A LEAGUE OF HER OWN
The WNBA's biggest star retires at the top of her game
As Cynthia Cooper took her final stroll down the
confetti-littered hallways of Houston's Compaq Center last
Saturday, she carried a bottle of Gatorade, a ball signed by her
Comets teammates and a pair of conflicting emotions. In leading
Houston to its fourth title in the WNBA's four-year history with
a 79-73 overtime win over the New York Liberty, and in winning
her fourth finals MVP trophy, she had ended a glorious career in
dream fashion. All that was left for her to do was walk out the
door. "I'm feeling pure, awesome joy," said Cooper, "but I'm
starting to feel sadness, too. When I was running through the
fans, high-fiving and hugging them, I realized this is going to
be my last time doing this."
For Cooper, 37, who announced in July that she would retire after
this season, Saturday was the last time to do a number of
exceptional things she had made routine. Before she danced on the
scorer's table in a shower of confetti for the last time, she
made her last game-saving shot, a 24-foot three-pointer with 21.5
seconds left that tied the score at 64 and sent the game into
overtime. For the last time, she broke the hearts of the Liberty,
playoff runner-up three times. Said New York forward Sue Wicks,
"In a couple of days we'll feel as if we had a good season, and
in a couple of years we'll say, Wow, Houston had something
That's a perfect description of Cooper, a 5'10" shooting guard
with a knack for shredding defenses and making clutch plays.
Though she spent all but the last four years of it in obscurity,
her career has been one of the most decorated in sports: two
NCAA titles (with USC), two Olympic medals (a gold and a
bronze), four WNBA championships and two regular-season MVP
awards. Among other pursuits, Cooper plans to spend more time on
the charity she named for her late mother, the Mary Cobb
Building Dreams Foundation.
As for the WNBA, the departure of its marquee name is a big blow.
Although the league has doubled in size, from the eight teams it
started with in 1997 to 16 this season, average attendance
declined this year and TV ratings slipped to alltime lows. But,
says New York coach Richie Adubato, the league will survive:
"It's like when Jordan left the NBA. New stars will take her
place. New stars always take your place."
Watching Cooper as she made her way through the still-crowded
bowels of the Compaq Center nearly two hours after the game,
however, it was hard to picture a player who could fill her
signature Nikes. "Say 'WNBA,' and the first name out of anybody's
mouth is Cynthia Cooper," says Liberty forward Crystal Robinson.
As she headed for the door, Cooper bid farewell to the league in
the same way she announced her arrival four years ago: weaving
through traffic with a ball in her hand. --Kelli Anderson
After nearly two months of full-contact two-a-days and 65
exhibition games (the equivalent of a quarter of a season), the
NFL preseason is finally over. Was it worth it? Well, we did
learn the answers to a few questions:
How do the Rams look? Awful. While the Giants' new uniforms are
the coolest '60s revivals this side of Austin Powers, St. Louis's
new getup looks like the bastard love child of the Notre Dame and
Why is Andre Rison still in the league? True, his legs are
aging, his stats are declining, and he often runs afoul of the
law. (Just last week he was charged with four counts of check
kiting.) Still, Rison, 33, is a dynamic locker room presence,
capable of making a good team think it's great. Rison has already
brought attitude to the Raiders, his sixth team in seven years,
just what a team full of potential needs going into the season.
What coaches are in trouble already? After seeing running back
Fred Taylor and two fifths of his offensive line go down with
preseason injuries, the Jaguars' Tom Coughlin can't feel too
confident, but no coach is on shakier ground than the Bengals'
Bruce Coslet. Cincinnati lost wideout Darnay Scott, its only
veteran offensive talent other than uninterested running back
Corey Dillon, to a broken left leg suffered in a contact drill a
month before the Bengals' first regular-season game. He'll be out
for the year.
Isn't the preseason a valuable learning experience for rookies?
There may be some truth to that. Consider the case of Cowboys
offensive tackle Erik Williams, a nine-year veteran who spent
the first four weeks of the preseason "contemplating
retirement." His contemplative mood was no doubt aided by the
100[degree]-plus temperatures at the team's Wichita Falls,
Texas, training camp and the trans-Pacific road trip for an Aug.
5 matchup against the Falcons in Tokyo. Williams finally
reported on Aug. 15 and wasn't fined for his absence. New
players would be wise to note: You can always learn something
from the veterans.
Sport? Not a Sport?
