An original Women's National Basketball Association
team. Played in the first-ever
WNBA game, gushingly televised by NBC
1997, in which the Sparks lost to the New York Liberty
. Won the 2001 WNBA championship
, which broke the Houston Comets
' four-year hold on the title. The star
player is center Lisa Leslie
, who has been with the team all five years of its existence. The coach is former Laker Michael Cooper
After getting Leslie in the 1997 WNBA dispersal draft, the Sparks seemed to immediately be one of the best teams in the WNBA. Leslie, a 6-foot-5 center with great quickness, was considered the top women's basketball player alive. But the team's potential never bore out, and the Sparks missed the playoffs in 1997 and 1998.
In 1999 and 2000, things began to change. Michael Cooper, an assistant in 1999, was named head coach after the season. Also, forward DeLisha Milton joined the Sparks in 1999 and helped Leslie and guard Tamecka Dixon with the scoring load.
The Sparks reached the Western Conference finals both years, losing to the Houston Comets each time. In 2001, the Sparks finally broke the jinx, defeating the Comets in the playoffs -- of course, the Comets were without their best player, Sheryl Swoopes -- and went on to defeat the Charlotte Sting in the finals.
The Sparks' NBA sibling team is the Los Angeles Lakers. The Sparks play their home games in the almost-brand-new Staples Center, which is a step up for them. When Staples first opened, the Lakers immediately moved there, but the Sparks had to stay in the older Great Western Forum. (Not only does the Forum lack Staples' luxury boxes, it's also stuck in Inglewood, which is nowhere near downtown Los Angeles.
In 2001 word came out that the Sparks, like many WNBA teams, were focusing an advertising campaign toward the lesbian community in hopes they'd buy tickets. This was heavily reported by local reporters (such as T. J. Simers of the Los Angeles Times) who had nothing better to do than figuratively sit at the back of the class and throw spitballs.