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Without Firm Commitment, Sparks Could Take Next Bus Out of Town

For lack of a clear statement by the Buss family, specifying its commitment to women’s pro basketball in Los Angeles, fans are pretty much left to guess how strong it is.

Apparently, everyone will have to wait until after Sept. 30 to find out. Within 90 days of that date, NBA clubs owning the eight charter WNBA franchises must notify the NBA in writing if they want their WNBA agreements extended through the 2009 season.

One WNBA owner said all eight teams must be averaging 6,000 ticket sales and ticket revenues of $75,000 a game by the end of this season. If not, franchises can be moved.

“I wouldn’t put it past them to move a franchise,” one WNBA owner said, requesting anonymity.

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“You could say now that Charlotte, Utah, Sacramento and Los Angeles are on the bubble.”

With the season at the one-quarter mark, seven teams are averaging more than 10,000 fans a game and the league average was 10,278 at the start of this week. Charlotte, Utah, Sacramento and Los Angeles have been attendance laggards since the first season.

The Sparks’ three-game average is 7,632, down from last season’s 7,653.

RAPPING ‘SHOW TOWN’

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Former Spark guard Jamila Wideman landed talking in Cleveland. After her recent trade to the Rockers, she called Los Angeles “show town.”

“It’s really hard to play there,” she told the Cleveland Plain Dealer. “It’s hard to concentrate on things. That organization also has a lot of pressure not just to win, but to look good doing it. It was almost better to be on the road, because there were less distractions.”

Wideman is backing up point guard Suzie McConnell Serio, who is playing limited minutes because of a ruptured foot tendon.

“Jamila allows us to give Suzie quality rest and she helps out with her defensive intensity,” Coach Linda Hill-MacDonald said.

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STARBIRD LAYS AN EGG

Kate Starbird has been a major disappointment in Sacramento.

She had previously lost her starting job and in the Sparks’ 76-73 victory over the Monarchs on Saturday, she didn’t play at all.

She averaged 12 points and shot 38% on three-pointers in her last full ABL season with Seattle. Sacramento made her the 26th pick in the draft May 4 but as of Saturday, she was 0 for 11 from beyond the arc.

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“She’s put a lot of pressure on herself, trying too hard to be wonderful, and her shot just isn’t falling,” assistant coach Maura McHugh said. “She’ll get it back.”

The 6-foot-2 Starbird, who has a computer-science degree from Stanford, had planned to launch an Internet start-up company in the off-season, but that may go on hold. “The way my season is going, I’m going to have to play overseas next fall,” she said.

AROUND THE LEAGUE

Spark Coach Orlando Woolridge would like to have the title of general manager as well, after the firing of Rhonda Windham last week. Club President Johnny Buss calls Woolridge a candidate but says it’s more likely he will hire someone as strictly a GM. . . . When Buss fired Windham immediately after Thursday’s game with Minnesota at the Great Western Forum, he summoned Woolridge to his office, sparking speculation it was Woolridge’s job that was on the line. Instead, Buss gave Woolridge a rousing vote of confidence. “JB told me he trusts me completely and believes in what I’m trying to do with this team,” Woolridge said. “He told me he and his father [Jerry Buss] have full confidence in me. I felt really great after the meeting.”

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Louisiana Tech’s Leon Barmore, one of the NCAA’s top coaches, has been interviewed by the Pacers for the coaching job with Indiana’s WNBA expansion team next season. . . . Thirty-five of the WNBA’s 132 players have played in at least one Olympics and of those, 19 are Americans. . . . The Pacific 10 Conference had 21 WNBA players on this season’s opening-day rosters, topped only by the 12-team Southeastern Conference with 30.

The coaches for the WNBA All-Star game July 14 will be last summer’s conference champion coaches, Cleveland’s Hill-MacDonald for the East and Houston’s Van Chancellor for the West. In fan voting for players, Houston’s Cynthia Cooper tops everyone with more than 38,000 votes. The Sparks’ Lisa Leslie is second, 34,323. New York’s Rebecca Lobo, who suffered a knee injury 43 seconds into the opener and is out for the season, has more than 15,000 votes.


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