THIS WEEK: SKATEBOARDING
NOT A SPORT "Hell no. It's a recreational activity, like
roller-skating." --Blue Jays outfielder Jose Cruz
SPORT "It takes hard work and mental discipline, and there's
money involved. Skateboarders are definitely athletes." --Giants
pitcher Shawn Estes
NOT A SPORT "It's a hobby. It's something you do when you're
bored, like fishing." --Florida tailback Robert Gillespie
SPORT "I saw this guy come off a half-pipe, then skid down a
rail, then flip his board with his feet before it landed back on
the half-pipe. That takes athletic ability. It's definitely more
of a sport than, say, bowling." --Broncos strong safety Billy
NOT A SPORT "There's certainly skill involved, but it's more of
a daredevil-type thing." --Indians first baseman Jim Thome
SPORT "It's not only a sport, it's a fashion statement."
--Nets general manager John Nash
NOT A SPORT "They're trying to make everything a sport. Why not
grocery bagging at Albertson's? These days they even call
putt-putt golf a sport. That's just trailer-trash activity. Sure
it takes skill to do these things, but is it a sport?"
--Marlins infielder Dave Berg
SPORT "Anything where you have a chance to get hit by a car has
to qualify as a sport." --Angels coach Mickey Hatcher
Survivor vs. The Olympics
What a difference a little national obsession can make. Last
week CBS announced that it would air a two-week marathon of
Survivor repeats beginning on Sept. 15. That puts the hugely
successful reality show up against NBC's broadcast of the Sydney
Games, whose 17-day run also begins on the 15th. "There's no
expectation we'll beat the Olympics," says CBS spokesman Chris
Ender. "We're just trying to keep our momentum up, especially
among younger viewers."
Still, the move stands in stark contrast to conventional wisdom
about how a competing network should handle the Summer Olympics:
Stay out of their way. In fact, earlier this year ABC, CBS and
Fox successfully lobbied Nielsen to delay the start of the fall
season until after the Games so as not to give NBC an unfair head
start in the season's ratings. But CBS was emboldened after
Survivor's Aug. 23 final episode pulled in a jaw-dropping 52
million viewers, second only to the Super Bowl this year. The
finale also had better numbers than any night of Olympic
broadcasts over the last three Summer Games.
Should NBC be worried? Definitely. Media analysts note that with
its paucity of standout personalities and 15- to 18-hour time
difference, Sydney is one of the least TV-friendly of recent
Games. CBS is also enhancing the Survivor repeats with new
commentary from the castaways. Given the mania for all things
Survivor, that could count for a lot. So what it will come down
to is this: Will America want to watch a bunch of determined
competitors go for the gold in a beautiful far-off locale...or
will they watch the Olympics?
Reebok's contour strap dress, with athletic halter styling and
cutaway sides, shown here in mango.
Reebok's rather outre outfits are designed both to show off
Williams's athletic physique and to start off-court chatter by
pushing the traditional tennis design envelope. "We were looking
to create something fresh," says Reebok's Dianne Hayes. "Tennis
needs to move forward. What people are asking for these days
isn't the traditional pleated skirt and top." Williams, a
part-time student at the Art Institute of Florida in Miami,
helped design the outfit with Reebok's Ingrid Bornheimer-Smith.
"Venus is showing more skin than she had before," says
Bornheimer-Smith. "What she's wearing now is definitely racy."
"Like Venus, the dress makes a statement of confidence," says
former pro Anne White, best known for her white Wimbledon
unitard in 1985. "I suggest she get a matching pashmina to wrap
around her shoulders postmatch."
Up to 200 drag queens, in the Sydney Olympics closing ceremonies.
They'll appear in a float celebrating the 1994 cult drag-queen
movie Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (above),
during a tribute to the Australian film industry.
Put on Hold
The recording career of Kansas senior swingman Luke Axtell, by
the NCAA, which told Axtell to stop selling his country album,
The River Runs Dry, or risk losing his eligibility. The NCAA
prohibits student-athletes from promoting or selling any
product, even ones they create.
On the same night, cars belonging to Dwight Gooden, Shaquille
O'Neal and Warren Sapp, from a high-end auto electronics shop in
Tampa. The thieves abandoned O'Neal's Mercedes within a mile of
the shop after it got a flat tire; Gooden's Lexus was found the
next day wrapped around a tree; and Sapp's Mercedes was recovered
after a police chase. Four men and one woman were charged in
connection with the thefts.
The Rimouski (Que.) Minor Hockey Association, by Helene Canuel,
who seeks $1,000 in damages because her 14-year-old goaltender
son, David, was held out of a must-win game by the coach.
