WNBA : A Celebration : Commemorating the Birth of a League

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9780061073021: WNBA : A Celebration : Commemorating the Birth of a League

For sports fans of all ages comes the ultimate collectible that commemorates the smash-hit debut year for the WNBA!

The WNBA's inaugural season was the most successful debut by a league in professional sports history. More than 50 million fans turned in to watch games on NBC, ESPN, and Lifetime. The league averaged nearly 10,000 fans per game after projecting only 4,500 before the season began. The success was nothing short of astounding, and now the ultimate collectible will commemorate that first unforgettable season.

For all those fans and more, the WNBA: A Celebration presents a must-have pictorial look at the league, from the first moment it was announced to the championship game. Here, readers will find a gallery of behind-the-scenes photos; stories about the players, league officials, and coaches describing the thrill of the most successful first-year league in the history of professional sports; and a compelling insider glimpse at the competitive aspects of the league. Packed with lively anecdotes and the fascinating history of the league, this is a book that will get every fan excites and ready for the WNBA's upcoming season.

 

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Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Connecting The Magic Between Players and Fans

A few moments before the Phoenix sun made its first appearance on the morning of May 10, 1997, Barbara Lewkowitz opened her eyes and prepared to meet her destiny. She rose from her bed, got dressed, went outside to get her copy of the Arizona Republic, returned inside, and immediately turned to the sports pages. Her eyes were quickly drawn to an announcement that the Phoenix Mercury was having open tryouts. Barbara Lewkowitz was fortytwo years old. Her highest level of basketball had been in rec leagues. Five months earlier, she had had major abdominal surgery But it didn't matter. The Women's National Basketball Assoc was about to begin. History was being made, and Barbara Lewkowitz wanted to be a part of it.

She was actually going to a professional basketball tryout camp.

She called her friend Jenny Apker and asked her to join the two women drove to America West Arena, filled out paperwork and walked to a practice court-the same one used by the I Suns-inside the arena. Mercury Coach Cheryl Miller showed up and Lewkowitz was in awe. When Miller was in high school, Lewkowitz had attended one of her games. Now Miller was in the Hall of Fame and speaking to the Mercury hopefuls. "Today is all about you, your goals and hopes and dreams," Miller said. "You're definitely part of history. Age means absolutely nothing. If you've got game in your fifties, bring it on."

The drills began. Lewkowitz brought her game, but that includedbouncing the ball off her toe during a drill. When fast being run, Lewkowitz lagged behind. Finally, she knew she was hurting the team, so she told one of the coaches that she was going to get out of the way so the real athletes could compete.

She left the court smiling.

I wanted to prove that I could bounce back from surgery," Lewkowitz said of her tryout. "Also, I wanted to do it for my mom. When my mom was growing up, she was a tremendous athlete. She had five letters in high school. But she grew up in a time when it was looked down upon for women to be athletes and to be as competitive as she was."

The WNBA's open tryouts provided a stage for dreamers throughout the country. The final two positions on each of the eight teams, active rosters were filled from the open tryouts. The interest was intense. The Charlotte Sting opened the doors to their tryouts, and 250 women rushed through. There were almost as many in Phoenix, Los Angeles, and New York. The talent level ranged from members of the 1996 Zaire Olympic team to Barbara Lewkowitz.

The significance of the open tryouts, however, was not so much about the romantics who participated. It was more about the connection forming between the WNBA and a diverse group of supporters who embraced the league so passionately that players, coaches, executives, and league officials never ceased to be amazed.

"We knew that fans were ready for the WNBA," said WNBA President Val Ackerman. "But we were surprised by the intensity of their enthusiasm. Actually, we were ecstatic."

Special moments in the first-year league were routine, generated by WNBA players who were elated to have the chance to play professionally in the United States, and appreciative of the support of enthusiastic fans. One of Ackerman's favorite memories occurred at a New York Liberty game when guard Rhonda Bladeswas kneeling next to the scorer's table, waiting to get in the game. Blades noticed two little girls sitting courtside, and as she was about to enterthe game, she gave one of the girls a high-five. "Then the girl showed her hand to her friend, as if she had been given this wonderful present and I guess she had," Ackerman said. "Ultimately, the fans found out they could reach out and touch the players, and they touched back."

That connection was felt before each game. The home team would line up on the court across from a group of children from the community. The two groups would walk toward each other, and the WNBA players would present game balls to the children. The ball exchange quickly became a WNBA tradition.

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