Saturday, September 18, 2010

Oh Dream, What Now?

As anyone who is an Atlanta Dream fan knows, this season was an emotional roller coaster. From Chamique Holdsclaw declining to report to training camp, to a 6-0 start, to the end-of-the-season tailspin, to the brand new post-season lineup to the sweep through the Eastern Conference playoffs, through Angel McCoughtry's 42 in one game and 35 in another, to the Dream losing in the narrowest sweep in WNBA history in front of a sellout Atlanta crowd, you quite literally didn't know what was going to happen next.

When you go to the Finals for the first time, but you lose, the question is "should you be bitter or should you be happy"? My answer is that whatever you are, you shouldn't be that happy - or, if you are happy, you certainly shouldn't show it. You don't want the Dream to be like the Chicago Cubs, one of those teams that just seems happy to be participating win or lose. No, we are most emphatically NOT just "happy to be there". We want to WIN.

But even though we are not happy, we can take satisfaction in many things. We might walk out with a sad contenance, but we can also walk out with pride. It is quite possible for the two to coexist. No one predicted the Dream as WNBA Finalists - but we were. There were some in the tight-knit community of women's basketball fans - you know who you are - who predicted that not only would the Storm sweep but that they would romp, a "sit back, grab the popcorn and enjoy the fun" moment. Undoubtedly, some of those viewers choked on a few kernels.

The Dream could have beaten any team in the WNBA except the Storm. I believe we might have even been able to beat the 2009 Phoenix team, but you never get to choose the team you play. The 2010 Storm was one of the best WNBA teams in history, and they would have beaten several past WNBA champions if you want to match championship squads historically. The 2010 Seattle squad probably couldn't have beaten those turn of the century Los Angeles Sparks championship teams but they could have beaten just about anyone else. In a way, the Atlanta Dream were much like the Boston Red Sox - except that the Dream have only had the opportunity to draw one all-world opponent whereas the BoSox kept drawing them over and over and over again.

The good thing about the Dream's championship run is that it the team might have earned the attention of a few more local faces. Marynell Meadors in her post-game press conference stated that Dream was getting more attention from the girls high school community. From my own personal experience I know that more people know about the Dream that I would have previously expected.

Hopefully, the experience will leave everyone hungry for more. My hope is that Kathy Betty has enjoyed the experience so much in her rookie year of WNBA ownership that she'll just want to keep repeating it over and over. My estimation is that WNBA teams can lose as much as $1.5-$2.5 million per year - not a lot of money in the sports world but a very expensive purchase. Betty stated in an interview that she loved the team but also realized that it was a business, and her goal - and necessity - was to put the team in black ink.

Aaron's Inc. helped. They didn't go in for a jersey sponsorship but they helped in a lot of other ways. We saw the Aaron's Inc. mascot, Lucky, at several Dream games. One thrilling event was the Aaron's Dog Drop, where several tiny versions of the mascot were parachuted down into the crowd from the attic of Philips Arena. Those little dogs cost money.

I'm reminded of a complaint on Twitter from some anonymous lout that went along the following lines - "Ha ha, you had to discount your tickets 65 percent for your Finals game. FAIL." Watch out for that FAIL taunt, because it can a double-edged sword. First, our Finals game was sold out with over 10,000 in attendance. Second, it seems like the previous complaint of the haters was that the WNBA couldn't sell out its Finals games. Now, they've had to adjust their whining - now, they claim that we sell them out but we sell them out too cheaply. The crowd might not have paid full price - but trust me, those seats were filled and that crowd was definitely active. So the haters get a BACKFAIL.

Great year for the Atlanta Dream. Sad year, but also a year of accomplishments and a lot to build on and look forward to next year. (And by the way, WNBA, the officiating was terrible. At least it didn't affect the Finals that much, since the bad was dolloped out in equal portions to the Dream and the Storm.)

"So Pet," you might ask, "what now?" Well, Angel McCoughtry and Marynell Meadors get on a plane to the Czech Republic to join the United States team at the FIBA World Championships. Everyone else on the Dream not involved in FIBA scatters like paper in the wind. Most hop on flights overseas to join their European teams for "off-season" professional play. Shalee Lehning and Armintie Price might hook up with Kansas State or Mississippi again to join their coaching staffs. Alison Bales might crack open the books and take a few more med school courses. The majority of them who don't live in Atlanta won't be seen again in the United States - save for the rare vacation - until 2011.

