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Around the Web: Beyond "The Headbutt", WNBA Finals Add a Third Memorable Episode

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It is almost inevitable that every now and then, a problematic call from a referee will cast a dark cloud over the outcome of a playoff game, even outside the WNBA.

As a Bay Area sports fan, the idiotic "Tuck Rule" that killed the Oakland Raiders' playoff run comes to mind and I'm pretty sure Phoenix Stan can think of a call or two from the Phoenix Suns past that still gets his blood boiling.

So it would be no surprise if Game 3 of the 2009 WNBA Finals is defined by "The Headbutt" in Phoenix Mercury fan-lore.

It's Fever by a head-butt | IndyStar.com | The Indianapolis Star
Phoenix guard Diana Taurasi, the league's Most Valuable Player, had tied the score at 75 on a driving layup with 5:10 to play. After tumbling to the floor, she climbed to her feet and headed up court, head lowered. Standing in her path was Indiana's Katie Douglas. Taurasi's head struck Douglas' mid-section, and Douglas doubled over. The official's whistle blew. A technical was called. Indiana's Tamika Catchings made the penalty free throw, perhaps the difference in an 86-85 contest. Taurasi was dumbfounded. "I got up and started running down the court. She was running toward me," she said. "I hit her in the stomach with my head. So obviously I could see through my forehead. "And that's where we lose our point?"

However, what may end up being more important about this series for any WNBA fan is that it is radically shifting the perspective of people who have either dismissed or ignored the WNBA in the past. A marker of the significance of the game is seeing longtime sports journalists commenting on where Game 3 stands not in WNBA history, but in Indianapolis sports history.

Bob Kravitz: Kravitz: Sunday of great moments | IndyStar.com | The Indianapolis Star
So how was your sports Sunday? There have been some memorable doubleheaders around these parts through the years, like the Indianapolis 500 followed by Indiana Pacers home playoff games. This was another double-dip to etch into the memory. It featured another ho-hum dose of brilliance from Peyton Manning in front of a sellout crowd at Lucas Oil Stadium and a 76-second-long 10-point outburst by the Fever's Briann "Not Quite Reggie'' January that moved Indiana past the Phoenix LifeLocks in Game 3 of the WNBA Finals before another sellout crowd at Conseco Fieldhouse.

Most important -- beyond the touchy feeliness of creating good memories -- is that the WNBA Finals are a hot seller, great news for a league often derided for not being able to draw fans willing to open the wallets for women's basketball.

Fever Set Attendance Record In Finals Run - Indiana News Story - WRTV Indianapolis
For a playoff game, it's the first full arena sellout and certainly the first time we've had a standing room only situation." said Indiana Fever General Manager and COO Kelly Krauskopf. With lines at every box office window 10 to 20 people deep on Sunday, Krauskopf expects another standing room only crowd for game four. This is the second year in a row that Fever attendance has increased. Faithful fans believe the Fever's future looks promising, even though the team has lost money since it began. "There's a lot of momentum behind the league," Klauskopf said. "We're selling a good amount of tickets for 2010 already. It's hard to deny progress, and I think that's what we're doing is we're making progress."

In fact, the attendance was so good, that Ticketmaster even started selling tickets at the media table, as reported by first-time WNBA observer Travis David, who described the game as " yet another memorable moment in my journalism career."

Greene County Daily World: Blog: WNBA Finals proves to be just as exciting as NBA games
Just as I was unpacking my laptop out of my bag and set to get everything organized, an older couple approaches us with tickets saying "you need to move out of our seats". I know most of you will find this hard to believe, but I kindly replied, this was a media table, pointed to the tags on the table and showed them it matched my media pass. The gentleman was not taking no for an answer and immediately went and found another usher. Knowing this was a table for media I proceeded to get my belongings set up, when I received another peck on the shoulder and heard the words "YOU NEED TO GET OUT", bellowed from an older gentleman -- the usher this time. The man did not ask us to move, but rather rudely and unprofessional told us we could not sit there. Instead of causing an even bigger scene, Mike and I went and got a supervisor to handle the situation. There was a mix-up in the ticket sales, and ticketmaster sold OUR seats. A very friendly supervisor of seating named Ashley finally convinced the couple to make room for Mike and I at the table -- they declined different seats -- and the game was now underway.

People are watching in increasing numbers outside the arena as well.

ESPN2’s WNBA Finals Audience Up 55 Percent Through Two Games | Sports Media News
ESPN2’s WNBA Finals Audience Up 55 Percent Through Two Games Through Game 2 of the 2009 WNBA Finals, ESPN2's telecasts are averaging 531,000 viewers

Obviously, NBA legend and Indiana native Larry Bird was invested in the Fever before the WNBA Finals, but his words still carry almost more weight than anyone as someone who has played, coached, and managed a franchise in the NBA.

