I’ve been a fan of the WNBA’s Penny Taylor since her days with the now-defunct Cleveland Rockers. Her contribution to the Phoenix Mercury winning the 2007 championship cannot be understated. And yet, during the Olympics coverage, she engenders less than fannish feeling from me. In spite of her considerable talent, she’s let me down…twice.
Penny Taylor was a late arrival to the Mercury in 2006…the year that Phoenix just missed getting into the playoffs. While they did win by scoring Cappie Pondexter in the following draft, the fact is that she let her team down. And then this year…not only did she opt not to arrive in Phoenix for the 2/3rds of a season leading up to the Olympics, but after the Games she will not return to the team to try and help them to the playoffs. Her complaints about year-round basketball, while well-founded for us mere mortals, rings somewhat hollow in the face of some many Americans not only playing year-round, but having only a week’s worth of practice before showing up for the Olympics. While I want her back on the team, the lack of loyalty rankles.
Not so with Lauren Jackson. For two Olympic cycles, now, she’s opted to stay in the US and play WNBA basketball against the best players in the world. She travels back to Australia to be with her team when necessary—which, while a bit of a disruption for her team, is a perfectly reasonable thing to do.
I don’t want to lay this all on the players. The National Teams have a great deal of culpability in this as well. They often tell players that if they don’t commit to the National Team (i.e. play in the WNBA), then they won’t be allowed on the team. A player of the stature of Lauren Jackson can opt out because the Opals aren’t going to spite themselves by banning arguably the best player in the world. But for two Olympics cycles the Aussies (and Russians and Brazilians) have all but yanked their players from the WNBA, making a shambles of teams trying to fill hard-to-fill holes in their line-ups.
If for no other reason, I’m really pulling for the USA to make a statement on their way to winning gold. That it’s not the team training camps, it’s not the disruptions visited on the very league that is making their players contenders, but the caliber of day-in day-out play that makes a champion. If the USA can bring in year-round players, yanked from the middle of a league’s season, give them about of week of practice, and then go on to victory…well, I can’t think of any more emphatic statement than that.
No…I’m not bitter. Why do you ask?