Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Malice At The Palace - 2: The Sparks - Shock Brawl

Deeee-troit Basket-baaaaall!!!!! Has equality finally come to the WNBA?

The WNBA has finally arrived!

In a game seen live by tens of hundreds of viewers on ESPN 2 Tuesday (and thousands more than that today on YouTube), the Los Angeles Sparks and the Detroit Shock played an otherwise meaningless regular-season game in Auburn Hills.

Meaningless until only 4.5 seconds remained when, after a brief, under-the-basket scuffle between Shock forward Cheryl Ford and Sparks rookie Candace Parker. Immediately after the second of two free throws by L.A.'s Marie Ferdinand-Harris made the score 82-78 in favor of the visiting Sparks, Detroit's Plenette Pierson initiated contact with Parker, causing last year's college player of the year to fall to the floor.

Then it was on.

Pierson then delivered a walking hip check to the head of the downed Parker while she attempted to regain her feet, stepping knees-first into the face of the Sparks forward. Benches emptied, including members of the Detroit coaching staff Rick Mahorn and head coach Bill Laimbeer, both former players with the NBA's Detroit Pistons, as well as Sparks coach - and former Laker - Michael Cooper.

Mahorn and Laimbeer, along with Dennis Rodman made up the core of what was known as the "Bad Boys", helping the team to two championships in the late '80s and early '90s.

As referees and players restrained other players, Mahorn actually shoved Sparks center and face of the league Lisa Leslie, with Leslie falling, and another Sparks teammate, DeLisha Milton-Jones, shoving Mahorn and even striking him from behind. While this was taking place near the teams' benches, another conflict, this between Ford (the daughter of former NBA all-star Karl Malone) and Shock teammate Pierson. While attempting to restrain Pierson from further involvement in the melee, Ford sprained her right knee, and had to be taken off the court in a wheel chair.

Damn the Equal Rights Amendment. As of today, women's equality is here to stay.

It was just four years ago that, in what was then called "The Malice at the Palace", the Pistons and Indiana Pacers rumbled on and off the court in an incident that became the symbol for all that is wrong with the sport.

And now, right or wrong, the WNBA has blazed a trail toward equal rights that Hillary Clinton, or a long-dead 27th Amendment to the Constitution could never do.

By the way, the Sparks won the game, 84-81.

A few unintentionally humorous, post-game comments by some of the principals involved to explain what happened in this ground-breaking moment:

“The game was getting out of hand physical-wise, and I warned [the ref] about that and she gave me a warning,” said the local Palos Verdes high school graduate Laimbeer. “But it started to escalate, and players are going to get emotional, and it happens sometimes.

“It’s unfortunate, but it happens.”

Ejectee Rick Mahorn saw the happening this way:

“I was trying to protect the whole game, the integrity of the game,” Mahorn said.

Despite video evidence to the contrary, the former "Bad Boy" elaborated on his version of the fight.

“The WNBA is very special to me because I have four daughters," Mahorn elaborated. "I don’t even raise my hand to them, and I would never push a woman. This game, I love this game too much.”

Candace Parker, the new face of the WNBA, explained her role in what happened this way during post-game comments:

“I don’t even recall what happened — I’ll have to look at the tape. I don’t really remember any of it.”

Finally, Milton-Jones put all things into perspective like this:

“This isn’t what we want to happen. We are trying to demonstrate class and integrity and the good things about basketball. This was unfortunate, but sometimes these things happen in basketball."

Except that, before yesterday, these things never happened in a WNBA game.

All things now being equal, let's see if this is as Milton-Jones wants us to believe, that this is just an unfortunate anomaly, and not just the tip of a soon-to-be fully-exposed iceberg of the way things really are.

All things being equal, Let's hope not.