At airports, in restaurants, while cutting through hotel lobbies, Andrea Lloyd has grown accustomed to the question.
It’s the recent response she’ll never get used to.
“People come up to me and ask, ‘Oh, do you play basketball?’ ” said Lloyd, whose 6-foot-2 athletic-looking body is a dead giveaway.
When she tells the strangers she plays professionally, next, they ask where.
In Columbus, she tells them.
And then they ask, “In the WNBA?”
“I’ll say something like ‘nah.”’ Suddenly, curiosity turns to sympathy.
“Well, what about the WNBA? Maybe someday you’ll be able to play in that,” they offer her.
“Like it’s something I’m going to look forward to when I get better,” said Lloyd, recalling the story the other night while in Spokane watching the Spokane Stars girls basketball team tune up for the national AAU tournament.
Lloyd, a member of the University of Texas 1986 NCAA championship basketball team, the United States women’s 1988 Seoul Olympics gold-medal team and the American Basketball League’s 1997 champion Columbus Quest, does not need a shoulder to cry on. It’s the last thing this tough, worldly, opinionated athlete is looking for.
All she is asking is for the public to watch what’s going on in the active world of women’s professional basketball. And then judge for itself.
The Women’s National Basketball Association, which debuts today, has been hounding the public with the catchy phrase: We got next.
But the ABL got next, first.
“We have the right idea and they have a lot of money,” said Lloyd.
A 1983 graduate of Moscow High School, the 31-year-old Lloyd returned home last year when she was given the chance to play for the Columbus Quest in the ABL, a start-up league running on a shoestring budget with minimal corporate sponsors and even less TV exposure.
The league (which is expanding from eight to 10 teams this fall), averaged 3,200 spectators per game - 20 percent higher than projected.
The NBA-backed WNBA is based in eight NBA cities. Each team will play 28 games over 10 weeks with a four-team single-elimination playoff in August.
Nike, Sears and General Motors are among its sponsors. NBC and cable channels ESPN and Lifetime will televise at least one game a week.
“We can’t even get our game scores on TV,” said Lloyd. “And on ESPN, they’re having a story on Rebecca Lobo’s uniform stolen out of her high school. I mean, come on.”
Lobo of the New York Liberty, Lisa Leslie of the Los Angeles Sparks, and Sheryl Swoopes, a Houston Comet on maternity leave, are the cornerstones of the WNBA. The league is indeed banking on the big three, paying a reported $250,000 each.
Lloyd said she feels after the WNBA’s top players, the depth chart quickly becomes shallow.
“We have quality players from one to 10,” she said. “Watch their games and watch our games and everybody can make their own decisions.”
Apparently, women’s basketball fans already have drawn a line in the cybersand.
“It’s unfortunate people feel like they have to choose,” Lloyd said. “You get on the Internet and you read some of the newsgroups and it’s like the WNBA sucks and this and that and the ABL. …
“It’s incredible the stuff that’s on there. And these people are going at each other. They’ve chosen sides and it’s a battle,” said Lloyd, her thoughts spilling out faster than her sentences.
Lloyd picked her side when she returned home to play in the ABL after nine years of playing in Italy.
Her first professional season on American soil went well, despite playing on a bad right knee all season that required her fourth anterior cruciate ligament surgery in April. In 36 regular-season games, Lloyd, a forward, averaged 6.9 points (on 50 percent shooting), and 4.8 rebounds in 23.4 minutes per game. Because of her bum knee, coupled with a bad back, Lloyd saw limited playing time during the playoffs.
This summer, Lloyd is spending time at her home on Moscow Mountain. She plans to be ready for the upcoming season when practice begins Sept. 9.
Currently, she’s in the process of signing a three-year contract. The ABL salaries range from $40,000 to $150,000, the reported amount the Seattle Reign will pay 1997 Naismith Award winner Kate Starbird. Lloyd wouldn’t disclose her pricetag but said it’s more than $50,000 annually and that “it’s going to be very, very good.
“I won’t be making $150,000, that’s for sure. I wish. I’m too old for that,” Lloyd said.
Although Lloyd has strong opinions about the two leagues, she had no predictions about the future.
“Who knows,” she said.
“We don’t want the WNBA to do bad. What’s going to happen if the WNBA doesn’t do well? They’re going to say if the NBA can’t do it, nobody can.
“That could really hurt us.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: LLOYD ENVISIONS QUEST IN AREA Andrea Lloyd has a vision of playing in the Columbus Quest uniform before Inland Northwest fans. “I would like to have an exhibition game in Coeur d’Alene. Seattle and us,” said Lloyd, a 1983 Moscow High School graduate who plays for the Quest in the American Basketball League. Last year, the Seattle Reign and Atlanta Glory staged an exhibition at the Arena. Lloyd, who will begin her 11th year as a professional basketball player, said she plans on getting the wheels turning in an effort to bring the ABL back to the area. She said Lake City High School (capacity 2,700) could make a great setting. “I think it would be great,” she said. “One, I could come back and play here. Two, we’d have Seattle with Kate Starbird from Washington. And I was thinking about Long Beach because of Jenni Ruff.” Ruff, a 1996 WSU standout, played for San Jose last year but has been delegated to the expansion Long Beach team this season. Lloyd also mentioned Karen Deden and the New England Blizzard. Deden, who is from Missoula, played college ball at Washington. - Hilary Kraus