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.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Guru Musings: WNBA Wash. Mystics Moves Just "Business"

By Mel Greenberg

The Washington Mystics certainly know how to live up to the WNBA franchise's nickname though it stems off the orginal big brother relationship from the NBA Wizards, who occupy the same space at the Verizon Center.

Over the years there have been a lot of strange moves by the Mystics for a team that never found its footing consistently until the last two seasons with the arrival of Julie Plank as head coach and Angela Taylor as general manager.

After achieving the top seed in the East and the best record in franchise history, both are now in the Washington history books, replaced in yet another combo move by assistant coach Trudi Lacey, who held both jobs with the former Charlotte Sting.

The Guru did not sit on the teleconference call Monday afternoon when Mystics president Sheila Johnson announced the new hire and gave a brief history of the recent activity leading to changes in the front office and on the sidelines.

But thanks to a listener who taped it -- no it wasn't the Guru's colleague and good friend Kathy Orton of the Washington Post -- the Guru got to hear the 15 minutes of conversation in which Johnson said everything was a matter of "business."

In the last month Washington was so mystical in bypassing its fans that it even managed to transform the giddy duo who run the D.C. Basketcases blog into, well, basketcases themselves. September gave them a warm fuzzy feeling over the team's play in 2010 only to be eclipsed by the events of October that vaporized those sentiments with a return to business as usual.

Not to worry for them for long, however. The Guru is certain to run into the pair Tuesday night in the Comcast Center when the University of Maryland plays an exhibition game.

Meanwhile, in a fascinating exchange with reporters that jumped the gun on the way election results will be spun Tuesday night in the nation's capital, Johnson explained how Lacey had trouble getting things done in Charlotte because the Sting had become an expansion team lacking in support.

Yep, you historians who watched Charlotte as one of the eight founding WNBA teams, that's what the Mystics president said.

Her reasoning was when the NBA-affiliated Hornets took off for New Orleans, they were replaced by the expansion Bobcats, who couldn't wait to get rid of their WNBA sister squad and deprived Lacey of needed resources.

Incidentally, just before the Sting headed off to extinction a certain three-time Olympic gold-medal winning star out of Philadelphia was dealt to Houston. Though the indent was well meaning and the star didn't object to the trade, per se, both she and the fan base were not exactly thrilled at the time in the way the matter was handled.

Come to think of Johnson's depiction of Charlotte, the Guru doesn't remember anyone referring to the Mystics as an expansion squad when Johnson acquired rights to the team, which had been under the Wizards ownership.

On the other hand, with limited exceptions, until the arrival of Taylor and Plank, the Mystics rarely got out of expansion-mode after joining the WNBA the second year of the the pro league's existence.

Johnson spoke of every sports team in the nation having to tweak its operation because of the recession and economic climate.

The Mystics were great on the floor but not so great from a business perspective.

However, Johnson promised a full commitment of support to Lacey even if it takes for Johnson to be one of the ball girls behind the basket.

Well, why not? Over the summer that would result in considerable savings alone in eliminating the parking tab under the Verizon Center that would normally be picked for some young woman to get thrill of working with the WNBA up close and personal.

Also, when asked about the status of assistant coach Marianne Stanley, the Mystics chief said on Monday an offer had been made to retain the former Immaculata star and Johnson was waiting for a response.

Well, the Guru, as mentoned in a previous post, had dinner last week with Stanley in Raleigh, N.C. Trust the Guru, she has had no idea what was transpiring up North leading up to the Lacey hiring over the weekend.

Johnson said things all came to a head in terms of Plank's situation -- she didn't want to do both jobs -- last Friday.

However, Stanley happened to get on a plane Thursday for Russia for her winter stint as an assistant coach. Before leaving, she told the Guru to download a Skype application to talk over the internet because once she gets overseas she dispenses of her American communication devices such as cell phones to save money.

She will be back briefly on Nov. 11 to attend her induction into the Philadelphia Sports Hall of Fame.

While Johnson professed her own love for the league and her team -- and she really does -- all this talk about reducing costs effectively punctures Johnson's reputation as one of the league's sugar mommys and daddys ready to help beyond taking care of business at home.

For those with short memories, back in the days of exotic league presentations when the annual draft was held, it was in 2008 in near Tampa, the site of the NCAA Women's Final Four, that the festivities were held on Johnson's golf resort.

It's one thing to be aware of the economy in terms of the future of the league -- one coach who will be attending a part of the league meetings in New York spoke Monday about the delicate tightrope of improving operating conditions but not asking for extravagant demands.

For example, the coach said, roster size will not move off its current limit of 11 players. However, something may be done in terms of replacements for injuries so a team has enough womanpower to perform.

But the image-conscious officials in the home office can't be happy with owners going so extreme in talking lack of dollars that suddenly a novel could be written called The WNBA's New Clothes.

On one hand the populace is asked to cheer the tightly-contested race for playoffs spots, two yesrs of dynamic finals competition, and a heavy increase in interest via the internet and TV ratings. And as extra spice, there's the WNBA-dominated USA squad earning a gold medal at the FIBA World Championship and the next arrivals of new superstar rookies such as Connecticut's Maya Moore and Australia's Liz Cambage.

And it's all great until some youngster manages to overhear talk of barebones expenses in the boardrooms such as the recent Mystics deliberations as well as those of the New York Liberty -- two teams who had their best years in their regular season histories.

After getting an earful, the youngster sudenly cries out, "But mother, the WNBA is naked!"

The Guru Legacy

Although eligibility conditions knocked the Guru off the AP voting board that chooses the weekly Top 25 collegiate teams, he can say that for those of you who have expressed concern over the viability of the vote, the addition of the Seattle Times' Jayda Evans, ensures that not much will be lost with the Guru being sent to the sidelines.

-- Mel


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just musing: Is any of the cost cutting with the Mystics designed to offset losses of the Salamander Hospitality operations that Sheila is struggling to develop during this economic downturn?

7:22 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

No, the Mystics are cutting costs because Monumental isn't making money.

7:42 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mel - Jayda Evans picked Stanford 10th in her preseason poll. If that's your legacy, it's tarnished already.

12:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Remember THIS: Sheila "It's All About Business" Johnson sold-out
African-Americans, turned a blind
eye & deaf ear to multi-decades of
Virginia political and social historical truths--by serving shamelessly as a campaign PR spokesperson, endorser, and fundraiser for Right-Wing Conservative Republican Governor
Bob McDonnell, his Attorney General, former asst. AG/now
Supreme Court Justice, and various Loudoun County-based Republican
politicians, power brokers, money-bags. For Lady Johnson, it's about
what IS in HER best interest!!!

1:46 PM  
Blogger anonymous11 said...

Sheila Johnson could make this right by having T. Lacey keep the GM post and begging J. Plank to come back as coach, and by promising to never, never, never, do something this stupid again.

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