They Teams They Are A-Changing
Hope you've enjoyed the Liberty's WNBA title run, because the team could look very different come next season. Kym Hampton, the All-Star center who's battled balky knees all year to bring the Lib to the brink of a championship, is retiring at season's end to pursue her singing career. And with four new clubs boosting the league's membership to 16 next year, each current franchise can expect to lose a couple of players in the February expansion draft. Whether the limit on protected players is six (as in past years), five (as has been reported), or yet to be determined (as the league insists), it could mean goodbye for such fan faves as Sophia Witherspoon and Sue Wicks.
The real quandary for the WNBA as a whole, though, is the 2000 Olympic Games, which may siphon off some of the league's top talent even as it adds four new teams. Two weeks ago, USA Basketball picked five WNBA vets including current MVP favorites Cynthia Cooper and Yolanda Griffith to go with the original five "core players" on the national team that will spend the next year preparing for the Sydney Games. The torch is set to be lit next September 16, which would be just two short weeks after the WNBA finale hardly enough time to acclimate a team to jet lag, much less get it ready on the court.
Many foreign players, including Australian-born stars Michele Timms and Sandy Brondello, will likely be required to skip next season if they want to play for their national team, but USA Basketball is insisting that there will be enough time for its team to reconvene after the WNBA season. The league could solve the mess for U.S. players, at least, by moving up the whole schedule by two or three weeks (à la the NHL's Olympic hiatus in 1998), but that would risk the wrath of the NBA boys who control the gyms throughout May and early June. Stay tuned.
The poohbahs and pundits who guide American track and field have so tirelessly promoted Marion Jones as the single-handed savior of the moribund sport that they seem to have no Plan B if Jones's quest for five golds at the Sydney Olympics is derailed. With Jones now injured, attention must be paid to the undervalued Inger Miller, who'd be favored for three golds in a Marion-less Games:
First off, Miller's winning time of 21.77 in the 200 meters at last week's World Championships was faster than any time Jones had run in 1999. She's the daughter of Lennox Miller, a past Olympic silver medalist and a teammate of O.J. Simpson on a world-record-setting 4x110-yard relay team at USC. Lennox and Inger are also the first father/daughter track champions in the history of the fabled indoor Millrose Games. A pioneering sports ambassador, Inger was a headliner at 1998's Grand Prix track meet in Qatar, an Islamic nation that had never previously allowed women to compete in public. On the other end of the scale, she has posed au naturel in the dubious "Trackgirls" calendar, though her nude February photo is the least tasteless of the 12 (small consolation). Finally, Miller's training group, Handling Speed Intelligently, includes men's 100-meter world-record holder Maurice Greene. Apparently, Miller can beat Greene out of the starting blocks.
Little of this has been reported before at least in one place while Jones's bio has been rehashed on numerous occasions. It's time to start recognizing that U.S. track and field is not a one-woman sport.
Location, location, location. Right now Major League Soccer should be thankful for its spot on the sports map, because a recent ruling by UEFA, the European soccer governing body, would have made more than a few waves on this side of the pond.
The ruling, which was upheld last week by Europe's Court of Arbitration for Sport, prevented two clubs, AEK Athens and Slavia Prague, from competing in the UEFA Cup last season because they were owned by the same company, ENIC. In short: clubs owned by the same group are prohibited from going at each other in European competition. "Logical," said UEFA president Lennart Johansson, adding that the ruling was "based on common sense."
But here in the not-so-logical world of MLS, where shoot-outs roam free and clocks run backward, seven of the league's 12 teams are operated by just three investor-operators the Hunt family (Columbus Crew and Kansas City Wizards), the Kraft family (New England Revolution and San Jose Clash), and Philip Anschutz (Chicago Fire, Colorado Rapids, and Los Angeles Galaxy) an unheard-of practice in the NFL, NBA, NHL, and MLB.
Of course, ensuring that there are separate investor/operators for MLS teams is easier said than done. It appears that nothing short of a Labor Day sale could help the MLS unload Tampa Bay and Dallas, which are run by the league, while D.C. United despite being MLS's most successful operation remains on the selling block. Attention KMart shoppers. . . .
Something in the Water?
Just as the defending champ Toms River, N.J., Little Leaguers were once again reaching the Series semis last week, their yachting schoolmates were copping some serious hardware at the New England Atlantic Coast championships in Hyannis, Massachusetts. Led by 13-year-old Pat Curran (first) and Kyle Kovacs (second), Toms River solo sailors also finished fifth, seventh, eighth, and ninth out of over 100 boats in the youth Optimist class. Any crossover from baseball? "None," says TR juniors sailing coordinator Mary Mease, acknowledging that her charges follow and root for the ballplayers, if not the other way around. "But it's like baseball," she adds, "in that you have to commit yourselves to be successful. Our kids sail 10 months out of the year."
Contributors: Neil De Mause, Peter Gambaccini, Denise Kiernan, John Stravinsky
Sports Editor: Miles D. Seligman
Sports Intern: Joshua D. Gaynor
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