A preseason conference call illustrated how deeply rooted the rivalry between the Sparks and the Detroit Shock has become. Sounding chippy, Sparks Coach Michael Cooper and Shock Coach Bill Laimbeer immediately traded barbs.
“Go ahead, Coop,” Laimbeer said, when both coaches were asked about their teams’ season opener today at Staples Center.
“No, Bill, you’re first,” Cooper responded sarcastically. “You’re the champion.”
The Shock is the defending league champion for the second time in three years. For the Sparks, anything short of a title will be considered a failure.
The history between coaches only fuels the stakes.
“That goes back to our playing days,” said Cooper, who was a top defender for the Lakers when they faced Laimbeer and the rest of Detroit’s “Bad Boys” in the 1988 and 1989 NBA Finals.
“It was something we can’t forget.”
Last season, an altercation during a Sparks-Shock game led to the suspension of 10 players and Detroit assistant coach Rick Mahorn.
Cooper says the issue is “dead and gone.”
Laimbeer isn’t so sure, saying both teams “aren’t naive.”
Sparks forward DeLisha Milton-Jones sounded as if she agreed with Laimbeer, saying, “As much as we want to sweep those emotions under the rug, they’re still going to be there.”
The incident started with tension building after Sparks forward Candace Parker and Shock forward Cheryl Ford were separated after a foul. At the other end of the court, Detroit’s Plenette Pierson then ran into Parker after those two had tangled up, prompting several players from each team to leave their benches.
Sparks center Lisa Leslie came to Parker’s aid but was restrained by Mahorn, who put his left hand out and caused Leslie to fall. Milton-Jones then slapped Mahorn on the back while guards Shannon Bobbitt and Murriel Page pushed Mahorn in the chest.
After watching numerous replays, Milton-Jones doesn’t fault Mahorn for intervening.
“I definitely plan on speaking with him,” she said. “I think he deserves it.”
Cooper has said Leslie, Milton-Jones and 12-year veteran Tina Thompson will be his opening frontcourt. Betty Lennox and Noelle Quinn probably will fill the backcourt.
Those five have been the first team in practice, and they started in the Sparks’ exhibition games last week against Connecticut.
But the lineup will shuffle during the season when Parker returns to the team. What’s not clear is when.
Parker gave birth to a girl on May 13, and Cooper says he expects her back in July or early August.
Until then? “We are comfortable enough now that we can withstand the big, gaping hole that not having her creates,” Cooper said. “We want her to come back whenever she is ready.”
The Shock will be without starters Ford and Kara Braxton.
Ford reportedly won’t be available until the Shock’s third or fourth game as she continues to recover from a knee injury she suffered against the Sparks last year.
Braxton was suspended by the WNBA for six games without pay in connection with her off-season guilty plea for driving under the influence.
Your name here
The front of the Sparks’ jerseys features a sponsor’s name -- Farmers Insurance -- where the team name used to be.
Last week, the Phoenix Mercury reached a similar deal with LifeLock, a Phoenix identity-theft protection firm.