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July 2003 | Scott Engelhardt

Lisa Leslie and the Los Angeles Sparks do not have my respect.

There are several things you might ask me after hearing a statement like that.

"Do you think anyone, especially Lisa or the Sparks, gives a rip whether you respect them or not?"

Or, as a former member of the forum had as their signature line, "How could you not respect a player who is arguably the best basketball player on the planet, the woman who had the guts to make the first dunk in a WNBA game, or the two-time defending WNBA champions?"

I'll answer the second question first. The athletic skills of Lisa Leslie and her teammates DeLisha Milton, Tamika Dixon, LaTasha Byears (a Spark until just recently), and now Nikki Teasley are not in question. I would say that their skills speak for themselves. Lisa in particular is indeed and has been one of the most dominant players in the WNBA for years and continues to perform at the highest level. She has been the member of and arguably one of the leaders of 2 Olympic Gold medal teams and the latest World Championship team. You can't say that she's accomplished all that because refs give her veteran calls or because she's been on teams carried forward by other players and she's just tagged along for the ride. In each of those championship teams, Lisa has been a major contributor if not the top scorer or rebounder, or both. She is currently (as of this writing) in the top 10 of all but two of the 31 categories keeps track of, and is #1 in 11 of them. It would be ludicrous to say that she is not still one of the best players in the league and in the world.

I do not respect Lisa Leslie because of the one thing for me that overshadows and taints all that she can do and has done.

It's her arrogance. It's her complete and utter disrespect for all of her competitors. It's her almost schoolyard-like, childish way she and her teammates compose themselves. Some recent examples are in order. In a recent interview with an Australian news service, Lisa claimed to not know who Lauren Jackson was. Lauren Jackson, the player who ripped out Lisa's hair extensions during the gold medal match of the 2000 Sydney Olympics; the player who Lisa had just played in the WNBA playoffs, the player who was a teammate on the 2002 All-Star team and might have gotten the game MVP is Lisa's coach had allowed Lauren a few more minutes of playing time. Name doesn't ring a bell. Last season, before a game here in Seattle the Sparks came onto the floor for pregame practice and clapped until the Storm left because the Storm were a couple minutes late finishing up their drills. They clapped until the Storm left their own damn court. And then, after a fired-up Storm team beat them that night, the Sparks stayed in a huddle at midcourt longer than any team I've ever seen becasue the Storm and the fans were celebrating the win. Let's also not forget the beyond physical play such as the Lisa Leslie choke hold on Michelle Marciniak, the bloodied head of Kamila Vodichkova, and the numerous slaps and elbow blows to both Sue Bird and Lauren Jackson during the 2002 playoffs. Dirty. Arrogant. Poor Sportsmanship. I sure fans of other teams could provide similar and numerous examples too.

To be perfectly honest, it is almost disgusting that Lisa is some sort of the poster child for the WNBA and darling of whatever sports media pays attention to this league. The fact that this poorest of sports, this strutting self-absorbed "model," is put forth as a symbol by the league management is infuriating to say the least.

Perhaps she has been told she's the best so many times by those around her that it has gone beyond ego boosting into outright conceit. Because it isn't only limited to Lisa - the entire Sparks organization is the same way - I have to conclude that it is either because they live in such an echo chamber that the momentum of their own egos bouncing and off each other has caused some sort of logarithmic head expansion; or they have so utterly bought into Coach Michael Cooper's twisted Pat Riley philosophy that they have taken on the worst elements of the 80s Showtime Lakers without any of Magic Johnson's balancing character or charisma. It's probably both.

So no, I do not respect Lisa Leslie or the Los Angeles Sparks. All of their individual and collective accomplishments for me are negated by their overwhelming arrogance and complete lack of sportsmanship.

I think from the conversations I have had with other fans around the league that my disdain is not uncommon. This is a key point. Many might argue that we are LA haters simply because they are successful and we are consumed by jealousy. For myself that is completely untrue, and I think it is false for others as well. Here is why. The attitudes I have found towards the Houston Comets are night and day as compared to the attitudes towards the Sparks. The Comets won four straight WNBA championships and often did so in a dominating fashion. Cynthia Cooper and Sheryl Swoopes are two of the most self-confident players in the league, and for good reason. While they may slip over into arrogance at times, no one that I have ever talked to has spoken about those two players or that team with the same amount of disgust as I have heard over the Sparks. If it were simply a case of success jealousy, we would see the same feelings and statements made about the Comets and we don't.

Which leads us to the first hypothetical question in response to my statement, "Do you think anyone, especially Lisa or the Sparks, gives a rip whether you respect them or not?

I absolutely think they care and it is eating them up that no one, and I mean no one, in this league likes them, fawns over them, or respects them in the manner in which they feel they deserve. Go back and read past interviews with Lisa and the Sparks after they've won their titles, or after she won the league MVP. Time and time again the issue of respect comes up.

Unfortunately, I think they so fully believe that they way they play and act is the way to continue winning that the only solution if for them to start losing. If they go on winning championships, their attitudes will never change and in my opinion will only get worse. Well, you might say, if they are winning why should they change? Who cares if they get any respect if they have rings on all their fingers? They care. Deep down, they care and they know that it's not the arrogance and swagger that's helping them win championships, but they are so caught up in their self-image that they may be unable to ever admit it.

Back seat psychiatry? Maybe. But I believe this is the case. So not only do I not respect them, I kind of pity them too.