MIA in the WNBA


It was hard to argue with WNBA prez Val Ackerman when she called last week’s draft the deepest in the history of pro sports: the late, lamented ABL gave the summertime league 35 of its 50 new players. But where, oh where, was four-time Olympian Teresa Edwards? Her name had popped up in lots of pre-draft publicity, but when the rosters were unrolled, she was nowhere to be found. Apparently, she had declined to sign the pre-draft WNBA contract that binds players to the collective bargaining agreement— and to the league pay-scale.

Was rookie status, and its paltry $25,000 minimum salary (as much as an eighth less than what she would have made as a Philadelphia Rage guard), just too insulting for Edwards, who was recently named to Kodak’s silver anniversary All-American team as one of the 10 best players in the history of women’s collegiate basketball? By neglecting to offer her a personal service contract or other special deal, was the WNBA punishing Edwards for her outspoken activism on behalf of the ABL as a player-coach and the first-ever pro player to be part of a league’s board of directors? No one is saying.

Ackerman offered no explanation, stating only, “We’re disappointed, but we respect her decision. We hope she stays active. She’s a great asset to the sport.” According to Edwards’s agent, Troy Jones, Edwards is indeed “working out and still open for anything”— and she’s still a favorite for the 2000 Olympic team— but she didn’t want to comment specifically on her decision not to sign with the WNBA. What is clear is that not having the Dr. J of women’s hoops on the court is a loss for the game in general. If the WNBA has any sense, before Edwards has a chance to take off for Europe, they’ll compensate for failing to make a deal for her as a player and hire her as a coach.

Mocking the National Pastime

As Yogi Berra might have said, “It was déjà vu all over again.” Baseball labor pioneer Curt Flood got a second chance at vindication last weekend in the National High School Mock Trial Competition in St. Louis. Teams representing 42 states argued the 1971 landmark case that challenged baseball’s reserve clause in the courthouse where the Dred Scott decision was handed down. The host city chose the case, which every team contested from each side, because of its local angle and wide appeal.

“There was a lot of drama,” said host chairperson, Patricia Flood (no relation). “Here was a man who was told: ‘You move, sell your house, sell your business, or you’ll never play baseball again.’ ” The students, most of whom didn’t know Charlie Finley from Steve Finley, immersed themselves in the original documents, provided by Allan Zerman, who was one of Flood’s attorneys. The arguments had to be contemporaneous— references to Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally (whose case finally did in the clause), or Wayne Huizenga (who recklessly abused free agency) were strictly off limits. Some contestants took the time-machine aspects to heart, wearing powder blue suits and bell bottoms for the occasion.

One more thing that didn’t change: the outcome. In the finals, Georgia, arguing on behalf of baseball, defeated Colorado, representing the players’ union. “Your heart was with Curt Flood,” said Maureen Starzel, coach of New Jersey’s Hunterdon Central High School team, which finished eighth. “But the defense could pull out the contract and say, ‘Mr. Flood, did you sign this?’ ” For his part, Marvin Miller, the players’ union head at the time, approached the issue from the perspective of somebody who’s been vindicated by history. “It’s interesting that students are studying it,” he said. “But the debate about it seems a little silly. Even the owners’ lawyers would have told you that on the merits there was nothing for them to really argue.”

Net Gains

It was a better kept secret than Dennis Rodman’s whereabouts, but to see the best two-man game in the NBA this season, you had to head to East Rutherford. From the time of Stephon Marbury’s trade until Keith Van Horn’s season-ending hand injury— can you say Kenny Anderson?— the two Nets stars outproduced John Stockton and Karl Malone. Here are the post-trade numbers for Van Horn and Marbury compared to season stats for Utah’s doddering duo.

pts assts reb
Marbury 23.4 8.7 2.6
Van Horn 21.9 1.9 8.6
pts assts reb
Stockton 11.1 7.5 2.9
Malone 23.8 4.1 9.4

Call it synergy. After Selfish Sam Cassell departed, Van Horn’s numbers improved across the board— he finished fifth in the league in scoring and 16th in rebounding. Marbury found New Jersey even more to his liking. His Swamp Stats would have ranked him fourth in the league in scoring and third in assists. The most encouraging line on the postseason stat sheet, however, could be found under DOB. Both Marbury and Van Horn will still be 23 when the 1999­00 season opens. Now if the Nets can only find a center, and allow Jayson Williams to return to his natural role as Charles Oakley on steroids, they could be as scary next year as they were supposed to be this year. Interested, Phil Jackson?

contributors: Alisa Solomon, Allen St. John sports editor: Miles D. Seligman

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