The WNBA All-Star Experience: Lasting Memories
(Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images)
From the bench, Dan Hughes stared at the final score in disbelief. From his hospital bed, Harley Hughes grinned at the result in wonder. After years of preaching D, Dan’s O stole the show in the 2009 WNBA showcase.
Dan will tell you he didn’t do much coaching in the West’s 130-118 victory over the East. He simply managed the minutes of his All Stars and enjoyed the spectacle of a record-breaking night. But that’s not the way Harley -- Dan’s father -- saw it.
Dad saw a son veer from script. Saw him turn Swin Cash into the MVP. Saw him guide the West to an offensive eruption. No team in WNBA All-Star history had ever scored 130 points. Then again, Harley’s son, the Silver Stars head coach, had never coached an All-Star team.
Two years later, that’s what Dan treasures most about his experience in the showcase. A phone conversation with his dad afterwards. “Son,” Harley said, “that’s one of the best games you ever coached.”
The words echo. Shortly after, Harley passed away. Dan shares the story to illustrate the importance of the All-Star Game, which will be held July 23 at the AT&T Center. The showcase, he says, is about turning moments into memories. The 130-point outburst gave Harley a moment. A call to the hospital afterward gave father and son something to remember.
“My memories are that we won,” Dan says, “and I had a great time talking to my father.”
Dan grew up playing ball and coaching in Ohio. Harley and Dolores cheered their son as a player, and applauded as he made the coaching climb from Mount Union College and Baldwin Wallace College to the University of Toledo, and then to the WNBA.
In 2009, Harley and Dolores Hughes were scheduled to fly to Connecticut for the All-Star Game at the Mohegan Sun Arena. Before they could leave, Harley fell ill and went to the hospital. “I wish he could have been there,” Dan says. “But after the game, hearing how excited he was, he created a memory. That’s what All-Star games are about.”
One lasting impression from 2009: four former UConn players starred for the West -- Cash, Diane Taurasi, Sue Bird and Charde Houston combined for 72 points. Another former Husky, Asjha Jones, scored six points, grabbed four rebounds and had six assists for the East. “We were running UConn plays,” Bird told reporters afterward. “I’m not even joking.”
What impressed Dan Hughes was the wealth of talent on his squad. “When you are in the locker room with the best players in the world, well, that doesn’t happen to many people,” he says. “It was one of those experiences you remember.”
No telling what will fans remember after this year’s game. But Hughes remembers what happened at last year’s event. One general manager told him, “Dan, San Antonio would be a great place to have our All-Star Game.”
Spurs Sports & Entertainment thought so, too. Soon, Director of Business Operations Russell Warren and Senior Vice President of Marketing and Sales Frank Miceli began preparing a bid. Months of hard work followed. The All-Star Game had been held in New York, Orlando, Phoenix, Washington, D.C. Why not here? “San Antonio,” Warren says, “is a championship city.”
A bid was submitted. The league accepted. The result shouldn’t surprise. The city has played host to four NBA Finals. It has held NCAA Final Four men’s and women’s tournaments. Each time, visitors have raved about the hospitality.
“We know the game will drive traffic to the river and fill up our hotels and restaurants,” Warren says. “We know people will come from all over Texas. We are a state with great girls high school basketball and great intercollegiate programs. We know we are going to drive great traffic to our game from Austin, Lubbock, Waco and other cities.”
Memories? Lisa Leslie dunked in the 2005 All-Star game, the first woman to perform the feat in the showcase. Michelle Snow dunked in 2006. Sylvia Fowles dunked in 2009, and claimed MVP honors in 2010.
The game produces wow moments. It creates warm memories. Dan Hughes savors both. He is visiting his mother in a hospital now -- she’s having knee replacement surgery -- and recalling events from 2009. The voice halts. Emotions spill. “I’m sorry,” he says.
Harley was a fine father, a good man. He was more than that, too, and his son is forever grateful. Memories? One of the best came after a ballgame. “And it always,” the son says, “makes me smile.”