Ailene Voisin, sports columnist

Ailene Voisin

Ailene Voisin: Sacramento still misses the Monarchs

Published: Sunday, Mar. 17, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1C
Last Modified: Sunday, Mar. 17, 2013 - 11:38 am

We miss them, don't we? The Monarchs, I mean. While Mayor Kevin Johnson only recently bundled the disbanded WNBA franchise into his attempts to save the Kings and facilitate construction of a downtown sports and entertainment complex, his frequent mention of the Monarchs evokes mostly fond, pleasant memories.

Maura McHugh stalking the sidelines in heels and crazy, colorful ensembles. Sonny Allen teaching his archaic weave offense. Jerry Reynolds brilliantly assembling a roster and transferring the duties to fellow WNBA convert John Whisenant. Confetti flooding the court on championship night in 2005. Fans packing J Street during the parade a few days later.

The wins, the losses, the stories, the women. Mostly, we miss the women.

Ruthie Bolton sweetly singing the national anthem and then bruising opponents with her powerful drives. Kara Lawson and Nicole Powell striking from three-point range. Yolanda Griffith – the center whose ferocity fueled the championship run – staring down opponents and finally cradling the trophy. Ticha Penicheiro throwing no-look passes, orchestrating fast breaks and producing momentum-changing steals.

"I grew up watching Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan," Penicheiro, 38, said the other day, "and we changed that. Young women look up to me and tell me I'm their favorite player. Girls and boys have female role models today. We had an impact. We were pioneers. That still gives me chills."

Never mind the Kings' recent litany of screw-ups – the coaching hires, the ill-advised trades, the doomed infatuation with the midlevel exception. The Maloofs' abrupt, panicky decision to fold their WNBA franchise in November 2009 because of financial concerns continues to create fumes up and down the Valley.

Public goodwill can no more be quantified than powerful images can be erased: A surprise appearance at a local school by the charismatic Griffith, for instance, left my 10-year-old nephew speechless and star-struck and scrambling for a Sharpie. Today, he still talks about the Monarchs, still wonders about Yolanda, stills asks about their demise.

Will introducing the Monarchs (or an expansion team) into the arena conversation influence the NBA owners who will decide whether to approve the sale of the Kings and relocation to Seattle? Unfortunately, no, not a chance. It makes for feel-good moments, but in any arena deal, the Kings will be the anchor tenant, the lead story, the primary breadwinner.

But if the Mastrov/Burkle bid and the Sacramento arena proposal prevails? Gather around the water cooler. Start campaigning. Remember the Monarchs. WNBA executives would entertain the possibility of a Monarchs rebirth because they, too, recognize a rich history exists here amid the ruins.

The Monarchs, one of the eight original franchises in 1996, were worthy partners and prominent players for the better part of their 13 seasons. The Maloofs claimed the Monarchs broke even financially whenever they reached the playoffs – which they did nine times during the family's 11-year ownership.

The WNBA is sticking around, and as it approaches its 17th season, it appears increasingly healthy. Though the league provides no specifics, record earnings are anticipated because of the new sponsorship agreement with Boost Mobile that will put logos on jerseys. Attendance is expected to jump when college stars Brittney Griner, Skylar Diggins and Elena Delle Donne join the league. Television viewership also is expected to rise because of the Griner factor (she dunks, folks). And league and ESPN executives are close to announcing a significant expansion of their cable deal.

In other words, if only elsewhere, the women's game seems to be gaining some hops.

"We had such a special thing going on in Sacramento with the Monarchs," Sierra College professor and former area coach Roz Goldenberg said. "The biggest thrill was to see young girls wearing Monarchs jerseys and starting to understand how important – how much fun – sports and basketball could be. I would go to games and see other coaches. … It was a nice gathering point for the basketball community. We don't really have that now, and that's sad, just sad."

Call The Bee's Ailene Voisin, (916) 321-1208, and follow her on Twitter @ailene_voisin.

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Read more articles by Ailene Voisin

Ailene Voisin, sports columnist

Ailene Voisin

Ailene Voisin was born in Brooklyn, N.Y. She earned a bachelor's degree in political science from UNLV and a law degree from the University of San Diego before committing full time to journalism.

Her career includes stops at the San Diego Union, Los Angeles Herald-Examiner and Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and time spent as the backup beat writer for Dodgers and Angels, Clippers and NBA beat writer, sports columnist, along with numerous assignments covering international events and the Olympics. Ailene joined The Sacramento Bee in 1997.

Phone: 916-321-1208
Twitter: @ailene_voisin

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