I read a headline like “Sesame Street forces Dream out of Philips,” and I imagine Big Bird’s Muppety foot booting the entire WNBA team out onto Marietta Street. In traffic. And rain. Cue the wistful music. Sad, sad, sad.
As the story explains, “Sesame Street Live” long-ago booked this weekend at Philips Arena. Then Atlanta’s women’s basketball team just went ahead and made the playoffs, which is awesome, except for the Elmo factor.
Our fuzzy red monster friend may have some skills on the court, but mostly he’s a money-maker, a family draw and the first to sign the weekend contract downtown. The Dream had to find a new place to play — Gwinnett Arena in Duluth, some 25 miles away.
Contracts are contracts, but evicting a team from its home arena for its first-ever playoff outing is a disappointment. After talking with Tonya Alleyne, the team’s vice president of media relations, it seems less like a failure to plan and more like a failure to dream big enough for this team.
In its first season, the Dream finished with league-record 30 losses. This year, they clinched the second seed in the Eastern Conference and made the second-biggest turn-around in league history. They’ll play the 2008 champions, the Detroit Shock.
Nobody expected it to happen in year two, Alleyne said, because it never does.
“We’re very happy to have this problem,” Alleyne said. “We’ll play wherever they will put us. We’ll play on a playground.”
The move is a little complicated for the team, and for fans. Dream staffers are trying to get the word out about the venue change while shipping the team to its Wednesday game in Detroit. Fans who usually take MARTA to games won’t be able to do that Friday or Sunday, if there’s a third game.
The Dream has never played at Gwinnett Arena, but it’s not completely unfamiliar. The Dream practices at nearby Suwanee Sports Academy.
“We think it’s a great venue,” Alleyne said. “Some of our other alternatives are even further out. We’re pretty happy to be able to find space there.”
Turns out this is a pretty common problem for WNBA teams. Detroit won its 2008 championship at Convocation Center on Eastern Michigan University’s campus, rather than its home arena of The Palace of Auburn Hills. This year, the Washington Mystics will play first-round games against the Indiana Fever at Comcast Center on the campus of the University of Maryland, not at Verizon Center.
“There was no way to tell,” Alleyne said. “I think they’ll put it on the radar screen for next year. All of us will. We’ll know better.”
For now, they know this: home is wherever your team is.
Want to go? Atlanta Dream vs. Detroit Shock Round 1 playoff game. 7:30 p.m. Sept. 18. Gwinnett Arena, 6400 Sugarloaf Parkway, Duluth. 404-604-2626, www.wnba.com/dream.