Tuesday, September 16, 2008

WNBA: Ten Biggest Stories of 2008

1. The Dunk(s): Heralded Rookie (see #6, below) dunked not just in one game, but dunked in two straight games, becoming only the second woman to dunk in WNBA history. Her dunking excited WNBA fans, left WNBA-bashers resetting the benchmarks for a "real" dunk and sparked a debate about the place and necessity of the dunk in the women's game.

2. The Fight: Speaking of Candace Parker, she was one of several Los Angeles and Detroit players involved in a scuffle at the end of a Sparks-Shock game in Detroit that resulted in player suspensions. Some said the scuffle disgraced women's basketball, others said it was time for women's basketball to stop being held to a different behavioral standard.

3. The Outdoor Game: It was the first outdoor basketball game between two professional basketball teams since 1972 - and that NBA game was a preseason game in Puerto Rico. The NBA will hold another outdoor preseason game this year, but this WNBA game counted. "Gimmick" or not, the WNBA blazed a trail that the NBA will have to follow.

4. The Retiree: Who would have thought that Nancy Lieberman would set foot on a basketball court again? Probably just Nancy Lieberman and Bill Laimbeer, the head coach of the Detroit Shock. The 50-year old Lieberman's "comeback" consisted of one assist in a few minutes of play, and then Lieberman was released. It might not have proved that Lieberman was the same player she was in the 1970s, but to several, it proved that 50 ain't "geriatric".

5. The Losing Streak: In this case, the losing streak of the WNBA expansion Atlanta Dream, who could simply not find a win. They lost their first 17 games of the WNBA season to set a WNBA record - with a 34-game season, the Dream were just playing for pride when they finally snapped the streak against the Chicago Sky on July 5th. But the real story was that the fans kept supporting the Dream and didn't abandon the franchise in fickle Atlanta.

6. The Rookie: It might be Candace Parker's world, and we just live in it. NCAA Championship. Number one draft pick. 34 points and 12 assists in her debut. Dunking in back to back games. Multi-year deals with Adidas and Gatorade. Olympic gold medalist. Consensus Rookie of the Year...and maybe, MVP. Has any other women's basketball player been this dominant in her first year?

7. The Comets: While attendance was generally up in the WNBA this year, one franchise was in trouble. The Houston Comets, winners of the first four WNBA championships, found their club taken over by the WNBA as owner Hilton Koch found paying the bills a bit troublesome. The Comets are now looking for new ownership, and there is the real threat that they might play elsewhere in 2009...if the club isn't disbanded.

8. The Hammonites: The only place you might hear "Candace who?" is in San Antonio, as the Silver Stars finished first in the Western Conference at the end of the season. Becky Hammon - in her second year with the Silver Stars - led the Hammon-mania from start to finish, with the photogenic star grabbing the headlines in her quest for an Olympic medal with the Russian team. Was Becky a traitor, or just looking for her American dream in Russia? One might make the argument that Sophia Young or Ann Wauters contributed just as much to San Antonio's surge, but you'll find it hard to heard over the chants of "Bec-KY! Bec-KY!"

9. The De-Peat: With a new coach in Phoenix, and with many of the big guns coming late to training camp, the Phoenix Mercury found the 2008 season a struggle in a Western Conference where every team was a contender. At the end of the year, the 16-18 record of the Mercury tied them for last place in the West, making it the first time in WNBA history that a reigning champion from the previous year failed to make it to at least the playoffs in the following year.

10. The Storm: Every team has had to jump a few hurdles of its own, but it seemed that Seattle has had to jump more than many. Brand new ownership. The NBA franchise in Seattle picking up and leaving town. A cast of what some said were aging stars that would be lucky to contend. However, Seattle proved that they were a force to be reckoned with, and even with the loss of Lauren Jackson it will be a foolish team that takes Seattle lightly in the playoffs.


Ethan said...

But the real story was that the fans kept supporting the Dream and didn't abandon the franchise in fickle Atlanta.

Hear hear. I'll have an attendance numbers article sometime this week, but the numbers bear out that ATL had a good fan support year. Hopefully they build on that into 2009.

Patrick said...

New franchises traditionally have HUGE drop offs in attendance after the first season.

Seattle dropped from 8,912 to 5,954.

Orlando dropped from 9,801 to 7,363.

San Antonio dropped from 10,384 to 8,395.

Detroit dropped from 10,229 to 8,485.

Minnesota dropped from 10,494 to 7,290.

Indiana dropped from 11,267 to 8,683.

However, Chicago, Portland, Connecticut and Miami bucked that trend and went up incrementally. Washington stayed relatively flat.

My hope is that Atlanta also grows incrementally, however a poor record almost always kills off a percentage of early enthusiasm. Corporate sponsorships that help meet season ticket sale requirements for new franchise tend to disappear after the team is acquired.