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Fast Times in THE WNBA
L. Jon Wertheim
August 05, 2002
What's life like in a league that has no charter flights or million-dollar salaries? After following the Cleveland Rockers for a week, we'd say it's a lot of fun
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August 05, 2002

Fast Times In The Wnba

What's life like in a league that has no charter flights or million-dollar salaries? After following the Cleveland Rockers for a week, we'd say it's a lot of fun

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The D'Orazios are so impressed with the players' charm that shortly afterward they walk to the NBA Store and buy Rockers gear. Still floating from their brush with pro sports, the kids prevail on their father to take them to the Rockers-Liberty game. Four seats cost $52—far less than the average price of $89.90 for a seat at a Knicks game. They get the Rockers to sign their T-shirts and posters during the pregame warmup.

The Rockers have beaten the Liberty five times running, but the streak ends spectacularly today. Cleveland's shooting is abysmal, its defense uncharacteristically porous. Taylor, the All-Star, has only two field goals. Rizzotti is 1 of 7 from the field. Jones picks up a technical foul—"They assumed I cursed, but I don't do that," she says—for which the $150 fine represents roughly one third of her after-tax income that day. The final score, 73-52, still belies the lopsidedness. "There are 10 games left," Hughes tells the team afterward, his voice edged in frustration. "It's up to you if you want to make the playoffs."

Up in the 300 section, the D'Orazios, the Rockers' newest fans, don't like the result but dig the experience anyway. The afternoon featured the usual fan-friendly trappings—the roller-skating mascot, the Bachman Turner Overdrive, the absurdly peppy men using slingshots to send T-shirts into the stands. But it was the basketball that won them over. "Watching women is different from watching men," says Bobby. "But they pass more and play harder. This was fun, too."

A multicolored crowd of nearly 14,000 felt likewise. As the clock wound down, the Garden fans served up a deafening ovation. In part it was for the Liberty's precise shooting and tenacious D. But it was also in appreciation of the connection they have with the players, of the maximum effort the Liberty expends for minimal wages, of the mere fact that a professional basketball league for women continues to exist. As the scene unfolded at the world's most famous arena, it was hard to imagine a sportscape that didn't include the WNBA. To appropriate a phrase from another pioneer of sorts, they're gonna make it after all.

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