Sparks take home first WNBA championship

Posted: Sunday, September 02, 2001

LOS ANGELES -- Reeking of champagne, Lisa Leslie, DeLisha Milton and Nicky McCrimmon rapped out a rhyme as Mwadi Mabika pounded out a beat against the wall in celebration of the Los Angeles Sparks' WNBA championship.

''OK, that's enough,'' Leslie said, signaling that she was eager to talk about the Sparks' 82-54 victory over the Charlotte Sting on Saturday.

''This is a dream come true,'' said Leslie, who grew up in nearby Inglewood and played collegiately at Southern California.

''We learned so much from having the good record, but just not getting over that hump. This year we were just mentally tough, focused and we had a great team effort,'' she said.

Leslie had 24 points, 13 rebounds, six assists and a title game-record seven blocked shots to help the Sparks sweep the series in two games, giving the 5-year-old league its first champion other than the Houston Comets, who were swept by the Sparks in the first round.

''We'll be back again next year,'' said coach Michael Cooper, the first person to win NBA and WNBA titles. He earned five NBA titles playing with the Lakers in the 1980s.

The Sparks' victory -- by the largest margin in championship series history -- gives Los Angeles two pro basketball championships in the same year. The Lakers beat Philadelphia in June for their second consecutive NBA title.

''Watching the Lakers win has been a huge motivation for us,'' Leslie said. ''We'll talk about a repeat soon, but right now we're going to enjoy this victory.''

The last time two teams in the same city won league titles in the same year was 1988 when the Lakers were champions and the Dodgers won the World Series.

The Sparks finished with a 34-5 record, including a 19-1 mark in their first season at Staples Center.

Leslie recorded her sixth double-double in seven playoff games. She was a unanimous vote for most valuable player of the finals, being named on all 15 ballots counted, to go with her MVP awards from the regular season and All-Star game. She is the first WNBA player to sweep the trophies.

''Lisa is our rock,'' said guard Tamecka Dixon, who along with Leslie and Mabika are only holdovers from when the Sparks were formed in 1997. ''She's our foundation and it's our job to go out there and support her.''

Milton added 15 points and Dixon, who shook off a right heel injury she aggravated in Game 1 on Thursday, had 13 points.

Leslie left the game to a standing ovation with 2:44 remaining and paused to hug Cooper before cheering the Sparks' reserves to the final buzzer.

''We have to give a lot of credit to Coach Cooper because he taught us the game and helped us to get to another level,'' Leslie said.

Confetti showered the largest crowd of the season -- 13,141 -- including Lakers guard Derek Fisher, Jerry West and celebrities Penny Marshall, Michael Clarke Duncan, Vivica A. Fox and Tyrese.

Tammy Sutton-Brown was the only Sting player in double figures with 12 points. Charlotte committed 14 turnovers, got outrebounded 36-28 and never challenged in the second half, when its deficit was double-digits.

''Of course it's disappointing that we didn't win the championship, but we played a great year and proved a lot of people wrong,'' Sutton-Brown said. ''A lot of people didn't think we would make it this far and be in this position.''

The Sparks started slowly, missing shots and turning the ball over while falling behind 13-10 as Allison Feaster scored seven points for Charlotte.

But whatever nerves they may have felt melted away as Mabika hit consecutive 3-pointers to tie the game at 13, giving the Sparks the lead for good. Mabika, Leslie, Milton and Dixon carried the Sparks for a four-minute stretch in which they combined to score 19 points for a 32-19 lead with 5:39 remaining.

The Sparks scored seven straight to start the second half and take a 45-30 lead. Charlotte shot just 11-of-33 in the second half, while Leslie put on a show, hitting a 3-pointer, grabbing rebounds, and feeding passes to her teammates for baskets.

''She's such a dominant player and has been for years,'' Charlotte coach Anne Donovan said. ''But what she established this year more than any other year is her mental game and how confident she was. She could not get distracted.''

Charlotte, a fourth-place team during the regular season, won road playoff games at top-seeded Cleveland and No. 2 New York to reach the finals for the first time. The Sting finished 22-18 after starting the season with a 1-10 mark.

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