The Blast, as the name of Birmingham's XFL team, after club
execs realized its negative connotations. During the 1960s the
city earned the nickname Bombingham as a result of attacks on
black churches; in 1998 an abortion clinic there was blown up.
Last week the NFL announced that MTV will produce the next Super
Bowl halftime show. What if the NFL and MTV collaborated on other
Real World, starring Terry, James and Howie!
Road Rules, featuring John Madden and his Madden Cruiser!
The Tom Green Show, with Tom Green and his zany sidekick, John
Barry Bonds and his wife, Liz, threw a $150,000 party for his
teammates and their families at the estate of Giants co-owner
Harmon Burns. The medieval-themed bash featured performances by
minstrels, court jesters, magicians and soul singer Johnny Gill.
Maybe one of the fortune tellers told Bonds the impending good
news: The day after the shindig, the California Supreme Court
upheld the 1988 prenuptial contract between Bonds and his
ex-wife, Sun. A lower court struck down the contract because Sun,
a Swedish immigrant, didn't have a lawyer when it was signed.
Bonds, who was earning $106,000 a year from the Pirates at the
time, had two attorneys and a financial adviser at the
Mike Tyson was on his way into a recent party at Las Vegas's New
York-New York casino when a security guard stopped him and asked
him for proof of age. Luckily for the guard, the amused
heavyweight (who's 34) readily complied....
Red alert! A baseball exec has been spotted in the company of
gamblers! Before Bud Selig starts hyperventilating, here's the
story: According to New York's Daily News, George Steinbrenner
startled patrons when he strolled into a Manhattan Off-Track
Betting parlor two weeks ago. Steinbrenner came to watch one of
his ponies, Dream Supreme, in the Ballerina Handicap at
Saratoga. The filly, who went off at 9-2, won by 2 1/4 lengths....
Sis, boom, Shakespeare in Love! Miramax co-chairman Bob
Weinstein is a close friend of the Hollywood High football
team's defensive coordinator, Rich Steinmetz, which is why
Weinstein gives thousands of dollars a year to the program. The
Sheiks have a unique way of acknowledging Weinstein's support:
Every time they score a TD, they yell out the name of Miramax's
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN W. MCDONOUGH Cynthia Cooper, the WNBA's top star, retires in a flurry of confetti. [T of C]
B/W PHOTO: JOHN W. MCDONOUGH COOPER'S TOWN: The indefatigable guard won one last time for Houston.
COLOR PHOTO: MICKEY PFLEGER/ENDZONE (RISON) For leadership, the Raiders will look to Rison.
COLOR PHOTO: SHAZAMM/ESPN X-Games silver medalist Pierre-Luc Gagnon
COLOR PHOTO: MONTY BRINTON/CBS (SURVIVOR)
COLOR PHOTO: BOB CHILD/AP (WILLIAMS)
COLOR PHOTO: EVERETT COLLECTION
THREE COLOR ILLUSTRATIONS: ILLUSTRATION BY DANNY HELLMAN
COLOR PHOTO: BRAD MANGIN
COLOR PHOTO: ELSA/ALLSPORT
Five Things Other Leagues Could Learn From the WNBA
Keep your season short. A 32-game schedule leaves no room for
Keep your postseason short too. Here's hoping best-of-three
series catch on elsewhere.
No prima donnas. When the players make an average of $55,000 a
year, you know they're playing with heart.
Make games family-friendly. Affordable tickets mean mom and dad
can bring the kids and their friends. Which is why eight thousand
WNBA fans make more noise than an NBA crowd twice that size.
Play spirited but not mean-spirited. No crotch grabbing, no
throat-slashing gestures. It's called sportsmanship, men.
Odds set by British bookmaking firm William Hill that Tiger Woods
will win all four majors next year.
Odds set by William Hill that Woods will someday become U.S.
Year of eligibility granted to Utah free safety Brandon Dart,
who has had three season-ending knee operations and one foot
surgery since entering college in 1994.
Lottery jackpot won by Dan Kerrigan, father of figure skater
Nancy Kerrigan, on a $5 ticket.
Distance, in yards, that Nick (Sputnik) Miller, 15, of Monterey,
Calif., drove a golf ball to advance to the sectional qualifying
round of the RE/MAX World Long Driving Championship.
This Week's Sign of the Apocalypse
Honored before the Little League World Series title game, Hall
of Famer George Brett (right) told the 42,000 spectators that he
had wanted to be there for 35 years and then left after the
They Said It
North Carolina football coach, on the bad breaks that led to his
team's 1-4 start in 1999: "I can promise you if we'd been 4-1
after those first five games, we wouldn't have ended up 3-8."