The end of the postseason is always tough because it’s so unexpected. I program into my BlackBerry calendar all the possible playoff dates through to the championship; I arrange meetings around game times; I postpone my social life until after the playoffs conclude. We set up contingency plans at the team for game entertainment — anthem singers, halftime entertainment, video elements — through the postseason. But we never absolutely know when our last game will be played until it’s over. Saturday’s game was that game this season, when the Seattle Storm won 81-66, eliminating us from the playoffs.
In June, everyone told us not to worry — we would never make the postseason. Everyone counted us out, and we were declared dead over and over. But our team just wouldn’t die.
We definitely had a tough start. We had a lot of new faces on our team, requiring some time to gel. I remember walking into the Sparks office one day early in the season, where we had a team photo from the 2007 season, the first season Carla and I bought the team. I remember being struck by the fact that, except for our equipment manager, our video coordinator and our general manager, no one else in the picture was on our roster or with the organization. Not our coaches, trainers or a single one of the players. We needed some time to create a team.
We started the season a bit short-handed, with Ticha Penicheiro battling Achilles problems and Vanessa Hayden with an off-season knee injury. We were still putting pieces together as the season started, signing Chanel Mokango and trading for Kristi Toliver. Just as it seemed we had started to come together, we lost Candace Parker to a season-ending shoulder injury. A week or so later, Betty Lennox left the lineup with a knee injury. We were left with nine active players on our roster, including two rookies — Andrea Riley and Mokango — and two second-year players — Lindsay Wisdom-Hylton and Toliver. Now the team would have to start over, trying to find a new identity and new chemistry.
Our team battled through it all and came out in the second half of the season a better and stronger team. Everyone complained that our team was too old and our veterans couldn’t carry the load. Instead, Tina Thompson set the league record for the most points scored by any player in the WNBA and won Western Conference player of the month in August, and Ticha, in her 12th season, once again led the league in assists, notwithstanding her injury-plagued start, which limited her minutes.
Outsiders were still doubting, but on the inside, we knew this team would make the postseason. We were just hoping we could make the postseason last a little longer. I had the dates marked in my calendar all the way through the last possible WNBA Finals game in September. It is hard not being prepared for the end. I feel like we don’t have a chance to thank the fans for all of their support, and I feel like the players still have games left in them to play. But we ended Seattle’s postseason early for two years in a row. This year was their turn to return the favor.
And the good thing is, I know when next season starts. I just need to open my calendar to May 2011. See you in nine months, when we try all over again.
-- Kathy Goodman, co-owner of the Sparks
Photo: Sparks guard Ticha Penicheiro drives against Storm guard Tanisha Wright during the second half of Sunday's game. Gus Ruelas / Associated Press