Sunday, August 16, 2009

Went to Sacramento and What Did We See?

So, as we said in our last post, we are going to Sacramento to watch the WNBA’s Sacramento Monarchs take on the LA Sparks. We finagled our way to free tickets because we are SO popular with the women’s basketball crowd. (So do us a favor, book a WNBA game after reading this! Show we are relevant!)

It is also “Women of Inspiration Night” and Misty May Treanor (MMT) is giving a speech and Q & A before the game, as well as appearing at half time. We can get in early, starting at 5:30 to see her. We are so there. MMT, for those of you who not in the know, is a two-time Olympic Gold Medal winner for beach volleyball, partnering both times with former Stanford Grad and local girl Kerri Walsh.

On the long drive to Sacramento (Why can’t the Bay Area get a WNBA team of their own?) we think of questions we want to ask MMT. R says, after all that training for 8 years to get the two gold medals, how do you injury yourself dancing? Dancing, of all things!? For those of you further not in the know, right after the second Olympic Gold Medal, MMT went on the popular TV show Dancing with the Stars (DWTS) and promptly tore her Achilles tendon (AT). MMT tore her AT on DWTS. But we digress.

We bear the long walk through the parking lot through the oppressive Sacramento heat (another reason to stay in the Bay Area) and hear a great women’s band warming up to warm up the crowd. It is a Saturday night, women of inspiration are going to talk, and the opponent is the LA Sparks, featuring Lisa Leslie, the former face of the WNBA and Candace Parker, the new face of the WNBA. This is also the LA Sparks’ last game of the season in Sacramento and therefore Lisa Leslie’s last game here as she is retiring this year. We hope it will be a good crowd.

So far it is a good crowd of young girls and their parents lining up to hear MMT. It is almost 95 degrees outside and we are standing in the heat that is how much we love MMT! We finally get let in to air-conditioned Arco Arena and immediately see Candace Parker warming up. We make a beeline courtside. On our way we meet Kimberly Knight, Director of Marketing & Business Operations, and also a former Stanford Grad. She tells us to enjoy the game but C is fixated on watching Candace Parker. In the few short minutes we have been there, she has not missed a shot. Kimberly says to put a hex on her, and C doesn’t get it, admiring how graceful she looks and forgets she is the enemy to anyone Sacramento. R explains it to her later.

We finally get courtside and close up to Candace. Two young boys are waiting there with pictures of Candace and a sharpie. R asks if they are here to get autographs of Candace and they say yes, and they printed pictures off the Internet for her to sign. Young boys, not just girls! And if that is not proof of the power Candace Parker has as the new face of the WNBA is, then we don’t… wait, we got stuck on this sentence, you know what we mean…. pulling in boys because she is a great athlete and role model is fantastic and not possible even 10 years ago.

Misty May comes out and instead of having the audience ask questions, the two co hosts ask her preplanned questions. The crowd loses focus a little bit. The Monarchs have come out to warm up and now the rest of the LA Sparks are at the other end warming up. Most are watching Candace Parker. The acoustics are bad, it is hard to hear, and not intimate or inviting at all. We find out she needs ayear to rehab from her injured AT from DWTS and is has just graduated to being able to walk for exercise. That does sound like a bad injury. One thing C hears Misty say that when training and it’s raining out, don’t skip it, go out in the rain ands the elements and train. Then think about your opponent who stayed home and you are now one day ahead of them. It must take a lot of discipline and training to be the best at your sport, and get to number one, but also to keep up that intensity for eight years is amazing. So hear that, young girls, get up out of bed and train, or practice, practice, practice!

You can see some highlights here, and even the cameraman loses focus and keeps zooming in on Candace Parker. Whoops, sorry, got caught up in looking at all the great highlights of MMT and Kerri Walsh. Back to the Monarchs and Women of Inspiration Night.

Misty gets up to leave and R jumps up and gets close to get a picture with her fancy phone. Others want to do the same and at first MMT starts to pose for pictures and then the media handlers tell everyone she has to go. Little girls look disappointed and moms look MAD. Uh oh. They announce she will be here after the game to give autographs. Most moms look appeased, but suspicious.

Afterward C and R meet with Rebecca Brutlag, manger of media relations for the Monarchs. We are trying to set up a way for our blog to get credentialed and then have us sit on the media row and blog live. She is very interested and asks us when we can do it. We tell her we want to blog for the Minnesota Lynx game, so secretly we can see Candice Wiggins, former Stanford Grad and C’s all-time favorite player. She thinks it is a good idea and agrees. Can’t wait for the game in September! And we are now members of the press, hee hee, look out everyone!

