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Wonder Women

Sept. 26, 2005
Sept. 26, 2005

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Sept. 26, 2005

CATCHING UP WITH
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Wonder Women

In most sports, child support is a court-ordered payment. In the WNBA, child support is the front-loading baby carrier worn by new mom Tina Thompson, an All-Star forward for the Houston Comets. (It's Gucci.)

This is an article from the Sept. 26, 2005 issue

NBA players possess luxury cars. WNBA players repossess luxury cars. "I can't tell you all my tricks," says Sacramento Monarchs All-Star center Yolanda Griffith, who once worked as a repo woman in West Palm Beach, Fla., to support her daughter, Candace. "Let's just say some people would smash the window or jimmy the door, then hot-wire it."

NBA stars cash checks. WNBA stars speak Czech. "Dobr´y means 'good' and clona means 'screen'," says Connecticut Sun All-Star forward Taj McWilliams-Franklin, who lives in Italy, will spend the winter in South Korea and speaks only Italian and Spanish to her daughters, Michele and Maia, to sharpen their language skills.

Last week Griffith's 25 points and nine rebounds led Sacramento to a Game 1 win over Connecticut in the WNBA finals. Then McWilliams-Franklin's 24 points and 16 rebounds led Connecticut to an overtime win in Game 2. (On Sunday the Monarchs took a 2-1 lead in the best-of-five series.) The WNBA postseason may not be the Mother of All Sporting Events, but it does seem, at times, to be a Sporting Event of All Mothers.

But then who could possibly care about women who are Willis Reed on the court (Sun guard Lindsay Whalen played Game 1 with a broken bone in her left knee) and Donna Reed off it (McWilliams-Franklin owns three sewing machines and made the dress she wore to Game 1)?

"I'm a good Southern girl," says the 6'2" McWilliams-Franklin, who turns 35 next month. "My dad, from West Virginia, thought a girl should cook, clean, wash, sew, make dinner and go to work or she'd never get a good husband."

She does all that and is one of the best rebounders in basketball. Even Dennis Rodman didn't make his own dresses.

Clearly (as sportswriters love to point out) this will never be the NBA. Players seldom refer to themselves in the third person and are even shy about the first person. After she hit a three-pointer to send Game 2 into overtime, Sun forward Brooke Wyckoff said her principal emotion was relief that "I wasn't the dork who missed the last shot."

NBA players are given $98 a day in meal money on the road. By comparison WNBA players get peanuts (or pretzels). Last Friday night at New York's Kennedy airport, 7'2" Sun center Margo Dydek collapsed like a folding ruler into her coach seat on Jet Blue to fly across the continent to Sacramento. Her teammates always ask the person on the bulkhead aisle to switch seats with Large Marge. "Usually," says Sun guard Katie Douglas, "it's a 5'2" guy who refuses to move."

Only gentlemen seem to give up their seats to chicks who set picks, and at least one of them has taken his old-fashioned values overseas: Army Sgt. Reggie Franklin, who is stationed in Vicenza, Italy. In October, Sergeant Franklin will report to Germany for a month of specialized training, then to Iraq for a year, beginning in January. Taj's father was almost right: She didn't get a good husband, she got a great one.

McWilliams-Franklin, meanwhile, will play a short winter season in South Korea so that she can be home in Italy for daughter Michele's high school prom and graduation. On Sept. 7, when Taj was in Indianapolis for a playoff game, Michele turned 17. She called her mother in tears and said, "I understand why you can't be here. But I still wish you were home."

"The worst thing [about playing] was missing my daughter's eighth-grade graduation," says Griffith, 35, the MVP of the WNBA in 1999 and a two-time Olympic gold medalist. "We had our home opener for the Monarchs that day, so I had no choice. Candace got to the arena with about seven minutes left in the game." It was then that the entire Monarchs team congratulated Candace (who's now 16) with a taped message played on the Arco Arena scoreboard.

McWilliams-Franklin and Griffith were both teenagers when they became single mothers. McWilliams-Franklin left Georgia State to have Michele, then enrolled at St. Edward's in Austin, where she worked in a TCBY store. Griffith left the University of Iowa after her first semester to have Candace, then enrolled at Palm Beach Community College, where she learned how to legally hot-wire cars for cash. At St. Edward's, McWilliams-Franklin sat through classes with half her chair in the lecture hall and half in the hallway so she could keep one eye on her toddler daughter playing in the corridor. "I needed to have my degree," she says now. "It was my duty. And basketball was the way to get it."

That, in the end, may be the fundamental difference between the NBA and the WNBA. When McWilliams-Franklin says she's just trying to feed her family, it's literally true.

• If you have a comment for Steve Rushin, send it to rushin@siletters.com.

The WNBA playoffs may not be the Mother of All Sporting Events, but it seems, at times, a Sporting Event of All Mothers.
PHOTOSIMON BRUTY