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Parker says more dunks are coming

Sparks rookie, who joined teammate Leslie as only two to do so in WNBA games, says others will soon follow.

June 24, 2008|Chris Hine | Times Staff Writer

It was a long wait.

Candace Parker's dunk Sunday against the Indiana Fever gave Sparks teammate Lisa Leslie some company, at last, in their select group: women who have dunked in a WNBA game.

It only took six years.

But if you ask Parker, who stuffed it in the last minute of the Sparks' 77-63 victory, she says it shouldn't take long for someone else to join them.

"I do know that more and more women are going to do it and it's something that people are going to have to accept," the 6-foot-4 Parker said Monday as she accepted the Honda-Broderick Cup, an award given to the top female college athlete of the year.

It was only a few months ago that she starred for the Tennessee Lady Vols, helping them to another championship, playing through the pain of a dislocated shoulder. Now she stars for the WNBA, and is racking up the stats. But will her dunk help change the WNBA's image as, well, plodding and unexciting?

David Carter, executive director of the Sports Business Institute at USC, said the publicity generated by Parker's dunk shows that the WNBA "hasn't arrived yet," and the league needs to showcase more than a few dunks if it intends to reach a broader audience.

"It's indisputable that the excitement brought to basketball because of the dunk has made the NBA a successful, profitable league," Carter said. "But the WNBA has to balance what is realistic with what is ideal."

WNBA President Donna Orender said the dunk can become a part of the women's game -- and even said a slam-dunk contest could one day appear in the league -- but said she hardly sees the league turning into a "dunkfest."

"I think our game, at its basis, is really pure and it's about teamwork and it's about passing and it's about skilled shooting, but the dunk just adds another wonderful element," Orender said.

Parker's dunk comes at a time when the league has focused a significant portion of its marketing to try and attract more male fans.

During the NBA playoffs, the WNBA ran a series of commercials featuring Parker, the Detroit Shock's Cheryl Ford and the Fever's Tamika Catchings designed to debunk myths the league hears from men about women's basketball -- namely that the league isn't exciting, that women play little defense and like to only shoot jump shots.

This marketing campaign, Carter said, signaled a change in direction for the league.

"For many years, I think the WNBA was sending a confusing message . . . 'Support us, we're the right thing to support,' " Carter said. "But now I think it's moved forward in the last several years with . . . 'As a fan, you should come to the game because we're exciting basketball, we're not just a cause anymore.' "

So far, fans seem to be reacting positively to this message. This season, the league has had three games televised on ABC. Ron Howard, a spokesman for the league, said ratings are up from an average of 700,000 per game in 2007 to 825,000 this season.

There's no question fans enjoy seeing dunks, but will the wait be another six years?

Not if Chicago Sky rookie center Sylvia Fowles, the first in WNBA history to have goaltending called against her, has her way.

"You can look forward to me getting in on that action as well," said Fowles, even though she is currently sidelined with a knee injury.

Sparks Coach Michael Cooper, who also was the coach when Leslie dunked, put it in perspective after Parker's dunk.

He said Leslie's was exhilarating, "since hers was the first one," he said. However, he added, "I liked that Candace picked it up with one hand like Michael Jordan."

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chris.hine@latimes.com

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