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Bright Sparks: Los Angeles back in the spotlight

After years of playing second fiddle to teams like the Phoenix Mercury and Minnesota Lynx, the Los Angeles Sparks have reclaimed their spot as the top team in the WNBA.

WNBA: Los Angeles Sparks at Minnesota Lynx Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

14 seasons, 530 games, and eight coaches.

After years of futility, turmoil and instability through the entire organization, the Los Angeles Sparks can finally claim that the journey was worth it.

If you’re reading this, this is not a typo. The Los Angeles Sparks are your 2016 WNBA champions.

If it makes you feel better, Candace Parker, the WNBA Finals MVP, couldn’t believe it either.

“I mean, I had a moment with Magic Johnson (NBA Hall of Famer and part-owner of the Sparks) after the game where I was like, you did this five times?” Parker said. “Like you felt this feeling five times? This is how it is? And I mean, the journey is difficult, but once you get here and you feel this feeling, it’s like you want to do it again.”

For Parker, this season was an emotional one. Earlier in the year, it was announced that she did not make the final roster for the 2016 USA Women’s Olympic basketball team. Just weeks after that, Pat Summitt, Parker’s college coach at the University of Tennessee and Hall of Famer, passed away after a long battle with dementia. Parker shouted after the game that this title was for Pat.

“Well, I think it’s ironic - well, not ironic,” Parker said. “I think Coach (Brian Agler) has been telling me this all year, that this series was really about defense and finishing plays rebounding, and I heard that for four years at Tennessee.”

For teammate Chelsea Gray, who just finished her first year with the Sparks, she was excited for Parker and the other veterans on the team.

“We did it,” Gray exclaimed. “People on this team deserve this. People that’s been here for years. AB [Alana Beard] has been in the league for 13 years, Candace[Parker], Kristi [Toliver] and Jantel [Lavender], they’ve been in the league for five years plus and they deserve every bit of this. I’m really happy for this.”

Even the losing team, the Minnesota Lynx, gave credit to the Sparks for the hard-fought series. Minnesota center Sylvia Fowles, the 2015 Finals MVP, spoke of the resilience of the champions.

“I think we answered L.A.’s calls. They answered our calls back,” Fowles said. “Unfortunately, the game was a one possession game. In a situation like that, you should never be up by one possession with a team like Los Angeles. You have to give them credit for coming out and playing today.”

Even Minnesota head coach Cheryl Reeve, despite being upset over the officiating toward the end of the game, refused to take the shine off L.A.’s victory.

“It takes hustle plays to win championships on the road, and they made hustle plays,” Reeve said. “They deserve winning. They did something today that were necessary to put them over the top.”

Over the years, the Sparks have had their fair share of chances to win their third championship, but always fell short. There was the 2003 WNBA Finals, when they lost the decisive Game 3 to the Detroit Shock. Then the ten conference semifinals and four conference finals trips, where they won 11 combined games...but none of them resulting in a trip to the one series that matters.

And now, after years of being the bridesmaid, the Los Angeles Sparks have the prestigious honor of being the bride.