Kathy Goodman: A milestone
There was a lot at stake in the L.A. Sparks' Sunday game against the San Antonio Silver Stars. A win would put us alone in third place in the West. And Tina Thompson needed only 14 points to break the all-time scoring record in the WNBA. San Antonio won the game 92-83, but Tina hit her shots and set the record -- and then some.
I have had season-ticket seats for the Sparks since 1997 and have not missed very many games in the last 14 years, so I have seen most of the milestones: first basket by Penny Toler, first dunk by Lisa Leslie against the Miami Sol, dunks by Candace Parker in back-to-back games. I have seen the court at Staples Center named after Leslie and seen Toler’s jersey retired in the rafters of the arena. On Sunday, we were all counting Thompson’s points. She's averaged about 15 points a game for the Sparks this season, so we expected the points she needed to become the all-time top scorer would come Sunday. It took about four minutes into the game, but she let loose a three-pointer that went in easily, and the countdown was on.
Behind the scenes, preparing for these moments is always a bit nerve-wracking. We were prepared last Friday in case she scored the 26 she then needed to break the record -- it would not have been unprecedented for her to score so many points in a game -- but we all believed Sunday night would be the night. We talked to the referees to make sure that on the next dead ball after she scored the record-breaking points, they would hold the action for a moment so she could get the ovation she deserved. Our marketing group had designed and loaded graphics into the Jumbotron and ribbon board to celebrate her effort. Now it was just about waiting and counting.
By the end of the first quarter, with Tina only having three points and the Sparks getting killed on the boards, and down by 6, I started to wonder if Sunday would be Tina’s night. Since the All-Star break, she has only had two games in which she scored fewer than 14 points, so I decided to just be patient.
The second quarter of the game was almost a carbon copy of the first. The Sparks just couldn’t seem to find the ball after it went up toward the basket. In the entire first half, they had only seven total rebounds to San Antonio’s 20, and it showed in the score. Their eight second-chance points made up almost the entire 10-point discrepancy in the score, together with their 60% shooting from three-point range. And Tina had scored only three more points, this time the old-fashioned way, on a basket and free throw. The Sparks were going to have to do a better job on the glass and shutting down San Antonio’s three-point game if they wanted to turn it into a game.
The Sparks came out of halftime ready to play. Marie Ferdinand-Harris and Tina took turns scoring, cutting into the lead. Halfway through the third quarter came the moment the entire arena was waiting for. Tina made two free throws, putting her within two of breaking the scoring record, and then she came down court on the next possession, putting up a wide-open jumper and down it went. The Staples Center crows leaped to their feet cheering. Not only had she broken the all-time scoring record in the WNBA, but on her next trip down the court, she drained a three to get the Sparks within one point. San Antonio had to call a timeout, and we didn’t need to worry about creating time for an ovation for Tina.
Unfortunately, that would be the last thing we had to cheer about in Staples Center on Sunday. The Sparks never got closer than that one point, and though they made a run of it in the last couple of minutes of the fourth quarter, San Antonio's second-chance points and three-point shooting were just too much. The season is far from over, however. The Sparks still have three home games left in the regular season and two games against Minnesota, our competition for the last playoff spot. It was great to be able to celebrate Tina’s career milestone, and now I am looking forward to celebrating more milestones before this season is over.
-- Kathy Goodman, co-owner of the Sparks