Larry Bird: 'WNBA Players are the Best Talent in the World' | North Station Sports
Larry Bird was interviewed last night at game three of the WNBA Finals in Indiana. The man who, in the 1984 NBA Finals, accused his teammates of "playing like a bunch of women" to motivate them to get back into the series against LA, has obviously had a change of heart about women playing basketball. Bird purchased 9000 tickets to the WNBA Finals game where his home team Fever were playing against the Phoenix Mercury in Indiana. The notoriously cheap Bird gave the 9000 tickets to fans of the Indiana Fever. When asked what Larry likes about the way the women play the game, he said: "They’re as good as anyone in the world. They’re are the best talent in the world. They come to play every night. They’re very well coached. They work hard in practice" Bird purchased 9000 tickets to the WNBA Finals game where his home team Fever were playing against the Phoenix Mercury in Indiana. The notoriously cheap Bird gave the 9000 tickets to fans of the Indiana Fever.

If Larry Bird is impressed, then so am I, lackwit haters be damned.

For the Mercury -- and perhaps their fans -- Game 3 is probably a game they would rather forget.

Mercury falls in Game 3
This is not how the WNBA Finals are suppose to go for the Mercury. They don't throw away second-half leads. They don't miss open shots. They don't buckle at the end of games. And as the team with the best record in the league, they didn't expect to be on the brink of losing this series.

For the Fever, the story of this season has been and continues to be the supporting cast.

Game 3 decided by more edge-of-your-seat basketball - ESPN
Hoffman, who has had an outstanding Finals with 61 points in the three games, had her feet in an ice bucket and more ice taped onto her right shoulder in the Fever's locker room. Her shoulder popped out during the game, but then popped back in. She says she's double-jointed, and it has happened before. "It's fine. It will hurt tomorrow, but one more game is what we're hoping for," said Hoffman, who hit the jumper with 57 seconds left that proved to be the game winner. "To me this is a great series; we're both playing great basketball. It's amazing for the league … some people who are first-time fans are now addicted to it."

If the Fever end up winning the Finals, Indianapolis Star writer David Woods suggests that forward Ebony Hoffman is a likely MVP candidate.

Fever running high on brink of championship | IndyStar.com | The Indianapolis Star
So far, Hoffman is a front-runner for MVP of the WNBA Finals -- especially if the Indiana Fever claim their first championship. Hoffman, after popping her injured shoulder back into place, made the key plays on offense and defense in the final minute. She led the Fever past the Mercury 86-85 Sunday before an announced sellout of 18,165 at Conseco Fieldhouse. The Fever lead the best-of-five series 2-1 and could wrap it up in Wednesday's Game 4. Hoffman scored 18 points on 6-of-7 shooting, including the game's final two points. It was a long two-pointer -- it was first ruled a 3 -- and put the Fever ahead 86-85 with 57 seconds left.

Meanwhile, people are calling for a name change for guard Briann January.

January is having an October to remember | IndyStar.com | The Indianapolis Star
Maybe she should change her name. Not Miss January. Miss October. January scored 10 points in the final 76 seconds of the third quarter, helping the Fever turn a seven-point deficit into a three-point lead. The rookie finished with 17 points -- equaling a career high -- and helped the Fever beat the Phoenix Mercury 86-85 Sunday at Conseco Fieldhouse in Game 3 of the WNBA Finals.

It's enough to almost beg the league to start extending these series to 7 -- or 21 -- games. However, the league has no plans to do so as of yet.

President Donna Orender to remain with WNBA - ESPN
There is no long-range thought for now of going to best-of-five and best-of-seven series for the postseason in large part because it's hard enough to fit in the WNBA schedule into the global basketball calendar. Orender likes this year's schedule of starting the first week of June and finishing the first week of October. But next year, with the World Championship taking place Sept. 23-Oct. 3 in the Czech Republic, the WNBA will have to start and end earlier.

Perhaps all of this excitement around this season and this playoffs is some small part of what inspired Donna Orender to stick around -- the league is starting to approach the vision it set out to achieve.

Interesting day in Indy " Mechelle Voepel
Whatever you think of Orender, the sincerity of her belief that the WNBA is about making positive changes in people’s lives is very real. Yes, the league is also about trying to make money; it’s a business. But the "vision" of the WNBA, its commitment to contributing in a meaningful way to women’s lives and making basketball more inclusive no matter what your age, gender, race or nationality _ that’s all part of what drives Orender, too.