Sparks rookie Candace Parker made national news again Tuesday night. Only this attention will hardly make her highlight reel.
Parker was at the center of a bench-clearing brawl against the Detroit Shock at the Palace of Auburn Hills.
The incident occurred with 4.5 seconds left in an 84-81 victory by the Sparks, which ended a five-game road losing streak.
The skirmish began when Parker and Shock forward Plenette Pierson tangled arms as they headed up the floor following a successful free throw by Sparks guard Marie Ferdinand-Harris, causing both players to tumble to the floor. Pierson quickly rose to her feet and stood over Parker, who then pulled Pierson to the ground.
As both benches emptied, the Sparks’ Lisa Leslie came to Parker’s aid but was pushed away by Shock assistant coach Rick Mahorn, causing her to fall to the hardwood floor. Sparks forward DeLisha Milton-Jones then slapped Mahorn in the back.
“I was trying to protect the whole game, the integrity of the game,” Mahorn told the Associated Press.
At the same time, Shock forward Cheryl Ford appeared to injure her knee while pulling Pierson away from the fracas and had to be taken away in a wheelchair.
“When I looked back, I saw Candace was on the floor and [Pierson] was on top of her and my thought was just to run over and try to get her off of her,” Leslie said in a television interview immediately after the game. “Then, on my way running back, the coach just stepped in and he pushed me down and I have no idea why he did that.”
After the referees huddled in front of a video replay screen for several minutes, they ejected Parker, Milton-Jones, Mahorn and Pierson.
“It’s just really sad that happened,” said an obviously upset Leslie after the game. “This is not the way we want to represent ourselves.”
WNBA President Donna Orender watched the fight unfold on television and shared Leslie’s disappointment.
“It was clear emotions were running high,” she said. “It’s unfortunate that when emotions run over the top, something like this had to happen.”
Orender, who has been in the league office since 2005, said she doesn’t recall any on-court violence “to this degree.”
“We’ll spend a lot of time evaluating the tape and reviewing it,” she said.
The game was physical from the start but tensions didn’t escalate until Parker grabbed a defensive rebound with 8.3 seconds left and the Sparks leading by two points.
Parker was immediately fouled and Ford then reached in and tore the ball from Parker’s grip. Parker walked toward Ford and both players had to be separated.
Parker then missed both free throws, but the second miss was batted out to Ferdinand-Harris, who went to the line with 5.2 seconds left. Ferdinand-Harris made both free throws to seemingly seal the game, but that’s when Parker and Pierson became entangled.
Leslie was also critical of the officials for letting the game get out of hand.
“It was a very physical game from start to finish and it escalated,” she said. “This is the type of game to see if we’re doing our best job to really control the physicality of the game.”
Arritt reported from Los Angeles.