Sparks Watch Day 27: "The home team"

Justin Sullivan

The Sparks might find a new home, or keep their old one - but will they ever be a home team?

Sparks Watch is coming almost to a full month after we all first heard the news that the ownership of the Los Angeles Sparks had walked away from the club. We all know that the story has to come to an end soon, and there are only a limited number of ways the story can end. Any way the story ends, it's going to be miserable for someone. Somebody's going to be without a team. Either Los Angeles, San Francisco - or both cities if it comes to the worst.

An article I read called by Eric Curren called "Cut off from society, sports become junk" gives me new appreciation for what the WNBA is trying to do. It seems that a lot of news we get from the WNBA is very fluffy - this team or this player attended this local charity event. There isn't a lot of to be learned from such events, no new insight into players or the league, and these articles tend to be discounted by the casual reader.

Curren writes about the increasing disconnect between sports and the community. "It used to matter that the Dodgers came from Brooklyn and that hockey was for Canadians." But these days, with a national market and players that have few roots in their local community means that "today's Dodgers get no special sauce from playing in LA rather than some other town...a pro sports franchise has become as local as a Burger King franchise." Look at the NHL - you have hockey teams in cities that never had a hockey culture (and in the case of some, probably never will).

If you think about it, this is very true of the WNBA. We tend to knock "our girls syndrome" at Swish Appeal, but at least those who care more about players when they're in college rather than the pros have a point. These players have established their homes at their colleges, in many cases they've gone to high schools in the same state. The fans at Tennessee or Connecticut have shared the successes and mourned the failures of "their girls" and they can be forgiven for being possessive. Furthermore - unlike other pro sports - it seems that the connection between a player and her institute of higher learning is much stronger in women's basketball than almost anywhere else.

Take a look at the Los Angeles Sparks. How many of the players there have a real connection to Los Angeles, or even California?

Farhiya Abdi was born in Sweden after her parents emigrated from Somalia. She has played in Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Sweden.

Alana Beard played basketball in Shreveport, Louisiana and went to Duke.

Marissa Coleman was born in Oregon, played her high school basketball in Washington, DC and went to Maryland.

Lindsey Harding was born in Alabama, grew up in Houston, Texas and played for Duke.

Jantel Lavender was born in Cleveland, Ohio. She played her high school basketball in Ohio and attended Ohio State. If the Cleveland Rockers were still around, she'd be great in a Rockers uniform.

A'dia Mathies grew up in Louisville, went to high school in Kentucky and graduated from Kentucky. If there was a WNBA team in Kentucky, she'd be a home town girl.

Jenna O'Hea is a native Australian who has played basketball for professional Australian teams.

Candace Parker was born in Missouri and grew up in Illinois. She went to school at Tennessee. (Her spouse, Shelden Williams, did play for Sacramento for a couple of years.)

Kristi Toliver went to high school in Harrisonburg, Virginia, which is located in the Shenandoah Valley, and about a two hour drive from Washington, DC. She went to the University of Maryland.

There are exceptions, however. Nneka Ogwumike was born in Texas and played high school ball in Texas. However, she went to Stanford University and was a great player there. As her sister also plays at Stanford, that strengthens Ogwumike's roots in the Bay Area and, by extension, to California.

Ebony Hoffman might be the closest the Sparks can get to a native Los Angeleno. She was born in Los Angeles, California. She played her high school basketball in California and attended the University of Southern California.

But even with such strong local ties, WNBA players probably spend less time in their designated cities that any other sport. The WNBA season is short, and from financial necessity players have to spend most of their time overseas. An argument could be made that overseas teams - through the European club system - are much more representative of their communities than any WNBA team, even teams like Ekaterinburg with multiple American players.

Do WNBA players feel a connection to their local cities? I'm sure if you asked Angel McCoughtry, she'd tell you that she loves Atlanta, but I suspect she has a strong connection to her hometown of Baltimore.

How much of the Los Angeles Sparks really represented Los Angeles? The fans, definitely. But the players? Is Los Angeles home, or it is just another town? Is there a real loss in leaving Los Angeles, or would a hypothetical move to San Francisco be not much more than exchanging one set of clothes for another?

Clearly, the WNBA and the local franchises are doing their best to put down roots in their community, to not just be the city's WNBA team but to be the local women's pro team. Take the Atlanta Dream, for example. They are involved in the Atlanta community. Both of the owners have roots in the area. Kelly Loeffler almost ran for the US Senate as a Republican from Georgia, and Mary Brock's philanthropy in Atlanta is well-known. Looking at WNBA websites, you can tell that one of the goals of the WNBA is for each team not to just get local fans, but to be local institutions. The WNBA wants to be a league where the city name on the uniform means more than the team nickname.

How this is going to happen, given the restraints under which the WNBA labors, remains to be seen. They are barely covered by the media in their own hometowns. Perhaps something like the old NBA Territorial Draft picks would help.

If the future Sparks end up in San Francisco - the most likely of the three outcomes - it remains to be seen whether or not the Sparks will become not just a team based in San Francisco, but a team that San Francisco can take to its heart. If Joe Lacob can make that happen, he'll be miles ahead of other teams not just in the WNBA, but in professional sports.

And the arbitrary deadline for the Warriors to buy the Sparks is at T MINUS FIVE DAYS....

Is your WNBA team a hometown team, or has it gotten lost in the shuffle? Let us know in the comments below.

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