Joe “Jellybean” Bryant — a former NBA player and father of Kobe Bryant — has been promoted to head coach of the WNBA’s Los Angeles Sparks.
Jennifer Gillom was let go over the weekend from the head spot. The Sparks have lost their last five games in a row (4-6 overall) and they have lost star Candice Parker to a knee injury. So, just like in the NBA, when a team struggles due to injuries it’s time to fire the coach. The Sparks were 13-21 last year Gillom, when injuries also decimated the roster.
The senior Bryant has been the Sparks coach before, in 2005 and 2006 and they made the playoffs both times and went to the Western Conference Finals in 2006. Then he was canned so Lakers legend Michael Cooper could have the big seat. Bryant was brought back this season as an assistant. He has talked in the past about wanting to make the jump to being an assistant coach in the NBA, a transition some but not all WNBA coaches have made. The most famous being Bill Laimbeer, now an assistant with the Detroit Pistons and is in the running for that head coaching job.
Michael Jordan and the Jordan brand still dominate the basketball shoe market. More than 80 percent of all sales dominate. It’s not even a contest.
So the signing of Maya Moore as the first woman ever as part of the Jordan Brand is huge, something the company announced this week.
Moore is the back-to-back national champion and back-to-back national player of the year from UConn who was the top pick of the WNBA’s Minnesota Lynx. She is not only the best player to come out of the college ranks in years, she also is one of the most likeable and marketable.
“As a student of the game, it is a dream come true to align myself with a brand that has a rich history in sports,” said Maya Moore. “Like most kids, I grew up idolizing Michael Jordan and continue to work relentlessly to reach his iconic status on the court. I’m truly motivated to take my career to the next level as a member of Team Jordan.”
The details in terms of product have yet to be determined, but Moore will become the face of the Jordan brand in the WNBA. In the NBA that brand has many faces — Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul — but now expect a ramped up presences in women’s basketball. Expect her to start popping up in Nike commercials and in a variety of other Nike efforts. A signature shoe may even not be out of the question down the line.
The deal is rumored to be for between $3 million and $4 million.
This is a boost to the credibility of the women’s game and the WNBA, an area where the game has made strides but still fights battles. It may have taken Nike a while to get here and a lot of very good and deserving players may have been passed over, but this is still progress. It’s still a step forward.
It’s a good thing. A very good thing.
One of the things we’re sure you’ll be watching a week from Friday — because what could you possibly have that’s better to do on a Friday night? — is the All-Star Shooting Stars contest. You know, where one current NBA player, one WNBA player and one TNT analyst per team shoot standing shots from numbered spots on the floor. Who would want to miss that?
Great news for you then, the teams have been announced. I knew you’d be excited.
Team Los Angeles will include the Lakers’ Pau Gasol, the Los Angeles Sparks’ Tina Thompson, and NBA TV analyst — and Big Bang Theory cameo guy — Rick Fox.
Team Atlanta features the Hawks’ Al Horford, Coco Miller of the Atlanta Dream, and NBA TV analyst Steve Smith.
Team Chicago is comprised of the Chicago Bulls’ Taj Gibson, the Chicago Sky’s Cathrine Kraayveld, and TNT NBA analyst Steve Kerr.
Defending champion Team Texas is represented by the Maverkicks’ Dirk Nowitzki, the San Antonio Silver Stars’ Roneeka Hodges, and TNT analyst Kenny Smith.
If you care (and we’re not really sure you do) the rules are there are six numbered shooting locations of increasing difficulty, with each team attempting to make all shots in numeric order in the fastest time. Each team will select a specific player rotation to follow throughout the competition. Each shot must be made before the next player begins shooting in succession.
The event will be broadcast on ESPN. Set your DVR, then when you get home you have something to help you fall asleep.
You have your perfect Storm.
The Seattle Storm had the best regular season record in the WNBA. They swept through the playoffs undefeated. They have been the best team in the league.
It is fitting that after an 87-84 win in Atlanta Thursday night they swept in again to be WNBA champions. Atlanta led much of the game but a 16-1 run right at the end of the third quarter and carrying over to the fourth gave Seattle a lead it would never relinquish.
This is the second title for the Storm, which also won in 2004.
Swin Cash had 18 points for the Storm and Sue Bird chipped in 14 and seven assists. Atlanta’s Angel McCoughtry remains the best single player in the post season, racking up 35 points in this loss. Seattle’s Lauren Jackson — who had 15 points in Game 3 after scoring 26 in each of the first two — was named tournament MVP.
I the crowd at the game in Atlanta were a number of Hawks players — Joe Johnson, Al Horford, Marvin Williams, Jeff Teague and Jordan Crawford. At least the Dream made it to the WNBA finals.
Television ratings are up. But the numbers are still small. Attendance is down. But sponsorship dollars are up.
Looking at the WNBA finances, it’s how you look at the glass of Chardonnay – half full or half empty.
The Sports Business Journal took a look at the league heading into the start of the playoffs this week and found a mixed bag.
Average attendance for the 12-team league through last Wednesday was down 3.7 percent to an average of 7,679 fans per game, compared with last year’s average of 7,971 through the same date. The 2009 average includes teams in Detroit and Sacramento, markets that are no longer in the league…Comparing only the 11 teams that played in both 2009 and 2010, average attendance was up 0.5 percent heading into the season’s final games this past weekend, WNBA officials said…
The WNBA this year signed new league partnerships with Jamba Juice, Coca-Cola and Pirate’s Booty snack food and doubled its number of team marquee deals, which include jersey sponsorships, to four…”Over the past two seasons, our teams have been diligent in improving the business model,” [WNBA President Donna] Orender said.
On TV, the WNBA as of last week was averaging a 0.2 cable rating and 263,000 viewers over 17 games on ESPN2, compared with a 0.2 rating and 234,000 viewers for nine regular-season games on ESPN2 last year.
So the ratings are up to about half of what an NHL game draws (and they get ripped for their ratings). For comparison, ESPN drew a 1.1 rating last season on its regular season NBA games, or about 1.65 million viewers. Playoff ratings were through the roof, the best the NBA had seen since the Jordan era.
The WNBA finances seem to be improving, along with the economy. It’s not going anywhere, which is good for women’s sports and in that way good for our culture. But it also remains a niche sport played when most Americans are thinking about baseball, golf and NASCAR as their viewing options.
Of course, the WNBA is not on the edge of a lockout, so they have that going for them. Which is nice.