Rebecca is very courteous and professional. So far everyone we have met surrounding the Monarchs have been a class act. We do tell her that the audience for MMT did not get to ask questions or get autographs and a lot of people were disappointed. She said that is good feedback to know and unfortunately, Misty had to be at a prior engagement and had limited time for the Q & A, so they thought they would ask the prepared questions and they tried to think of ones most people would want answered. And they did, they hit all the major ones, but by the audience not being involved, they lost them. She saw our point and said she would rethink next time. Wow, we got to give constructive feedback without sounding like whiners and we actually got to talk to someone in the organization who might be in a position to do something. The trip up from the Bay Area is worth it just for that!

Then we head to the Skyline restaurant inside the Arena to eat an incredible gourmet buffet meal. When offered the choice of bananas foster or vanilla ice cream topped with a brownie we take one each. Wait, I mean R got the ice cream and C got the bananas and they were both incredible. Stuffed, we waddle down to our seats just in time for the pregame introductions…and discover our seats are practically courtside to the opponent’s bench. The opponents are in this case Lisa Leslie and Candace Parker. Oh darn.

For those of you keeping score at home, so far the score is: two free thunder sticks, one free purple towel with the Monarch’s logo, and the free courtside seats. Yes, C and R are ALL about the free stuff. Oh, don’t know what thunder sticks are? Try plastic oblong Mylar balloons you blow up and then bang together so it makes this crashing noise (and hit your seatmate with). They are also shiny and the fans on the ends of the arena wave them when the opponents are shooting free throws.

While we were watching the Sparks warm up, R liked how “hands on” assistant coach Marianne Stanley was. She spent time talking to them one-on-one and was very relationship oriented. Michael is going to leave the WNBA to coach at USC and Marianne will take over as head coach. Did you know Stanley was a co-head coach at Stanford? We didn’t either, or else we forgot. So, during the 1995-96 season, Stanley was co-coach with Amy Tucker at Stanford. They both earned UPI national and Pac-10 Co-Coach of the Year honors that year, and coached Stanford to a 29-3 record during Tara VanDerveer's one-year absence to coach the U.S. Olympic team. While coaching at USC, she sued them for sex discrimination and equal pay for equal work and retaliatory discharge. She does not back down from a fight and is a trailblazer. We wish her much success with the Sparks.

Hey, look there’s Courtney Paris. We are ringside watching the Sacramento Monarchs warm up minutes before the game. Rebekkah Brunson jumps high and almost dunks. These women are so strong and powerful. This is going to be fun.

After the prerequisite light show and big build up for announcing the players, it’s time for tip off. C bets Lisa Leslie will jump. R says no, Candace Parker will, Lisa has bad knees. Sure enough Candace lines up to tip it off, but Rebekkah Brunson out jumps her. She tips it backwards but the long arms of Lisa Leslie steal the ball! Anyone else would not have been able to steal that ball, except your tallest player, who normally would be jumping. I wonder if they drew it up that way on the whiteboard?

Monarchs come out in the first quarter intense. Monarchs play tenacious defense. They are on a mission. LA is having trouble scoring.

Candace Parker blocks Sacramento’s shot.

Geez, that takes the air out of Sacramento’s inside game. Nicole Powell (former Stanford) hits a three and we can sit down now, as the rule states everyone has to stay on their feet until the Monarch’s make their fist basket, and everyone who knows C, knows a rule is a rule. We sit.

Monarchs are getting lots of steals. They pick on the LA Sparks guard. She gets yanked for little Shannon Bobbit. Shannon played with Candace Parker at Tennessee and won national championships with her. And she IS little, only 5’2. She protects the ball better and moves it up the court faster. She also puts in a ton of effort on defense. And effort will win your way in to C and R’s hearts.

Parker does a two-hand stuff of the Monarchs.

At the end of the quarter, they show a MMT video with highlights of Olympic Glory. Way better than the talk. R jumps up and gets a photo of Lisa Leslie in the huddle without getting arrested or thrown out by the many attendants.

The game starts back up and it really is amazing. These women are well trained in the fundamentals of their sport and put out great effort and intensity. Shannon Bobbitt gets kicked in the face going after a loose ball and has to come out. The game is very physical and the refs are not calling anything. It is the most entertaining and empowering thing we have seen in along time and even more inspirational than the talk we saw early, no offense to MMT.

Courtney Paris (former Bay Area Gilr) comes in for the Monarchs and Candace Parker is guarding her. Candace steals a pass to her. Candace continues to harass and dominate Courtney the short time she is in. Courtney needs to get in better playing shape to hang with these WNBA All-Stars.

The crazy looking Sacramento mascot, Monty we think his name is, walks around and get in our way of the game. What kind of mascot can you have for a “Monarch” anyway? A king? A queen? Or this hairy gray dragon-hippopotamus thingie now blocking our view of this most excellent game. A young fan jumps up and says, “Monty, pose for a picture with me”. They stand right in front of our seats! C is rocking from one side of her seat to another to see around them, looking like a tennis game spectator on steroids. The young fan is holding her camera or phone out in front of her to take a self-portrait but the lens is not wide enough to get both of them. She looks directly at C and says, “Excuse me, will you take our picture?”

