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Kathy Goodman: Sparks kick off trip in New York

July 9, 2009 | 10:21 pm

Goodman Usually I love to go on the road.  I'm on summer vacation, with nothing to do but follow my team from city to city, cheering them on (and incidentally taking notes on great game ops ideas, the sponsors in other cities, the price and variety of concessions compared with L.A., and interesting merchandising ideas.)  But this summer, the road has not been so nice.  Actually, it's been awful.  And it was a long trip -- three games spread out over a week and up and down the Eastern seaboard. But I have a lot of family on the East Coast and my parents were heading down to New York from Syracuse, so I had to make the trip.  I just swore I would keep my eyes closed the whole time.

It was actually a beautiful afternoon in New York leading up to the game.  I walked into the store near my hotel to get some water and snacks, and I was wearing the Sparks shirt I planned to wear at the game.  The guy behind the counter started ringing me up and said, "Oh, are the Sparks in town to play the Liberty?" I said they were.  "I love that Candace Parker," he said. "She knows how to play some ball." 

If L.A. is a movie town, New York is definitely a sports town.  And apparently has its share of Sparks fans. Maybe this wouldn't be a typical "road game."

I met up with my parents, who reminded me that they had never seen the Sparks lose in person.  I reminded them that the Sparks had yet to win outside Staples Center and were no longer perfect even there.  I wasn't sure what the road hex was.  I also remembered that last season we had come into NY, suffering from a depleted bench as a result of several suspensions (WNBA fans remember why -- a little disagreement in Detroit), and we had almost eked out a win, but Janel McCarville had made a last second layup to steal it from us.  New York is actually the only team in the league that has a winning record against the Sparks all-time.  I know they have been struggling a bit this season, but they were home and we were on the road and I wasn't sure I could sit through the game.

And it was painful at the beginning. We waited and waited and waited to score.  I was e-mailing back and forth with Carla (who is banned from traveling until she gives birth) and halfway through the first quarter she e-mailed me, "Are you still standing waiting for the Sparks to score?" 

I had plenty of time to ponder what the record was for length of time without scoring. With a little over five minutes left in the first quarter, we hadn't even attempted a shot yet.  In the same time, four of New York's five starters had scored (on free throws, fast breaks, jumpshots and in the paint) and it was 11-0.  "Wow," I thought. "Three  thousand miles is a long way to fly to watch this."  Then Candace hit a reverse lay-up and the team seemed to break free from whatever spell Madison Square Garden had placed on them and they seemed to remember they were playing in a basketball game.

The second quarter was a very close contest.  In the first two minutes we tied up the score and it was a battle.  At one point we led by as many as eight, but New York is (and always has been) a hardworking team and is never easily broken.  They used the last two and half minutes to even the score and we went into the locker room tied at 33.  I had seen brilliance at times from our team, but I felt the heavy weight of the winless road.  I wondered if the team felt it.  And I knew no matter what I did, the team was going to have to play through the third quarter. As I have mentioned before, the third quarter is not often the Sparks' finest part of the game.  And the third quarter against Phoenix last Sunday at home had been our complete undoing.

And so it seemed to be in this game.  I watched as the Sparks hung tough for the first two minutes, but then started to let the Liberty take the game.  Momentum was shifting toward New York as they slowly leaked out to a four point lead.  And then Betty Lennox decided she had had enough.  In the last half of the third quarter, Betty scored eight points, collected four rebounds, got two steals and generally wreaked havoc on the court.  End of the third, we were up by six.  I was cautiously optimistic.  Every streak has to end, right?  Even losing streaks.

Fourth quarter, I just wanted the clock to go really fast.  It quickly became clear that the team was tired of losing on the road too.  They remained relentless in the fourth quarter.  When the quarter was half over and we had extended our lead to 13, keeping New York scoreless for over four minutes (it's what they had done to us in the first quarter, so it seemed only fair to return the favor in the fourth), I turned to one of my friends and said, "I think we might win this one."  Tina Thompson picked up where Betty Lennox left off, shooting 75% in the quarter, including two beautiful high-arcing long threes from the top of the key.  Just like she used to do against us all the time when she was with Houston.  I miss Houston, but I do love to cheer for, instead of curse at, those beautiful long threes of Tina!

And then the game was over. The streak was broken -- we had actually won on the road.  Suddenly, I was looking forward to that train ride down to D.C. on Saturday and the trip out to the Mohegan Sun on Tuesday with another whole slew of family and friends. Road Trip!!

-- Kathy Goodman

Kathy Goodman is a co-owner of the Sparks.

Photo: Sparks owners Kathy Goodman, left, and Carla Christofferson cheer during a game against the Sacramento Monarchs June 2, 2007. Photo credit: Robert Durell / Los Angeles Times.