By: Jeffrey Newholm
There are quite a few entertainment options in Los Angeles. in fact, it’s the entertainment capital of the United States. But before 2016, the Sparks probably ranked pretty far down the list. Stuck behind Minnesota and Phoenix in the western conference, the franchise had only its 2001 and 2002 championships to boast of. By the time Candace Parker returned from a rest in 2015, new coach Brian Agler had little recent history to market his team. With the team’s slow start without Parker, it finished just 14-20 and was out in the first round. But coinciding with a new playoff format was a resurgence that has L.A. replacing Minnesota as league favorite and bully.
From the first 2016 game, a 96-66 rout of Seattle, it was clear the Sparks were ready for a triumph in Parker’s ninth year. The team burst to a startling 20-1 start and settled into the two seed, and a double-bye, behind Minnesota. After easily dispatching Chicago, L.A. quickly proved it belonged as an elite team. Alana Beard beat Minnesota with a dagger three, with Maya Moore cruelly on the other side after her own 2015 winner.
The tight affair returned to Minneapolis for a deciding game five. It would have been poetic justice for Parker, snubbed from that year’s Olympics, to hit the winning shot. The true result was almost as perfect with Nneka Ogwumike putting back the winner.
Parker managing to choke out “this one’s for Pat!” Summitt, her recently deceased college coach, in a touching postgame moment. It wasn’t just a deeply profound moment for Parker personally, but also a huge image and publicity boon for a long overlooked team.
Last year the Sparks went on a tour de repeat, always a difficult quest. The team reached the finals and held a 2-1 lead, with game four in L.A. All Sparks players and Agler insisted the team wouldn’t repeat 2016, when it lost the same game. Yet as skeptic philosopher Voltaire pessimistically observed, “history never repeats itself, man always does”. The Sparks again looked dazed and lost in losing at home. And history did not repeat in Minneapolis, with Moore able to redeem herself with a title-sealing jumper. But the tour de revenge, a quest much easier to sell, is off to a strong start in 2018.
After winning in Minneapolis on Chelsea Gray’s runner in the lane, the Sparks enter Sunday’s re-rematch 3-1, with the Lynx slouching to 2-4. But as the Cavs proved, and Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve attests, situations have a tendency to work out. There is still a strong possibility of a third straight finals meeting. Winning as an underdog is fun, but many are quick to write it off as due to luck. If L.A. can back the league’s GM’s confidence, Parker can have a ring not trapped in a year of misery, or dedicated to someone gone too soon. It can be a crowning accomplishment to cherish for a team that, now owned by Magic Johnson, seems to have a bit of is own primetime juju.