WNBA: Final

10 10 2009

Hooray for the Phoenix Mercury! I was surprised that they weren’t a playoff-caliber team last year, and they made good on their vow to come back not only as a playoffs contender, but the 2009 champions. Huge amounts of credit go to the Phoenix Mercury for making that a reality.

I have to give props to the Indiana Fever. They took Phoenix all the way to Game 5, and kept it close until the end. I felt badly for the state of Indiana for being denied their first basketball title since 1999 (if ESPN ran the numbers correctly), but since the Fever are clearly inches away from winning the Big One™, I hope the support that the Fever gained from the Indiana faithful spills over into next year.

I hope that for the league as a whole, as well. Seeing a sold-out Conseco Fieldhouse was awe-inspiring, and to have Phoenix win it all in a sold-out United Airways Center gives me hope that the WNBA is really starting to come into its own. Never mind the Haters, as they will always find something to complain about. I don’t have the calories for them right now. I’m basking in the high of Game Five.

Despite the various technical difficulties it faced this year, HUGE props to the WNBA for introducing Live Access. I thought I’d see lots of the New York Liberty (disclosure: I am wearing my 2009 Liberty shirt as I type this), but I saw a great many Phoenix Mercury home games. I know all about Cash Four® by the Arizona Lottery. I know all about Harris Dental. I don’t have a pool (or a house), but if/when I do I’ll be sure to shop at Leslie’s Pool Supply. I know all about Discount Tire. And I know all about the X Factor. Having logged so many hours watching Phoenix games, I had extra reason to want to see them win the title as opposed to off-the-radar Indiana.

I’ll wrap it up with a final look backward:

+ My favorite WNBA memory of the 2009 season was seeing my first live WNBA game in San Antonio. Becky Hammon’s primal grunt as she got squashed between two Liberty players is etched in my brain forever. And I still can’t believe that not only was my favorite team (the Liberty, see above) right there mere yards away with my absurdly fantastic seat, but I side-fived my favorite players. You can’t take that away from me.

+ I hope Sacramento (I suppose the pressure must be applied to KHTK radio) brings back their radio/Live Access announcers next year. If all else failed, I made it a point to tune in to Sacramento home games just to see/hear them. Yes, the “product” on the court is first and foremost as to what will sell the franchise and league, but quality announcing cannot be discounted. Even when Sacramento was getting stomped they made the game entertaining.

+ Conversely, and I don’t mean to mortally offend my Atlanta friends, but Art Eckman needs a replacement, soon. Although it was mildly amusing to hear LaChina Robinson have to plow through Eckman’s insistence at naming the entire on-court roster for the opposing team (can’t remember who, sorry) in response to his own question as to who the biggest outside threat was. LaChina kept saying “[team] only has two, so the Dream needs to shut them down.” Art: “[Other name.]” LaChina: “No, Art.” Repeat THREE times.

+ And GAAAAAH to the Atlanta Live Access commercials. Unlike TV, I can’t “mute” the commercials as easily when I am routing the computer into the TV and watching on the couch instead of my incredibly uncomfortable computer chair. I know Coke owns Atlanta and stuff, but do they not have more than one ad?

+ If anyone is keeping a running tally of Things I Am a Sucker For, add this: Candace Parker sobbing as Lisa Leslie left her final playoff game, doomed to bow out of the WNBA without one more Finals appearance. My heart went out to Parker, Leslie, and all of LA. THAT is why I am a WNBA fan, right there. This stuff matters to the players, and Candace Parker couldn’t have gotten that emotional if she was just in it for the paycheck, the personal glory, or the endorsements. As sick as I was hearing about Parker’s maternity leave and Leslie’s imminent retirement, that raw emotion was a good perspective-changer.

+ Congratulations to the Atlanta Dream for an outstanding 2009 season. I’m also a sucker for teams/players rising up to fight back against adversity – in this case, going 4-and-the-season in 2008. I was rooting for the Dream to go as far as they could take it into the playoffs and while disappointed in their early exit, there’s no doubt in my mind that Marynell Meadors deserved Coach of the Year honors.

+ Similarly, I’m very happy for Corey Gaines. He is one of those guys who strikes me as putting an enormous amount of effort into his job, and like Bill Laimbeer (whom I otherwise hate), doesn’t seem to view being a WNBA coach like he is an assistant Junior High coach. It’s easy, I’d imagine, to let the NBA be one’s yardstick for personal success. Corey Gaines is a championship coach, as is Bill Laimbeer. Those rings matter. Even if not to the average Joe or Jane on the street, they earned it.

+ Finally, my hope for 2010 is that we (the Grand We) are much less defensive about the WNBA and more – for lack of a better word – evangelical. Telling people they’re wrong about the WNBA isn’t going to win hearts and minds. Lamenting what new reason why The Haters™ are or will be dogging on the league won’t inspire people to give the WNBA a fresh look. Show them the quality. Take someone to a game, if you’re in-market. If you’re out of market like me, find ways to be vocal and approachable in your support. I recently wore my Liberty t-shirt to work, and some women came in from out of state who knew Patty Coyle and were agog that a man – out of market, at that, knew who the Liberty was and made the commitment to buy a shirt online. I’ve heard all of the Reasons Why Not. I’ve heard them about other sports, played at the granular level of the local park district. With the advent of Live Access, you can host watching parties for your favorite teams. If you’re waiting around for ESPN to be the torch-bearer for the WNBA, be the fuel that drives those programming decisions. What and where was NASCAR not all that long ago? Now they get hours of TV time across several networks. I don’t expect that the WNBA will rise to that level of popularity (aided and abetted by national TV exposure) but if you’re not part of the movement to win new fans to the league, you run the risk that there won’t be a league to support.

+ To that end, thanks to Petrel, the WHB Blog Crew, Q, Rebecca, and everyone who poured their heart and soul into showing love for the WNBA.

And as a forward-looking statement for 2010: “I will go to Tulsa!”

What a year.

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