Teams still recovering from injury bug as playoffs open
Over the years, the WNBA has had a variety of slogans, some catchier and more well-known than others. It started with "We Got Next." There were also these: "Join In," "We Got Game," "This Is Who I am," "This Is Our Game" and "Have You Seen Her?"
The latter launched this year's advertising campaign. But I've been thinking that the "slogan" for 2006, as we head into the playoffs, should go more like this.
"What next? Join in rehab! We Got Strains! This Is Where I Hurt! This Is Our Pain! Have You Seen Her Scar?"
Or maybe, to simplify, "WNBA 2006: OUCCHHHHHHH!!!!"
It is the nature of sports that injuries are the great unpredictable element, something every team and every athlete has to deal with at some point. However, what has gone on in the WNBA this season seems extreme.
Perhaps that's because it felt like not a day went by when there wasn't news of someone else being hurt. Maybe it's because for some teams, the injuries piled up to the point where you wondered how they could keep holding it together.
And maybe it's also because many of the injuries haven't ended seasons but rather disrupted them. So we've been watching games while thinking about just how bad some players were probably feeling.
The injuries are bound to make observers speculate. Between overseas leagues in the fall/winter/spring and the WNBA in the summer, are players pushing themselves too hard? Does the WNBA's charter-less travel and truncated schedule -- especially this year, in order to get the season done before the World Championship -- potentially add to weariness and therefore, more injuries?
Obviously, there's no way to definitively measure the effects of those things. We can't be certain of "why." But we do know this: The WNBA's logo figure -- who, I have to say, doesn't look like anybody who has ever played in the league -- could be turned into the "Operation" game.
You could set off that annoying buzzer and make her red nose flash by attempting to "operate" on the following:
• Strained back (Charlotte's Tammy Sutton-Brown), strained knee (New York's Kelly Schumacher), strained Achilles' tendon (Indiana's Tamika Catchings), strained peaches (OK, little joke -- as in baby food; Sacramento's DeMya Walker and San Antonio's Marie Ferdinand both gave birth; not injuries, but still ).
• Knee tendinitis (Phoenix's Cappie Pondexter), ACL tear (Phoenix's Kamila Vodichkova), MCL sprain (Washington's DeLisha Milton-Jones), busted knee cap (San Antonio's Chantelle Anderson).
• Sprained ankle (New York's Becky Hammon and Washington's Crystal Robinson and Alana Beard) and a broken heart (collectively representing Liberty fans, pining for the good old days of VJ, C-Rob, Sue and 'Spoon).
I've finally learned to spell plantar fasciitis without looking it up -- OK, I'm lying, I had to double-check it again -- because it seems like everyone who plays basketball has it, used to have it or will have it. At the very least, this season that foot ailment has bothered Los Angeles' Chamique Holdsclaw and Seattle's Lauren Jackson, who also has a stress fracture to deal with.
Yeah, I didn't even include the injury woes of Seattle, Houston or Connecticut in the above "Operation" game. Those teams all made the playoffs, but come in with the biggest injury concerns.
Nobody more so than the Storm, who have dealt with just about everything except a broken wind gauge for mascot Doppler . (Uh-oh, jinx.) Seattle Storm? More like the Seattle Sore.
Wendy Palmer tore an Achilles' tendon; Shaun Gortman tore an ACL. They're out.
Hurt but hangin' in are Sue Bird (foot), Betty Lennox (knee), Janell Burse (shoulder) and the amazing Jackson, who's still a strong MVP candidate despite the fact that she can't really practice and sometimes feels as if her legs might just give out. After the playoffs, she's got the World Championships. Then maybe the kid ought to take about a year off and let her whole body rest and heal, much as basketball would greatly miss her.
Doubtful she'll do that, though.
Meanwhile in Houston, Tina Thompson was lost for 13 games because of a strained calf. She came back strong at the regular season's end. But the Comets are still without Tamecka Dixon, who has an Achilles' tendon injury, and Dominique Canty and Tari Phillips, sidelined with hand injuries.
Meanwhile, Connecticut lost Nykesha Sales for 12 games because of hip and Achilles' tendon injuries. About the time she returned, Katie Douglas had to take a break because of a calf problem. Both are expected to be ready for the playoffs.
But to the degree that you can put a percentage on how healthy people are, what team is entering the postseason closest to 100 percent? I think maybe Detroit, although rebounding machine Cheryl Ford did sprain her left hand a few days ago. She still had 15 points and 12 rebounds in the Shock's regular-season finale.
And, you know, maybe that should be the slogan for the WNBA 2006: "We Played Through It."Mechelle Voepel of The Kansas City Star is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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