WNBA 2011 – The July 5 Kristi Toliver Incident

The Los Angeles Sparks were on the road facing the Phoenix Mercury in a spirited July 5 match-up. In the 3rd quarter, Los Angeles guard Kristi Toliver had the ball and was being covered by Phoenix guard Ketia Swanier. To try to shake her, Toliver swung back her free arm and it connected with Swanier, injuring her. After several minutes lying on the court, the Phoenix guard was carried off the court. There were the typical fouls and technicals called. In the end, Phoenix enhanced its focus and soundly defeated the Sparks, who had lost theirs.

A few comments:

The clear-out maneuver Toliver used has been increasingly common in the WNBA. Sometimes it’s called, sometimes it isn’t. It was only a matter of time until someone got clocked by it. Despite her protestations, a flagrant 1 was absolutely the right call against Toliver. That’s why it exists. I imagine some will want the league to review the matter (if only to test the new president), but flagrant 1 was what it was.

I was a bit disappointed by the coaches. Phoenix assistant coach Bryant went overboard and deserved his technical foul. More troubling was Phoenix coach Gaines removing his mic and not quite shutting it off before a few words got broadcast that suggested he knew he’d be saying things he wouldn’t want on the record.

While I was a bit annoyed with Toliver’s glaring pout when she was benched for a stretch, that was more than paid back when, upon her re-entry into the game, she took the retribution of the Mercury. She held her tongue and accepted the schoolyard punishments—including a non-called shoulder from the Mercury’s Sanni that could easily have been given a technical had any of the officials opted to.

I thought some of the veterans on the Sparks sort of left Kristi blowing in the wind a bit. That’s just an impression. No one was talking her down. On court, they seemed perfectly fine to have Phoenix rough her up a bit. But what was worse: the veterans on the team lost their focus. Regardless of the incident, they simply stopped playing with fervor. That’s not on Kristi…that’s on them.

I think everyone was relieved that another incident like the one between Los Angeles and Detroit didn’t develop at the end. With any luck, most of it will be left on the court. Most of it.

The fact is that the meek don’t tend to last long in the WNBA…and neither do the overly belligerent. It can be a fine line—one that even the best in the game cross from time-to-time. Don’t believe me? Ask Taurasi. Or Lauren. Or Leslie. Or Thompson. Or…well, the list is long with future hall-of-famers. Toliver is in fine company.

It’ll blow over. KT might be hearing a boo or two for a while (esp. in Phoenix), but it’s part of the game. All Toliver and Los Angeles need to do to move beyond this is to leave it behind and set their gaze forward.

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