The Los Angeles Sparks had a fine season, winning the Western Conference title. But they were swept in the playoff semifinals, ending their WNBA season with an ugly, 26-point loss in Game 3 in Connecticut. The ugliness appears to have begun after the team's loss in Game 2, on Sept. 19, when general manager Penny Toler delivered a locker room speech filled with obscenities, several racial epithets and a threat to replace them if they lost the series, ESPN reports. "By no means did I call my players the N-word," said Toler, who is black. "I'm not saying that I couldn't have used it in a context." One player said, "You can't say that in 2019." League Commissioner Cathy Engelbert agreed, saying on Thursday, “We understand the heat of the moment," per the AP. "But we don't condone that kind of language and will be reviewing it over the next few days."
In Game 3, coach Derek Fisher benched the Sparks' starting five for the fourth quarter. A few of the players suspect the benching decision was because of the tension involving Toler; the GM and the coach said the idea was just to get the team going. Toler said her speech wasn't the reason her team lost the game. "I didn't mean to offend anyone," said Toler, who has said the slurs weren't directed toward any individual. "I was saying what I was thinking. And I have the right to do that as the GM." (Read more WNBA stories.)