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And the kids were playing, little kids, big kids, kids that made history. This was Tuesday in the park. Toby May, the institution on Ocean, looks like this most Tuesdays with nice weather. Except that Toby May never looked like this at all.
At every hoop.
All thanks to the Connecticut Sun and the WNBA.
Tuesday in the park, another testimony to the longest running women's professional sports league in the history of the world, whose "Operation Orange," a coup d'etat on outdoor basketball courts in WNBA markets, made New London a better place.
They hung orange nets. There was Chiney Ogwumike and Kelsey Griffin and Renee Montgomery and all the other Sun players stenciling the courts with the WNBA logo. Alex Bentley and Kelly Faris writing, "Hey, New London. The Sun is back. See you May 16. #CTheSunRise."
Kareem Brown, former New London High great, got a little wistful. This is where he grew up, on these courts, where he honed a game that delivered more than 2,000 points and two state titles to the city before a college (and nearly a professional) career. He used to be those kids he was watching.
"Except that half the time," he said, "there were no nets at all. You know, as a kid growing up, you like to hear that 'swish.'"
And to think such an inexpensive gesture - a few nets, a little chalk - could resonate like this. Why? Because the Sun players, all of them, extended a hand into the community. They signed autographs and posed for pictures, particularly with members of the brand new state champs, the girls of New London High, who sported their "history made" shirts commemorating their history made.
"We don't even have a casino," Park and Recreation Director and longtime assistant football coach Tommie Major said, "and we get the stars to come to us."
Major made sure of it. Montgomery got lost on her way. And so Major talked her through New London.
Good thing, too. Because Montgomery's appearance made New London junior Delaney McPhail's day. McPhail was so excited, she bearhugged Montgomery. Then she made bunny ears behind Ogwumike, while they posed for a group picture.
"Even though I'm not from here," Montgomery said, "all of us know towns like this. It's good to give back."
Scenes and days like this reinforce the WNBA's appeal. And why people who mock it are on the low end of the learning curve. Think about it: It is everything we want professional sports to be: Reasonable salaries, reasonable ticket prices, accessible players, community outreach, connected fans.
"The Connecticut Sun have been good neighbors since they've been in existence," city councilor Marty Olsen said, while watching the festivities. "(Monday) they were at the New London Community Meal Center volunteering. Every year, they're doing something in New London and in eastern Connecticut."
The Sun and the league paid for and installed a new gym floor at Bennie Dover Jackson Middle School last summer. They've sent a message to New London: We care. It's a message New London rarely hears.
"I think it speaks volumes that role models for the high school kids can do this," Olsen said. "It's exceptionally positive. You can build on things like this."
Plenty of corporate monoliths have philanthropic arms that reach into communities. But this was so wonderfully personal. And a lesson to the kids that adulthood, no matter how rich and famous you become, requires an obligation beyond your own self-interest. We don't always see that in sports. But we see it in the WNBA.
This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.