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WOMEN'S BASKETBALL MIKE TERRY

Just in Case the Sparks Didn't Have Motivation

May 29, 2003|MIKE TERRY

If the Sparks were looking for some outside motivation to win a third consecutive league title, the WNBA may have unwittingly given it to them.

Los Angeles can play the fabled "no respect" card once they look at the results from a recent survey of league general managers.

Lisa Leslie was recognized as the league's top center. She was favored to win the 2003 most-valuable-player award. But she tied with Sacramento's Yolanda Griffith for second as the WNBA's best player overall. Both trailed Houston's Sheryl Swoopes, the defending league MVP.

DeLisha Milton was third in the voting for top power forward, tying Seattle's Lauren Jackson and Indiana's Tamika Catchings. Houston's Tina Thompson is considered the best.

Mwadi Mabika was second to Swoopes in the vote for top small forward, and also received votes for best shooting guard. Nikki Teasley was in a four-way tie for third for best point guard.

Milton could also take exception to being in a three-way tie for third in the voting for most intense player. But she was named the league's best defender.

One interesting sideline from the survey, which doesn't say how many of the league's 14 general managers participated.

Houston had two players considered the best at their positions and the league's best player. But when the general managers were asked which team they most enjoyed watching, the Comets were not on the list of the five teams that received votes.

Los Angeles was on top of the list.

*

Sonja Henning was waived this week by the Washington Mystics, and normally a transaction like that doesn't warrant more than a sentence or two.

Except that Henning was also president of the WNBA Players Assn., which went through long, arduous negotiations with WNBA owners on a new labor agreement.

Any time a player representative loses their job following a labor dispute, it automatically raises a red flag. Was that person axed because she couldn't fit the roster, or was there lingering animosity from the negotiations?

In Henning's case, it seems to be the former.

She was signed by the Mystics a week after training camp opened, suggesting that if owners had held a grudge, Henning wouldn't have gotten into the gym.

Henning, a veteran of both the ABL and the WNBA, was also the third point guard behind Kiesha Brown and Annie Burgess, and that didn't add up to much playing time. She got five minutes in Washington's season-opening win.

And when the Mystics were ready to activate guard Zuzana Zirkova, their second-round pick from this year's draft, someone had to go -- and Henning was an obvious candidate.

Even if Henning, 33, never laces up another sneaker, she should have no problem landing on her feet. A Stanford graduate, Henning also has a law degree from Duke and is a practicing attorney with a background in labor law.

Hmmm, wonder if she will be available for the next WNBA labor negotiations.

*

The Connecticut Sun has played its first WNBA game. Now the watch officially begins.

Not the win-loss ledger, but profit or loss.

League officials are hoping for a slam dunk in fan attendance in a state that supports women's basketball -- on the college level -- as well as any in the country.

But also important is how the franchise itself performs.

There is plenty of curiosity about a WNBA team owned by a gambling business, in this case the Mohegan Indian tribe, which has a profitable casino.

What the league is looking harder at is how a WNBA team can do in a non-NBA city. The league is going to need future franchise investors to wean itself from NBA dollars and, ultimately, NBA control.

"We've accepted there is going to be scrutiny [on Connecticut]," WNBA President Val Ackerman said. "We have high expectations, and so does the Mohegan tribe. They are confident they can be successful here, and have committed a great deal of organization and resources to it."

While Sun officials did not guarantee a set number of years to keep the franchise in Connecticut, Ackerman said "there is a long-term commitment to keep the team here. This is the first and will not be the last non-NBA city or market for the WNBA. It was the only one that could come in this year, but we are exploring other options for 2004 and beyond."

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