The Best Ticket in Town

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This is Diana Nyad for KCRW. And this is The Score.

Seven years ago I went to my first Los Angeles Sparks game, just as the Women-s National Basketball Association was getting under way. I was underwhelmed. The play was sloppy. Only one or two players could shoot. It seemed to me it was going to take several years for the talent of the rosters to deepen and make for quality basketball, minute by minute. Not being a fan meant I wasn-t popular in feminist circles in those days. Well, several years have gone by and I am now a bonified, raging convert.

Much of the L.A. male sports media, particularly columnist T.J. Simers of the L.A. Times, still seem to find great amusement in bashing the Sparks, contending that the women-s game is slow, unskilled, and inherently boring because they don-t stuff and dunk above the rim. Those guys can-t be watching the same game I-m watching in 2004.

Karl Malone, the great NBA player, was courtside at a Sparks game the other night. So was former Laker star Derek Fisher.

They were intensely involved in the game, admiring Temeka Dixon steal, drive down the court and dish-off to the 6-5" Lisa Leslie under the basket. Fisher pumped his fist when Nikki Teasley swished a 3-pointer from way downtown. These guys know good hoops when they see it.

Didn-t the multi-millionaire NBA players just fail to win gold in Athens because they-re all individual superstars who dazzle above the rim but don-t play with the team mentality of sacrificing ego to sychronize the parts of a well-oiled machine?

The WNBA is all about team and it-s refreshing for the fans. Tuesday night the Sparks took on the Phoenix Mercury whose star is the recent University of Connecticut supertalent Diana Taurasi. Taurasi has made an art out of the no-look, rapid-fire pass and she-s the class of her team. She constantly calls quick huddles, encourages teammates who miss shots, and doesn-t take the shot when a pass would serve the team better. The Lakers would do well to take a lesson in teamwork and sportsmanship from these women.

Laker champion Michael Cooper was the Sparks coach for the past few seasons. He took the team through to two WNBA champion rings. When he first started coaching in the women-s league, many of his former NBA cronies teased him, saying he must have reached the nadir of his career, to descend from the rarified air of the men-s pros to the non-dunking women-s game. In the middle of this season, Coop, as they call him, was offered a position with the NBA-s Denver Nuggets, a job he couldn-t refuse. But the night he left the Sparks was moving. He told the crowd that he had never in his career felt such pride and satisfaction as working with this women-s team. He cried at center court and the Sparks players carried him on their shoulders and showered him with cold Gatorade. Again, compare that to all the post-season rumblings from the Lakers camp. Kobie Bryant supposedly can-t or won-t play any longer with Shaquille O-Neil. There evidently isn-t enough room under the Staples Center roof for those two egos to coexist. Shaquille is traded to Miami and now says Lakers- executive Mitch Kupcheck made the worst mistake in the history of the NBA by trading him. That-s after Kupcheck and the organization paid Shaq some $200 million and surrounded him with the talent it took to win three championship rings.

Just as the USA women-s basketball team won the Olympic gold a month ago, the women-s brand of professional basketball in this country, at least to this fan, embodies what makes team sport such an inspiring ballet of blended skills and individual sacrifice. And if you told me seven years ago that I-d be saying this today, I would have said &quotYou-re; dreaming, my friend."

This is Diana Nyad for KCRW. And that-s The Score.



Diana Nyad