Who cares if the NBA playoffs have reached the conference finals unless you live in Boston, Cleveland, Detroit, New Orleans, San Antonio or LA. Let the real basketball playing begin!
I'm a big basketball fan and love the WNBA. I'm signed up again for the WNBA league broadband pass so I can watch my girls and other WNBA games throughout the season on my computer. I used to have Comets season tickets when I lived in H-town and was in Compaq for the 1997, 1999 and 2000 title games during the Comets dynasty years when they won 'ahem' four consecutive WNBA titles.
I make a road trip to Indianapolis every summer to see my girls play the Indiana Fever, but won't be able to make it this year. I have a previous engagement in Northampton, MA on June 7 when they're scheduled to be in Indy.
Today the WNBA opens its 12th season of play with a marquee matchup between the defending champion Phoenix Mercury and the team that 'errbody's' picking to win it all, the Los Angeles Sparks. But don't think that Diana Taurasi, Cappie Poindexter and the Mercury are just gonna hand the trophy over to their Western Conference rivals. There are a few teams in the Eastern Conference such as the Detroit Shock that may have objections to a premature coronation of the Sparks as WNBA champions as well.
LA hit rock bottom with a 10-24 record last season while their Olympian center Lisa Leslie was on maternity leave. They not only ended up winning the WNBA draft lottery, but got a bonus when Candace Parker decided to forego her last year of eligibility and enter the WNBA draft after her Tennessee Lady Volunteers won their second straight NCAA title.
As for my favorite WNBA team, the Houston Comets, change is in the air as well. In addition to moving to the smaller Reliant Arena, for the first time since the team began play as one of the Original Eight franchises, we won't have Sheryl Swoopes in a Comet uniform. She signed a free agent contract with the Seattle Storm in the offseason. The Comets open the season on the road with the defending Eastern Conference Champions Detroit Shock.
While we still have WNBA All-Star and Olympian Tina Thompson, we've added Rutgers Matee Ajavon and LSU point guard Erica Wright to a squad that along with vets Tamecka Dixon and Mwadi Mabika and centers Michelle Snow and my fellow Cougar Sancho Lyttle has a tantalizing blend of youth and experience for coach Karleen Thompson's squad. I've watched Comets 3rd round pick Crystal Kelly play ball since I moved here and I was saddened to hear she just missed making the Comets opening day roster.
But like the NBA's Western Conference, the WNBA Western Conference is brutal as well. The question for us Comet fans is does this team have not only what it takes for us to be one of the four Western teams to make the playoffs, but celebrate winning a fifth WNBA title when this extended season is over?
In August the league will be taking an Olympic break so that players can join their Olympic squads for the Beijing Games. It'll be interesting to not only see who makes Team USA, but how many of the WNBA players from other countries stay home as their national teams prepare for the Games.
Change is also the word for the rest of the league as well. A new franchise joins the WNBA sorority and brings it back up to 14 teams. The Atlanta Dream will begin their maiden season playing in the Eastern Conference. There are the old faces in new places stories, too. Swin Cash will be joining Sheryl Swoopes and Yolanda Griffith in Seattle after she was traded. Katie Douglas was traded to Indiana. Tamika Whitmore will be wearing a Connecticut Sun uniform this summer. DeLisha Milton-Jones is headed back to LA.
But it's the new crop of rookies that has us WNBA fans excited. In addition to Candace Parker in LA, her Lady Vol teammate Alexis Hornbuckle will be playing for the Detroit Shock. Candice Wiggins will be playing for the Minnesota Lynx. LSU's Sylvia Fowles is Chicago Sky bound. Essence Carson will be playing across the Hudson River for the New York Liberty along with Erlana Larkins of North Carolina. Crystal Langhorne will be playing not too far from College Park, MD for the Washington Mystics.
The major questions in this WNBA season besides who will win the WNBA rookie of the year and make the WNBA All-Star team (no WNBA All-Star game because it's an Olympic year) are can the Phoenix Mercury repeat? Will the Detroit Shock return to the WNBA Finals? How nasty will the Western Conference be this summer? How many games will the Atlanta Glory win? Can the New York Liberty build on their surprise return to the playoffs and make a deeper playoff run in the East? Do the retooled Sparks have too much firepower to be denied a return to championship glory to the disgust of us Comet fans?
'Burp!' So what if I'm drinking Comet red Hateraid for the Sparks? Hey, old rivalries die hard ;)
But seriously, I'm happy to see the WNBA surviving and thriving, especially since they made the move a few years ago to become a separate entity from the parent NBA. It is the longest surviving women's professional sports league in the US and with the increasingly deep talent pool in women's college ball and the inquiries from more than a few cities for WNBA franchises, you'll probably see careful expansion to expand job opportunities for those college players over the next few years according to WNBA commisioner Donna Orender.
The future indeed looks bright for the league, and the new owners are committed along with league mangement and the WNBA Player's Association to ensure that the WNBA is around for its 20th anniversary and beyond to serve as an inspration to another generation of girls and young women.
So let the games begin, and Go Comets!