Kim Perrot, guard, Houston Comets (WNBA)

One in an occasional series.

By Al Mattei


TELESIDE, U.S.A. -- You could feel Robin Roberts' emotions coming to the surface when she did her opening introduction of a WNBA game August 16, 1999. She confirmed to the women's sports community something that had been feared a long time: Kim Perrot, the fiery guard who was the emotional leader of two Houston Comets championship teams, was about to lose her battle with cancer.

It was one of those sports television moments like Jim McKay announcing the deaths of a group of Israeli wrestlers at the 1972 Summer Olympics.

What makes the August 19 death of Kim Perrot so remarkable? Much of it was played out on television. It is a powerful medium, allowing athletes of Perrot's excellence to decorate our screens.

It also can remove barriers. It removes the barriers between enthusiast and athlete, sometimes to an uncomfortable degree. During the Comets' championship ring ceremony earlier in the season, small nuances, put together, left the impression that Perrot did not have much time left with us.

Viewers of the halftime ceremony noticed that the powerful point guard had become much more gaunt. They noticed the aggressive scar imprint on her bald head where surgeons had tried to remove cancerous tumors from her brain. They noticed the emotions of the fans.

What gave the occasion its immediacy was television, and the contrasts between the energetic images of Perrot's play and the thin woman walking unsteadily towards the center circle of the Compaq Center to receive her championship ring and hugs from teammates.

Ironies twist around these circumstances like vines on an ivy branch. One hallmark of the WNBA is its ability to market itself not only though its play and endorsements, but through public-service announcements (PSAs) which make their way into sports telecasts.

The WNBA's PSAs have focused on, among other things, health goals. One of them was to raise breast-cancer awareness. What the league did not count on was one of its brightest stars -- and a non-smoker -- contracting a form of lung cancer, which eventually spread to her brain and, apparently, elsewhere.

The league has dealt with Kim Perrot's passing by making a video highlights montage available to the New York Liberty before a game.

The website has an amazing Kim Perrot tribute which includes several pages worth of emails sent from all over the country, from fans male and female, young and old. Poetry and prose, in English and Spanish, fill out the "memories" page.

A plurality of these messages have an interesting theme, which can be summed in the phrase, "though I did not know you."

But through television and WNBA marketing -- and, perhaps, in spite of it -- many of us knew Kim Perrot. She gained admiration for her passion and determination, even from opposing fans.

She was not one of the "chosen" marketed players whose uniform top would be in every Lady Foot Locker in America, but played in a way that you could not help but to notice her when the Comets took the floor.

In a sense, it was not television or clever marketing that made Kim Perrot a star player. It was Kim Perrot who made Kim Perrot a star player -- something to keep in mind whenever you remember her.