When the news came out that the Detroit Shock was leaving town and relocating to Tulsa, Okla., I was shocked. Yeah I knew that attendance was an issue, but I held out hope that they would find a way to work it out.
After all, the lady basketballers are one of the most successful sports franchise in recent Detroit history.
The Shock won three WNBA championships in a dozen years and played in another. In all, they went to four WNBA Finals.
The good thing is that a friend of mine, former Arkansas coach Nolan Richardson, who won a NCAA Men’s basketball title, is back in coaching as he was named the new coach and general manager by the team’s new ownership. The status of Rick Mahorn, who concluded the season as the Shock’s coach, is uncertain.
The Shock will play in the 18,000-seat BOK Center.
I really like women’s basketball and I will miss the ladies. Goodbye, all-stars Deanna Nolan, Cheryl Ford and Olympian Katie Smith. So long Sixth Woman of the Year Plenette Pierson and former All-Rookie team selection Kara Braxton.
Good luck to former Pistons’ Bad Boy Bill Laimbeer, who became the face of the league when he took over as head coach in 2002, leading them to a worst-to-first scenario in 2003 to win the league championship.
The Shock under Laimbeer became the Cinderella story of the WNBA, going from a record 23 losses in 2002 to a record 25 wins in 2003. The team landed in the WNBA championship, where they beat two-time champs the Los Angeles Sparks before a record crowd of 22,076 at The Palace.
Laimbeer and his lady all-stars advanced to the WNBA Finals three straight years (2006 through 2008), winning championships in 2006 and 2008. I guess he saw the writing on the wall as he resigned three games into the 2009 season to pursue a job in the NBA. He’s now an assistant coach with the Minnesota Timberwolves. Mahorn took over and guided them to an 18-16 record. They advanced to the conference finals, losing to Indiana in three games.
I’ll never forget the 2006 title win at Joe Louis Arena before close to 20,000. That was an exciting and loud arena. The Detroit fans of women’s basketball showed up in force and showed all that they could support the sport.
I guess the ladies have always been treated as second-class sports citizens. They could not even celebrate their other titles on their home floor because of scheduling conflicts, Mariah Carey (2006) and Disney on Ice (2008). They had to play at Eastern Michigan University’s Convocation Center in 2008.
I blame some of the problem on the fact the sports editors and other sports mediums simply did not give the ladies the same coverage and attention they give men’s basketball, both college and professional. Many times I could not find a box score or even a game story.
If the Shock made a mistake it was not playing at least half its games at Joe Louis Arena or Cobo Hall. The city is a hotbed for women’s basketball and too many of its fans in the state’s largest city simply could not make the long trip to Auburn Hills.
I remember Ford telling me after their title win that she and some of the other ladies would like to play a few games in the city every year. She said she knows they have a strong fan base in the city.
Well, it never happened. The powers that be placed all its apples in The Palace and never branched out beyond Auburn Hills. They never saw the value of playing in the city. Too bad.
No matter, the Shock proved themselves to be a class group of ladies and real winners.
Of course, men dominate the sports pages, talk radio and the editorial desks. They simply will not accept women’s sports as being worthy of their efforts and sports pages.
The Shock became the second former champion in as many years to either fold or move. The Houston Comets, who won the WNBA title the first four years of the league (1997-2000), folded after the 2008 season. Only five of the 10 teams remain from the Shock’s first year — Phoenix, Los Angeles, Sacramento, New York and Washington.
Goodbye and good luck!
Leland Stein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.