Now, people ask C all the time to take their picture. Perhaps she looks trustworthy. She does have a degree in photography, although you wouldn’t know it to look at her. Once, at the Seattle Space Needle in Seattle, even though her own camera was stolen while she changed her baby’s diaper, she patiently helped a tourist family unwind and reload their film (in the days before digital cameras) She has even seen people getting ready to make a photo-faux-pas and even offered her services whether help was wanted or not. But she has never, ever, turned down a request to help someone take a photo.

C, without taking her eyes off Candace Parker, announces, “I am trying to watch this game and you are in my way,” and then caranes her neck around them. That is how R knows this is a special game, because C never, ever forgoes a request for help. The fan takes another self photo and more fans jump up around C and R for a photo and Monty, perhaps sensing C’s single-mindedness attempt to see the game quickly gets the heck out of there.

It is almost half time and one of the Monarch players comes on the jumbo-tron advertising…. lipstick! She even shows us how to expertly apply it. C and R are horrified. The jumbo tron says Mary Kay Cosmetic’s representatives are in the lobby right now ready to take you order. C and R look at each other dumb-founded. The Monarchs player says for every tube of lipstick sold a portion will go to help end domestic violence. Now C and R are conflicted. That’s good, they guess. Then the music starts up and the free squad is giving out free…. something. C and R must have it. They yell and scream and stomp their feet. The guy in the red shirt gives us the freebie. It is a free sample of moisturizer from Mary Kay. C is disappointed and disgusted. R tears open the packet and applies the moisturizer to her face and neck. C gives her the evil eye and R says, “I can’t help it, it is so dry in here.”

It is half time and C and R go walk around the arena for exercise after that fattening meal. C sees necklace beads. “Are the free?” she asks. “Free for a dollar donation.” Comes the reply. A dollar later and C now has red beads, to remind her of Stanford.

For those of you keeping score at home, so far the score is: two free thunder sticks, one free purple towel with the Monarch’s logo, free courtside seats, free moisturizer, and free-for-a-dollar beads.

We see the Mary Kay Cosmetics representatives and they say register to win a free gift basket. R says she hates to give out her email and phone number. C whispers, “don’t put your email and give a fake phone number.”

“Right,” R whispers back, while scribbling her fake identity. C puts R’s cell phone number just in case she wins. She does like the free stuff!

At the start of the second half, Sacramento looks even more lackluster after the first quarter burst of intensity on defense. They cannot score or even get the ball inside due to the height and athleticism of LA. Sacramento is losing.

However, Rebekkah Brunson has not given up. She fights for every rebound and loose ball. At one point she flies in for a rebound, grabs it and three Sparks players try to dislodge the ball. She shakes them off like a terrier keeping possession of his tennis ball.

Now everyone on the court is getting mad and upset. Lisa Leslie is beating up Nicole Powell inside. Candace Parker is playing point to protect the ball. Sacramento’s Demya Walker, who is similarly built like Rebekkah Brunson, also decides to go for every ball. They get the defensive rebounds, but LA keeps them out on offense. These two Sacramento players are putting out such intensity, and yet the other three Monarchs players don’t seem to be matching it. And no one from Sacramento can score from the inside and Nicole Powell now can’t hit her threes. Plus LA can’t miss. They end up shooting something like 56% from the field. Sacramento gets down by as much as 20 at one point.

At the end of the third quarter the music starts up and the free squad comes out throwing… light up super balls. C’s eyes get big. She has a collection of super balls. She must have this freebie. Super balls are flying in the air. None are coming to her. One bounces down from somewhere in the rafters and rolls past their seats all the way down to the LA bench. C spies it and runs after it. Several attendants eye her and make a move to stop her but realize she is a woman on a mission… to get a super ball and not bother the LA players. They watch her grab the ball and go back to her seat and the crisis is adverted and now C has another freebie. She is so happy she doesn’t even get upset when the next two freebies, a T-Shirt and a coupon for chicken wings, don’t go their way.

For those of you keeping score at home, so far the score is: two free thunder sticks, one free purple towel with the Monarch’s logo, free courtside seats, free moisturizer, free-for-a-dollar beads, and a free light up super ball. Lost are a t-shirt and coupon for chicken wings. Not a bad haul.

The Winner: everyone who saw this game, because although the hometown team lost, it was so entertaining and such a display of female power and athleticism. C and R feel truly fortunate.

After the game, we see Candace Parker start talking to someone in the crowd. She mimics going to sleep. All eyes on this end are on her. She is talking, of course, to her husband Shelden Williams of the Minnesota Timberwolves, and unknown relative holding HER BABY. C and R get a closer look and we get to see her little girl. Cute, cute, cute. Candace pours her heart out on the court and then goes right to her little girl. It brings a tear to the eye….

C and R get in the car for the long haul back to the Bay Area. They just had the best day with women’s sports.

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