Marynell Meadors will probably go back to her home in Florida (I believe) after the FIBA championships for a little while before swinging into Phase Two - watching a lot of college games and keeping her eyes on the free agency status of players all around the league. Some Dream players probably won't be back next year, despite the success of 2010 - it's rare for rosters to remain fixed year after year after year. The actual nuts and bolts of the front office will reduce itself to a skeleton crew without the need to handle the day-to-day issues associated with the regular season. For Kathy Betty, the goal will be to raise both awareness of the Dream in the Atlanta community and to seek sponsorship money.

As for me, I'll probably end up following the Dream players - in spirit, anyway - on their various world-wide journeys, reading websites in a bevy of languages to determine how well overseas players are faring. I'll be watching Georgia Tech women's basketball, and my goal is to plan things so that I can watch even more women's basketball games than I did the year before. The Yellow Jackets play Tennessee on a neutral court and Connecticut in Atlanta, so it will be a fascinating season.

And the blog...oh yes, that....

In Zen, there's a concept called "beginner's mind". This, in Wikipedia, is defined as "having an attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions when studying a subject, even when studying at an advanced level, just as a beginner in that subject would". During my first two years of writing the Pleasant Dreams Blog, I was definitely in a state of beginner's mind, because I was a beginner. I had never followed basketball up to that point, and everything was new and interesting and fun to learn.

However, mastering the intricacies of basketball is virtually impossible even for those who get paid for it. In terms of fandom, I'm years behind and I am coming to grips with the fact that I shall simply never catch up - the teenage years when I could have soaked up the sport like a sponge or even attempted to play it are gone for good. I can only see linearly on a court, and not multilinearly. I'm still applying my baseball mind to basketball, and so I can't recognize pick and rolls and can only barely recognize the concept of rotation defense. I can at least tell a zone from a man-to-man...but so can a lot of other people. My understanding of the game, in many respects, is that of a clever elementary school student. I've had to try to listen as much as I could to people who knew more than I did, but fight the temptation to substitute my knowledge for theirs. There's no point in being free of preconception when you just pick up someone else's preconceptions.

The changes in my life over the past year in terms of employment and home combined with hitting the hard part of the basketball learning curve wiped out my beginnner's mind. Reporting on the sport became tedious, my attention focused in a thousand directions, my energy lackluster. I wasn't open, I wasn't eager, and I was full of preconceptions. So I walked away from the blog in an attempt to recover my beginner's mind and my time away from the blog and from other issues has partially helped...but I'm not where I'd like to be, not yet.

So I will continue to go on walkabout, and stay away from serious blogging. I might contribute to Swish Appeal every now and then and I'll provide links at this blog to any new Swish Appeal articles. I might have something else to write here at Pleasant Dreams during the interim, but the goal is to break away from the old habits and seek new approaches. "Strive on with diligence," as Buddha might say.

For those who have hung on for the journey, thank you. I don't know where the journey is going to end, but I still love the game. I'm sure that whatever happens, it's going to be wonderful.

(P. S. : As to specific thoughts about the particulars of this series and off-season moves that might be made, this might come later.)


Ethan said...

I hope Pleasant Dreams carries on into 2011, but I understand and empathize with your reasons for letting it phase out.

Someone asked me how it is that I magically got into following hockey rather recently, after a lifetime of either disinterest or pooh-poohing it as a sport that wouldn't interest me. The soccer fandom helped, because while very different sports, the strategy is similar. I said that when I saw a blown scoring opportunity, and KNEW it was a blown chance, I was ready to go to a live game.

Basketball-wise, I can't tell you when or what a pick & roll is, can finally tell a legal screen from a moving screen, and can't tell you when it's time to shift from man coverage to zone. I did buy, and this isn't a slam that I am recommending this, Basketball for Dummies. Digger Phelps wrote/contributed to the book and it was very helpful for me to understand more of the mechanics of the game. When I first started seriously following the WNBA I spent some couch time with that book. Might help?

Anyway, congrats to the Dream for making the Finals, and I hope they can outdo Indiana and have an even better 2011 season, clearly being a heartbeat away from the title.

pilight said...

Oh pet, you're entirely too hard on yourself. I didn't grow up a basketball fan either. It took me a long time to figure it out, and I still don't always see what people who have it ingrained see.

Q McCall said...

I tend to agree with pilight on this one: your ability to see the game is actually better than some other people covering the game who claim to be "experts" because they think the game is "simple". That you both make the effort to understand it the best you can (with numbers & observation) while admitting that you have something to learn is commendable.

There are plenty who neither make that effort nor admit that there's anything more to understand when it's obvious that they don't know the very basics of the game.

Obviously, we're excited to have you at Swish Appeal - as we all endeavor to continue learning the game - but I agree with others that Pleasant Dream has consistently been one of the best WNBA blogs.