Still The One Trailing 0-2 in the best-of-five ABL championship series, the Columbus Quest rallied behind Valerie Still, its 36-year-old center, to win its second straight title

March 23, 1998

As Valerie Still carried her two-year-old son, Aaron, around the
court in the joyful chaos of the Columbus Quest's ABL
championship celebration on Sunday, she showed him how to make a
No. 1 sign with his tiny fingers. He caught on to the concept
rather quickly, but instead of sticking the finger skyward, he
aimed it under the bill of his mom's new championship cap and
pointed curiously toward the dark discoloration near her left
eye.

In the Quest's run for a second straight title, the task had
once again fallen to Still, a 36-year-old, 6'1", 155-pound
center-forward, to stand up to opposing centers who are younger
and much heavier than she. By the end of the five-game series
with the Long Beach StingRays, Still's ankles ached, her neck
was sore, and she had scratches on her forearm. She had been
kicked, punched, shoved, stepped on and repeatedly cursed at.
One errant elbow had loosened a tooth. Another had blackened her
eye. But none of it seemed to faze Still, who, as Aaron can
attest, is one tough mother.

A few moments after moon-walking for the sellout crowd of 6,313
at Battelle Hall in Columbus, kissing a sportscaster on his bald
head and helping cut down one of the nets, Still handed Aaron
back to her husband, Rob Lock, a former basketball player, and
made her way to center court for the championship trophy
presentation. On her way she hugged Quest coach Brian Agler, who
told her, "These people love you, Val. They love you!"

As well they should. It has been largely thanks to Still, a
two-time championship-series MVP, that the Quest has won the
ABL's first two titles. Last week her courageous defensive
effort brought Columbus back from an 0-2 series deficit. Her
25-point, six-rebound performance in Sunday's 86-81 victory,
including a game-clinching steal and two free throws with .4 of
a second left, closed out the series and gave the Quest its 25th
consecutive home victory.

Still, who jokingly pleads with opponents to take it easy on her
because of her age and who has been known to give unsuspecting
centers wedgies during games, held 6'4", 210-pound StingRays
center Venus Lacy, 31, to zero points in the first half and
helped limit 6'4" forward Yolanda Griffith, 28, to three
rebounds for the game--13 below her series average. All this
after the combination of Lacy, Griffith and forward Clarissa
Davis-Wrightsil, 30, had so overpowered the Quest in Games 1 and
2 in Long Beach that Still, after watching tapes of those games,
had broken down and cried while driving home from practice
before Game 3.

"These kids I play against, they look at me and think, I'm
playing against this old biddy with a kid? I'm going to
dominate," said Still, who gets defensive tips from her husband,
a former Kentucky forward who spent a season with the Los
Angeles Clippers (1988-89) and then played eight years in
Europe. "Yeah, I'm old, but after all I've been through to get
here, it's a pride thing now. No way can I back down. This is
bigger than me. This isn't about just basketball, this is about
a movement, almost a kind of civil rights movement, to show
people women can be tough and talented and play basketball at a
high level."

Any lingering doubts about the latter were erased in the ABL
finals, which were so physical and intense you half expected to
see Pat Riley walking the sideline. But as always with this
fledgling league, the ABL featured a mixture of priceless hoops
in a bargain-basement atmosphere. During breaks in the action it
wasn't uncommon to hear thanks being announced over the P.A. to
such companies as 5th Avenue Dry Cleaning. Fox Sports Net bought
the TV rights to the championship series, but because of
regional programming conflicts Game 2 wasn't shown live in
either the Columbus or Long Beach markets. The series was also
overshadowed by the first two rounds of the NCAA men's and
women's tournaments, a disadvantage that could easily be
remedied by shifting the ABL season.

While the play in the ABL is superior to that in the WNBA, it
still isn't nearly as well showcased. ABL attendance increased
23% from the league's first season, to 4,333 per game, largely
as a result of the 8,857 home average of the New England
Blizzard. However, the Rage's move from Richmond to Philadelphia
was costly--the team not only had the worst record in the league
(13-31) but also the second worst attendance (2,117 per game).
The ABL wants to add a 10th team for next season, but more
important, it must secure an improved national-TV package (a
10-game regular-season schedule was broadcast on BET this
season) if it hopes to hold its own against the WNBA and retain
players the caliber of Still.

Still followed older brother Art to Kentucky, where she led the
Wildcats to 96 wins from 1979-80 through 1982-83 and became
Kentucky's alltime leading scorer--men's and women's--with 2,763
points. While Art went on to play 13 years in the NFL as a
defensive end with the Kansas City Chiefs and the Buffalo Bills,
Valerie spent 12 years playing pro hoops in Italy, winning
several scoring titles and becoming an eight-time all-star.
Fluent in Italian and an accomplished musician, she immersed
herself in the culture of her adopted country. She sang in
nightclubs and recorded two hip-hop CDs. She was also the first
American athlete to host her own TV show in Italy, called Still
Basket. She met Lock while interviewing his Forli teammate,
Daryl Dawkins, on her show.

Still's Como team won the Italian championship in 1991, but in
November '92 she was nearly killed when she lost control of her
car and hit a tree in Como. Still broke her left hand and her
nose, fractured two vertebrae and cracked her pelvis in six
places. Doctors told her she might not walk again. "Valerie has
nine lives," says Lock, "and I think she's used about seven so
far."

She returned to the court in 1993 and played two more seasons
before becoming pregnant. She and Lock, whom she married in '95,
then returned to Lexington, Ky. Seven months after Aaron was
born, the ABL was preparing for its first season, and a friend
persuaded Still to attend a tryout with the Quest. On the drive
to Columbus, Still stopped at a mall to buy basketball shoes and
grab a slice of pizza for lunch. "I saw that wall of shoes for
sale and felt overwhelmed by all the choices," she says. "I
asked the guy about the price range of shoes and then told him
to give me something in the middle. I wasn't going to pay $150
for a pair of shoes I was only going to wear once."

Still came into the ABL with no shoes and now it looks as if
she'll leave the same way. After Game 5 she announced, "This is
it, I'm done, and I can't think of any better way to leave this
sport than with two titles and two MVP awards." After earning an
average of $75,000 over the past two seasons, Still says that
it's her turn to help with the housework and parenting. She
wants to mentor younger players and spend more time with Aaron,
while Lock, a licensed pilot, plans to start a small aviation
company.

Exhausted, hoarse and soaked in champagne, Still walked across
the street from the arena to the team party wearing flip-flops.
She had given away her last pair of basketball shoes to a young
female fan.

COLOR PHOTO: JOHN F. GRIESHOP TOUGH MAMA The scrappy Still mixed it up in the finals, averaging 14.6 points and 7.0 rebounds to repeat as postseason MVP. [Valerie Still and others in game]

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)