Womhoops Guru

Mel Greenberg covered college and professional women’s basketball for the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he worked for 40 plus years. Greenberg pioneered national coverage of the game, including the original Top 25 women's college poll. His knowledge has earned him nicknames such as "The Guru" and "The Godfather," as well as induction into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

WNBA: Staley's Career Extended in Comets' Win

Guru's Note:

The following is the uncut original filed story to The Inquirer that had to be trimmed for space. This provides some detail on the regular season finish and also of the postgame ceremony that honored Dawn Staley upon her retirement when the Houston Comets' season ends.

-- Mel


By Mel Greenberg
INQUIRER STAFF WRITER

HOUSTON_ Dawn Staley was given so many different framed uniformed jerseys Saturday to mark her retirement from the WNBA, the prolific point guard may have to rent museum space in her native Philadelphia.

“Actually, I was hoping they’d give me a house or an RV,” Staley laughed at the Toyota Center where farewell ceremonies marking her storied career were hosted by the Houston Comets after a playoff-clinching 89-72 victory over the Seattle Storm.

“For me, I’m a pretty calm person when it comes to that,” she said of her emotions attached to the ceremony. “But just to see my history unfold in front of me, it’s really a beautiful thing. Sometimes as a player, you don’t reflect. I had an opportunity to reflect on just different eras of my life – really enjoyable ones.

“I had a lot of wins, but more important, it’s the people I identify with and makes the moment special.”

It may have been time to say farewell, but the Comets’ triumph meant the real goodbye has been put on hold for at least two more games.

After failing three straight times to clinch the last playoff berth in the Western Conference, the Comets easily got the job done yesterday.

“We’re still standing,” Staley exclaimed to the crowd of 9,878, during her ceremonies, in noting the access to the postseason.

Asked what was more enjoyable, the triumph or the ceremonies, Staley quickly replied, “Oh, wins, always wins. Wins are a lot more fun than having to speak to a lot of people.”

The victory put Houston into a third-place tie with Seattle, but the Comets will get the third seed in the West after taking the season series over the Storm.

Staley’s next hurdle in a bid for a WNBA title will begin here Thursday night when Houston opens a best-of-three first-round series against the defending champion Seattle Monarchs.

Seattle will host the top-seeded Los Angeles Sparks in the other Western Conference series.

Houston’s victory eliminated the Phoenix Mercury. Had the Comets lost, they would have needed the San Antonio Silver Stars to beat the Mercury Saturday night -- Phoenix won -- or Sacramento to help things out in Sunday night’s game when the WNBA regular season concludes.

“Can you imagine what it would have been like being around me for two days watching those Phoenix games,” Houston coach Van Chancellor said. “We’re still at the same table (the playoffs) but the meal tastes a lot better coming through the front door.”

Chancellor coached Staley on the USA Olympic gold medalist squad in Athens, Greece. Late last season, he triggered a deal with the Charlotte Sting to bring Staley to Houston in an effort that might get her an elusive WNBA title before unlacing her sneakers for good. The Comets won the first four WNBA titles after the league began in the summer of 1997.

“I’m just a baby in this organization,” Staley said. “But they know how to throw a party and I hope to repay them by helping them to throw one more.”

In Saturday’s game, Tina Thompson led Houston with 31 points after her 37-point performance here Thursday night in the 111-110 loss to Phoenix in triple overtime.

Betty Lennox led Seattle with 16 points. All-Star Lauren Jackson was sidelined for the storm because of suffering with plantar fasciitis on her left foot.

“I don’t think we were going to be denied today,” Staley said when asked of Jackson’s absence made a difference. “We knew exactly what was at stake.”

Staley, who also coaches Temple, helped Houston separate itself from Seattle early with a three-pointer. She finished with five points and seven assists, in 27 minutes, 59 seconds of action.

The crowd got a brief scare with 3:15 left in the third quarter when Staley, who has had a history of knee problems, was thrown down by Seattle’s Janelle Burse after Staley had elbowed her.

“She told me `Sorry,’ after the game,” Burse said. “You have to respect that. She’s at that age (36) when you have to do anything you can. I should have been smarter but it was just a quick reaction.”

Staley’s final moment of regular season play occurred with 2:48 left in the game when Chancellor substituted former Texas star Edwina Brown for the three-time Olympic gold medalist.

She went to the bench where she was hugged by each of her teammates.

Staley also waved to the crowd, many of whom held red cards that said, “Go Comets Go” on one side and “Thanks Dawn” on the other.


WNBA president Donna Orender made a brief presentation before the game and ABC ran a retrospective tribute at halftime that also included quotes from players throughout the league.

The formal tributes began soon after the game ended.

Staley's family was represented by her mother Estelle, her brothers Eric and Lawrence, and her sister Tracey and several nieces and nephews.

The Temple contingent consisted of assistant coaches Lisa Boyer and Darius Taylor, team spokeswoman Aimee Cicero, and former Owl stars Natalia Isaac, Ari Moore and Cynthia Jordan.

Nike, which has been Staley’s lead endorser, had representatives and hosted a postgame party in the fan lounge. Executives from her Dawn Staley Foundation also made the trip from Philadelphia.

Besides, Orender, the WNBA group included Renee Brown, who was an assistant coach on the 1996 Olympic gold medalist; Carla McGhee, a former Temple assistant and a past Olympic teammate; and Karen Kase, who was the Sting spokeswoman when Staley played in Charlotte.

Former 76ers coach John Lucas, with whom Staley trained in Philadelphia, was also among the well-wishers.

There was also a surprise party Saturday night at former NBA Houston Rockets star Clyde Drexler’s restaurant in which Staley demonstrated that despite her mother's statement to the contrary in another story in Sunday's Inquirer, that she can, indeed, sing and dance.

Among other surprises, special guests each presented Staley with one of the framed jerseys. Tracey Reid, a former Charlotte teammate, presented the Sting uniform top. University of Colorado coach Kathy McConnell Miller and Heidi Burge-Horton offered the jersey from the University of Virginia, where Staley led the Cavaliers to three straight NCAA Women’s Final Fours in the early 1990s.

Former Olympic star Teresa Edwards’ presentation was the jersey from the Philadelphia Rage when both played in the American Basketball League. Staley’s former Dobbins Tech teammate, Sheila Hargraves, who is a policewoman back home, rounded out the collection with the high school jersey.

Seattle coach Anne Donovan gave a bouquet of red and white roses to Staley, who will be an assistant coach to her with the USA World Championship squad. The FIBA tournament begins early next month in Brazil and both will head to training as soon as their teams are finished competing in the playoffs.

Contact staff writer Mel Greenberg at 215-854-5725 or mgreenberg@phillynews.com. Read his women’s basketball blogs at http://womhoops.blogspot.com.

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