U.S. women taking basketball world by storm
LONDON — On the floor of North Greenwich Arena late Saturday night after the U.S. women’s basketball team had blasted France, 86-50, in the Olympic final, Candace Parker wrapped her 3-year-old daughter, Lailaa, in her arms and kissed the girl on the cheek.
Lailaa responded by kissing the gold medal hanging around Parker’s neck.
“She asked me where the smaller one was for her,” Parker said. “We’ll have to try and get her one.”
I could see that day coming for little Lailaa in the 2032 Olympics, when the U.S. women’s basketball team still might be riding a gold-medal streak.
Long before then, Parker can tell her daughter about the night she came through in the clutch, when France couldn’t stop mommy, who came off the bench to score 21 points and grab 11 rebounds.
About the game’s highlight — when Parker grabbed a rebound and dribbled the length of the floor to finish with a flourish — a one-handed scoop off the glass.
About the dynasty that is U.S. women’s basketball, the one Parker helps maintain, along with fellow caretakers such as three-time gold-medal winners Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi and Tamika Catchings.
This marked the fifth straight gold medal for U.S. women’s basketball, a record for consecutive Olympic titles in a women’s team sport. The average margin of victory was a hair over 34 points. Concierges in the West End were tested more often during the Olympics than Coach Geno Auriemma’s team.
“Michael Jordan used to say, ‘It’s possible to stumble on a championship once, but it’s a lot harder to do it twice,’” said Parker, the Sparks’ star forward in the WNBA. “For USA Basketball to have won it five times is really special.”
The occasion carried more significance for Parker than winning gold in Beijing because of all she has endured since 2008. Besides becoming a mother for the first time, Parker suffered nagging knee and shoulder injuries that put her availability for the Olympics in question. When Pat Summitt — Parker’s coach at Tennessee and the first person Parker called after the game — was diagnosed withAlzheimer’slast year, the emotional toll compounded everything else.
“It was really difficult,” Parker said. “The one thing that allowed me to grow mentally was believing in myself. If it didn’t happen, it wasn’t going to be due to lack of effort.”
That attitude came in handy for Parker when Auriemma decided after the Games began to replace her in the starting lineup with Maya Moore. Moore is one of six of players on Team USA who played for Auriemma in college. He could not have had more of a Connecticut influence on the roster without adding an insurance agent to the staff.
If the decision frustrated Parker, she took it out on her opponents.
“I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to start,” said Parker, who averaged 10.5 points over eight Olympic games. “It’s definitely a different mind-set. But I just tried to provide as much energy as possible when I came in.”
Parker’s response typified the maturity she and her teammates showed throughout an Olympics in which Team USA often was taken for granted.
They paid more attention to who was watching — their irrepressible coach — than anyone who wasn’t here. They tuned out and locked in, Auriemma style.
“We just played,” Parker said.
Nothing illustrated Team USA’s tunnel vision better than Auriemma mocking the T-shirts put in players’ rooms last week that said, “Road to Respect.”
“I thought, ‘You know what, that’s kinda dumb,’” Auriemma said. “We have one slogan: ‘Earn the respect of your teammates, coaching staff and opponent.’ Other than that, I could [not] care less if anyone else respects what we do.”
His sport could hardly do any more to earn it.
Not since a semifinal loss at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics has the U.S. women’s basketball team lost. Parker compared Team USA’s reign to UCLA’s during John Wooden. The gap between America and everybody else in women’s basketball remains wider than the English Channel.
America’s domination of the sport represents Title IX’s greatest victory. Gymnastics steals more hearts. Women’s soccer grabs more viewers. But nothing shows how far female athletes have come in the States more than the way they dribble, shoot and defend like no other women in the world. Nothing marks the 40th anniversary of the federal law mandating equal opportunities for females more fittingly than a fifth straight gold medal in women’s basketball.
“It’s really hard to put into words,” Auriemma said.
Historic works for me.
Go beyond the scoreboard
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