Sometimes it’s hard to find things other people haven’t said. Sometimes it’s difficult to go through so many years of memories. And I have to admit that VJ was always one of my favorites, so it’s easier to write about her. (Since Sue is another, Thursday’s retrospective should be easier too.)
But without Spoon, we don’t have any of this.
Teresa Weatherspoon might be the greatest player in the history of women’s basketball to never average double-figures in scoring. It’s a curious and somewhat ironic twist that the most iconic moment for a non-scoring guard is a halfcourt heave- but some days, the curious and somewhat ironic is what makes it quintessentially New York Liberty.
If you wanted the perfectly polished maestro to run your offense like a coach’s dream, Teresa Weatherspoon was not exactly that player. If you wanted the defensive demon who could single-handedly change a team’s game plan, Teresa Weatherspoon was not exactly that player.
But if you wanted someone to be a leader, to kindle the flame, to work the room, to find the open player, to get the big steal, to get the crowd pumped, to create the energy and feed it back into the team and feed it back into the crowd and feed it back into the team until the feedback loop was nineteen thousand strong at the top of its lungs and you had one unit working together… Teresa Weatherspoon was exactly what the doctor ordered.
Spoon’s shot was never a thing of beauty- but her telepathy with her teammates was. If you want to play with the four classical elements, Spoon defined fire for the Liberty. Her passion marked her, and defined her, and made her team, and flowed out to define a fan base. She was ours, but we were even more hers, and she understood that- and to this day she understands it. To borrow her phrasing, we’re wrapped around her finger- but she’s wrapped around ours.
The strange thing, writing this eight years later (because that year with the Sparks never happened, let us make that clear, that year with the Sparks where she cropped her hair and couldn’t keep a dribble NEVER HAPPENED and if you claim it did we will have words) is looking back. I can’t say I wasn’t a Spoon fan, because that was my team and I loved them, and how could you not love the heart of the team if you loved the team? But I couldn’t get behind her the way I got behind VJ, or Sue, or Tari, or even some of the reserves like Coquese Washington and Shea Mahoney. So looking back, it’s odd, and I know I’m a little out of place. Maybe I’m the wrong person to write this.
For all the times Spoon leaped, swaggered, danced, mugged, jumped on tables, raised her face to the ceiling and screamed, pumped her fists, got the crowd going… the image I always have of her heart on her sleeve is of none of these. It’s of the moment of silence on August 19th, 1999, of the tears on her face as she looked up, of the grief when the official announcement of Kim Perrot’s death was made to the Garden crowd. For those terrible moments, she was more than a firestarter.
There’s a reason her name is on the Liberty’s floor, even before her digital jersey was raised to the walls of the arena; it seems almost like a holy place. I’m sure she skidded across it at one point or another, diving for a loose ball or flicking away a casual dribble- but the same can be said for the entire sidelines, to be fair. It lies opposite to the tunnel entrance at the Garden, opposite the site of some of the most interesting moments in Spoon’s history with the Liberty.
One of the saddest parts of the Liberty’s neglected history is that a generation of fans is coming in that has no connection to it. They can see pictures on a screen and clips on a video board; they can hear names and numbers; they can be told that this is the history of the team. But when Spoon grabs the mic and orders us to make noise, it means nothing to them. They look at her and see a forty-something woman in a suit, and they wonder what the fuss is all about.
But if anyone can rekindle that fire, it would be Teresa Weatherspoon.