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WNBA

Sparks Put Out the Fire

June 04, 2002|MIKE TERRY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

She stood at the halfcourt line in her black and red sweatsuit, the outfit of her new team, flanked by Spark President Johnny Buss and Spark General Manager Penny Toler who was holding the wooden box with the platinum reward.

It was a box Ukari Figgs thought she would be receiving with her then-Spark teammates at the team's May 25 season opener.

Instead, Figgs got her 2001 WNBA championship ring Monday, as a member of the Portland Fire, before an 89-72 loss to her former L.A. teammates at Staples Center.

The Sparks had traded her to Portland for the rights to Nikki Teasley, who is now starting in Figgs' former spot.

One could imagine the thoughts going through Figgs' mind as she received a standing ovation from the crowd of 8,567 and a group hug from the Sparks, including former teammate and best friend Tamecka Dixon.

"It was a great moment," Figgs said. "The fans were great, the players were great; they almost made me very emotional. I feel honored that they had that kind of respect for me and for what I did here."

It probably would have meant more to Figgs if she could have been part of the game, but she was advised not to play after losing her front tooth in a collision during Sunday's game with teammate Jackie Stiles.

Stiles, who has been slowed by bursitis in her right foot, sat out Monday's game, remaining on the bench with a soft cast.

After a slow start the Sparks (4-1) had their way with the Fire, which came into the game without Figgs and Stiles, and left with their fourth loss in as many games.

The Sparks extended their regular-season home winning streak to 24 games.

Lisa Leslie piled up 25 points and 18 rebounds, and Sophia Witherspoon, also acquired in the trade that dealt Figgs to Portland, added 19 off the bench.

Tamicha Jackson, Figgs' replacement, had 19 for Portland.

"It was a good game for our team," said Spark Coach Michael Cooper, who got points from each of his players Monday. "Portland is not the type of team that their record shows. They're better than that. We need to make our mark early, to get a lead on some of these teams that are trying to get their chemistry and cohesiveness together."

The pregame presentation and display of affection by her former team helped the night go by for Figgs who said she was getting more dental work done today and Wednesday and "could not withstand any more trauma to the mouth."

Dixon said she had to see Figgs in the Fire uniform to let go of the emotions she has had since the draft-day trade. "I just needed to know she's OK with everything," Dixon said. "When I talked with her she was upbeat about the deal, which made me feel a little more at ease with the situation."

Witherspoon also was facing her former teammates, but said the revenge motive wasn't a factor, just as it wasn't when she played against New York, her first WNBA team, in L.A.'s season opener.

"You kind of know what you can do against teams you've played with before, but I just want to play my game. There's no extra incentive. It was their decision to trade me. It's part of the business, and you know that."

Charlotte 67, Houston 52--Andrea Stinson, playing on a sprained ankle she injured in the season opener against the Sparks, scored 23 points to lead the Sting (2-0) at Charlotte, N.C. Dawn Staley added 14 points and seven assists for the Sting, which caught a break when Houston (2-2) forward Tina Thompson got into early foul trouble and was limited to 10 points.

Phoenix 71, Washington 65--Adrain Williams scored 13 points and grabbed a career-high 11 rebounds to lead the Mercury (2-1) at Phoenix. Mystic rookie Stacey Dales-Schuman scored 15 points for Washington (1-1), which played without Chamique Holdsclaw, who did not accompany the team on the trip west after the death of her grandmother.

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