By: Jeffrey Newholm
WNBA Finals, The Crown Still Awaits A Claim.
Early on in English classes, students are taught that every story needs a plot, a “so what?” If there isn’t some sort of takeaway message or deeper understanding of the human condition conveyed by a tale, it will be either rather dull or sensationalistic to the point of being meaningless. The thing about basketball is that when one strips away all the media and fan hoopla surrounding the game, there isn’t any inherent “so what” leftover. The object of the game, at its core, is to get the ball through the hoop, and prevent the other guys from doing the same. Motivation to play past the first practice must be created by the player him or herself—some desire for self-actualization or idealization of progress towards a goal for its own sake gives the game all its meaning. Unfortunately, it seems that the “so what” seems to be largely missing by many of the Lynx and Sparks players through the wash of the first four games of the best-of-five WNBA Finals. And whoever remembers their original reason for playing the game will certainly be the one to walk away with game five, and the title.
The Lynx almost conceded game one with a shocking lethargy coming off of tip-off, and played rather unevenly in a seemingly crucial game three. Sparks coach Brian Agler then perhaps made a rare first for a coach, coming up with an excuse for a loss even before a game started. Agler cleverly provided an escape hatch before the potential clincher, arguing that his team was more prepared than the previous year, but still may not win due to the Lynx’ talent. The seemingly universal sentiment was that the Sparks were better equipped to complete the closeout, and yet the team looked quite a bit worse than in 2016, being greatly outhustled by Minnesota throughout the game and consistently exhibiting poor (I would even argue lazy) shot selection. The extremely hackneyed cliché “whoever wants it more will win” can be properly applied even further to Wednesday’s finale: whichever team collectively makes the biggest move towards playing inspired ball will undoubtedly be league champs. And when one takes a closer look at the two best players in the series, it’s easy to favor the Sparks to become that team.
Candace Parker is easily the most complete player for L.A., and Maya Moore is the greatest contributor for Minnesota over their seven year stretch of dominance. Many fans like to point to Moore’s consistent track record of winning, not having to “suffer” back-to-back years without winning a title since her freshman year of high school. And yet I think the great competitor may have finally become satiated by success. Moore has demonstrated a very surprising lack of hustle and urgency throughout the series, committing uncharacteristically sloppy turnovers and then not getting back on defense. Parker last year had to vanquish quite a few demons to win her first professional title, from coming to terms with the passing of college coach Pat Summitt, to overcoming the self esteem blow for being (very questionably) left off the Olympic team, to trying to prevent her ongoing divorce from becoming a distraction. It perhaps would be understandable to expect a letdown year after such an emotional roller coaster. And yet Parker has been the emotional engine behind the team’s sparks, clearly giving every play her best effort and giving the whole world an infectious sardonic grin after every perceived missed call (most of which, unfortunately, are perceived correctly). If Parker can get her team playing to a clearly very high potential in its last game, and Moore can’t motivate hers to the same, L.A. won’t just win, they’ll win going away.
With T.V. ratings finally inching their way up, and impressionable girls tuning in the pro ball for perhaps the first time, playing with a purpose has never been more important to the Association than it does now in this Finals series. Although certainly lacking at times in 2017, the players’ work ethic can be a ringing argument for following the sport going forward if easily perceived in game five. If the Lynx and Sparks continue to be the class of the league, a climactic winner-take-all game this year could brood increasing dislike between two franchises already displaying tension, giving writers some easy talking points in 2018. So instead of shaking one’s head at the legions of “who cares?” social media trolls, I think now is a good time for the league’s stars let their play do the answering. The attention of the next generation of fans, and ballplayers, could well be in the balance.