The Liberty couldn’t contain Nykesha Sales as she scored 19 points to lead the Miracle in a 77-65 pounding in Orlando on Sunday that pushed New York into an uncomfortable third place in the WNBA Eastern Conference. Along with Miracle point guard Shannon Johnson, Sales—a 1998 graduate of UConn—kept heating up as the Liberty pooped out. New York’s defense was little more than a mirage.

But while the Liberty players were having trouble protecting their space, Liberty management wasn’t. After New York’s last home game last Tuesday—when the Liberty went down against Orlando, 71-62—Pam Wheeler, director of operations for the players’ union, the WNBAPA, was barred from the locker room and asked to relinquish the credential granting her access. The union filed a charge with the National Labor Relations Board for what it called a violation of its right to workplace access. According to Liberty spokesperson Brooke Lauer, “the whole issue was a misunderstanding.” She says the union will have no problem with access as long as reps provide advance notice.

That’s news to WNBAPA communications director Dan Wasserman. “There was no misunderstanding,” he says. “Liberty general manager Carol Blazejowski could not have been clearer. And though people are telling the press that access has been restored, nobody has told us. Until somebody does, the case is under investigation by the NLRB.”

The expulsion of Wheeler came a week after a conference call among players in which they discussed the expiration of their collective-bargaining agreement on September 15 and said that they would not rule out a strike if there’s no deal by the time training camp is slated to begin next April. The top issue remains pay—WNBA players earn less than 15 percent of the league’s revenue, while in the men’s major pro leagues, the players get upward of 55 percent, Wasserman notes. Last year, he says, WNBA players made $8 million in total salaries and benefits.

Do the math: There are 16 clubs with 16 owners, all of them NBA owners as well. Even a 50 percent salary raise for the women—from a current minimum barely over $40,000—would amount to a total of less than $4 million. In other words, less than one average NBA salary. Happy Title IX anniversary, Blaze. —Alisa Solomon


It’s nearly July, and the new-model Red Sox just keep on truckin’. Can it be they’ve finally dumped their legendary bad luck . . . on the Yankees? Call it the Curse of the Riveras. First came—and went—Ruben, axed from the Yanks for pilfering Derek Jeter‘s glove (talk about a cancer in the clubhouse). Then cousin Mariano, of closer fame, strained his invaluable groin, and has idled on the DL for the past two weeks. We hoped the promotion of Juan (no relation), the Yanks’ top AAA outfielder, would prove third-time lucky, especially when he doubled in his major-league debut. But three days later, like some malignant fairy (Dan Duquette, anyone?), the curse struck again. After getting lost on the subway and arriving late for practice, the rookie crashed into a mysteriously misplaced equipment cart while shagging balls with Lee Mazzilli. Result: a fractured kneecap and rehab for a month, if not more.

Spooky mishaps have jinxed the Bombers’ pitching (or, rather, trading) prospects, too. Brandon Claussen, a highly coveted Columbus southpaw, learned over the weekend that he needs a Tommy John elbow fix, at the tender age of 23—meaning no play for the next 12 to 18 months. And our old friend Randy Keisler, whom the Yanks tapped last year for several unfortunate starts, was bitten on his left pinkie by a rattlesnake while collecting sticks in his backyard. “Here I am, recuperating from my off-season shoulder surgery,” the hurler (perhaps) thought. “Guess I’ll do a spot of landscaping. Using my throwing hand!” The bottom line? With their trade bait dropping like flies, the Yankees can’t swap in their usual lordly fashion for midyear reinforcements. Though with the most home runs in the majors, they probably don’t need to. —J. Yeh


Is there a bigger stage for an underdog than the World Cup? The quadrennial tourney has had some historic upsets—like in 1950 in Brazil, when the U.S. humiliated England. That was just one game, but some countries have had glorious rides. In Italy in 1990, Cameroon stopped Argentina and made it to the quarterfinals. In 1994, Bulgaria upset Germany at Giants Stadium and made it to the semifinals. This year, Japan, Turkey, Senegal, the U.S., and South Korea have all emerged from obscurity. Why?

These are the teams that looked like they were having fun. As soon as Senegal became serious, they were on their way home. Against Germany, the U.S. abandoned their devil-may-care attitude and took the game too seriously, to the point of suffocating their own fun. Likewise, Japan choked on seriousness with Turkey, thinking more about winning than just playing, and they never got their game on. Of the four teams left in this Cup after last weekend—Turkey, Germany, South Korea, and Brazil—which would be the loosest, the ones having fun? Based on reputation, the free-flowing Brazilians had the edge. —Habte Selassie