WONDER WOMAN (Penny Taylor Says Goodbye: Occasional Sports’ Moment #26)

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Penny Taylor played her last WNBA game yesterday, a loss in a playoff elimination game. I wrote most of what I had to say about Taylor here, a couple of years ago, when it looked liked her Phoenix Mercury team was about to redefine the possibilities of what women’s basketball could be.

That didn’t happen, for reasons I partially delineated in the UPDATE to the linked piece. But Penny Taylor was Penny Taylor down the bitter end.

When Holly Rowe approached her before what turned out to be her last game, she asked Taylor if she was having any reflective thoughts or perhaps feeling a bit sad about the now-imminent end of her career.

“No. I’m thinking about getting a *&%#ing win,” Taylor said.

That pretty well summed up every minute of Taylor’s career.

I had the privilege of seeing her play on television maybe fifty times. In maybe forty-five of those games there was what I can only describe as at least one “Penny Taylor Moment.” Some lunatic dive on the floor that turned out to have a point, some twisting layup in the lane, some no-look assist from her butt, some improbable rebound snatched from a gaggle of taller, “more athletic,” players that seemed to occur only when the game was on the line.

Some moment like the one in the videos I linked in the above piece (where she tied up a shooter with less than a second on the third quarter clock of a two-point game, forced a turnover, and then watched as Diana Taurasi sank a half-court shot off the in-bound to break the game open).

Not surprisingly, there was such a moment in her last game, too.

It came in the first half, when the game was still competitive but the tide was turning against her team.

No YouTube is available as yet, so I’ll have to describe it:

Taylor reached in on a burgeoning fast break being generated by the other team after a turnover near the mid-court line. After tapping the ball away, she dove on the court and secured possession. Just as she did so, the nearest player from the other team rolled over her and “accidentally” slammed Taylor’s head into the court with as vicious a close-range elbow as you’ll ever see. Taylor wasn’t quite knocked unconscious but she lay writhing on the floor for several minutes while the refs sorted out who the foul was on.

When it was finally decided that Taylor should be awarded two free throws, the announcers began pointing out that if she left the game for a concussion protocol, she would not, under league rules, be allowed to return. Then one of the announcers noticed that Taylor was wobbly on her feet when she was finally able to stand up. They doubted whether she would be able to continue, let alone make the free throws.

I laughed out loud and said: “Good God you morons. It’s Penny Taylor!”

Thirty seconds later, Taylor drained her two free throws. About sixty seconds after that, on an ensuing possession, she drove the lane, got knocked down…and drained two more free throws.

Down to the end, the people who cover the WNBA retained their complete state of ignorance regarding who Penny Taylor was, and why, as a gender re-write of that old classic line about Reggie Jackson would have it: “Winning just seemed to follow her around.”

Again I say, for the last decade-plus, the hardest-nosed basketball player in the world was a woman. A woman with her admitted share of all-star credentials, who, except when she was leading Australia’s national team, sacrificed superstar scoring stats, of which she was perfectly capable, in order to provide all the intangible things no one else could for championship teams in the WNBA and elsewhere.

And again I say, it will be a crying shame if the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame–the most prestigious of the sport’s several halls–follows the “journalists” who failed to recognize who she was, just because such an impossible lot of it didn’t show up in the box score.

Sayanora, Madam That-Ball-Is-Mine.

God it was fun!

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