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Parker's Slam Dunk Elevates Women's Basketball


There was a first and then a second in the women's NCAA tournament yesterday.

(Soundbite of ESPN broadcast, dialogue unintelligible)

The call on ESPN as Candace Parker, a freshman at Tennessee, dunked the ball once. She then did it again to help the Ladyballs beat Army 102 to 54. No female player has ever dunked in an NCAA tournament game, and no woman player has ever dunked twice in a game, period.

Nancy Lieberman is a basketball analyst for ESPN and a former college and professional player herself. Thanks for being with us.

Ms. NANCY LIEBERMAN (Basketball Analyst, ESPN): Thank you. It's my pleasure.

BLOCK: And Nancy, let me ask you about these dunks. Were they stylish?

Ms. LIEBERMAN: They're amazing. Candace has been dunking since she was in high school, and she was waiting for her opportunity. She was injured. She had sprained her ankles a couple of times during the early part of the season, and she really didn't feel she had her legs underneath her to do it. But when she took off on that full court, there was nothing that was going to stop her.

The thing that really struck me is how effortless that dunk was, and the one on a half court offense was even better than the first one because it came within the frame of an offensive set.

BLOCK: Candace Parker said after the game that it was a relief to finally do this and get it over with. Was there anticipation that she would do this?

Ms. LIEBERMAN: She knew. We've spoken about it during the season, and she knew that she would at some point dunk the basketball. When, she didn't know. And I just think it was something that she was ready for, the team was ready for, and it couldn't have happened on a bigger stage.

BLOCK: Help us understand something here. Candace Parker is 6'4”. Why is this such a rare thing in women's basketball?

Ms. LIEBERMAN: Well, it's not a rare thing for women to dunk. It's a rare thing for them to dunk in a game which is not, let's say a set up where they just kind of let somebody run out and see if they can dunk it. She did it in the flow of the game when there was a defender trailing. You're going to see many, many more of these types of plays in women's basketball over the next five, six, 10 years and beyond.

But there has to be a first. The first time Babe Ruth hit the ball out of the park in a World Series it was big news. But you have to see something to be able to do it. And now that young girls -- I guarantee you right now there are young girls around the nation who are going out to the schoolyard and they're trying to dunk like Candace Parker.

BLOCK: When you were playing in college back in the late ‘70s and in the pro-leagues in the ‘80s, was dunking considered in the realm of possibility? Would it be something you talk about with your teammates?

Ms. LIERBERMAN: Well, there were a couple of women back then who could dunk, I have to be honest with you. Did they do it? No. It wasn't anything that was thought to be that important at that time. But times have changed. The three point shot came into basketball and so many of the rule changes have affected the game. And the most important thing that's affected women's basketball is us, women, and the athleticism and how we see and how we view ourselves.

BLOCK: Does Candace Parker's dunking, do you think it changes the game in some way?

Ms. LIEBERMAN: I don't know if it changes the game, but it certainly gives us a lot more awareness. You know, look, it's like Pat Summit said to me yesterday, she goes, Nancy, I mean, I know it's important and everything, but I didn't know the real significance until they cut into the NBA game yesterday on ABC to show Candace's dunks. I mean, that's pretty cool. It's kind of like doing something that nobody has done before and people are excited about it, and it's getting an extraordinary amount of attention.

BLOCK: Pat Summit is the Tennessee coach.

Ms. LIEBERMAN: Yes, she is, and she's a former Olympic teammate of mine and coach of mine. The moment was not lost on her, but she also knows that it's not the most important thing.

BLOCK: Nancy Lieberman, thanks very much.

Ms. LIEBERMAN: Thank you.

BLOCK: Nancy Lieberman is a basketball analyst for ESPN. They were talking about yesterday's historic double dunk by Candace Parker in the NCAA tournament. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.