quite the same.

Now imagine the clock down to zero and set again for the ten minutes of the quarter. The Sacramento Monarchs have been introduced to a smattering of applause and a couple of boos. The anticipation is building. The arena goes dark as a hook from Christina Milian's "From AM to PM" plays: "Somebody, somebody hit the lights!" "And now the starters for your! New! York! LIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIBERTY!" With so many new players, the announcers are still working out how to properly say everyone's names, because there's always a quirk to the stress and intonation that is unique to the player (or in some cases, to the name; every Johnson I've ever heard announced as a home player has had his or her full name slurred together in a virtual growl). Sometimes it speaks to the player's on-court personality; Barbara Farris's name comes out staccato and forceful, while there is exultation in Becky Hammon's surname. The double A in Kraayeveld and later the U in Schumacher beg to be dragged out for the crowd.

And then the ball goes up. Game on. For now, it doesn't matter that the Liberty will eventually walk away with a 76-64 loss, that the game was winnable but slipped away, that Rebekkah Brunson and the Sacramento frontcourt had their way on the interior. For now, there is only joy. The Liberty have returned after a long, cold winter. Finally, they are home.

And finally, so am I.

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