Murmurs from the Los Angeles Sparks' locker room paint a picture of hostility from the team's front office in the wake of a season-ending sweep.
After getting blown out 94-68 in Game 2 of their semifinals series against the Connecticut Sun, longtime Sparks general manager Penny Toler reportedly tore into the team with a profane speech that included racial epithets, sources told ESPN's Ramona Shelburne.
Toler appeared to confirm her use of the N-word but claimed she didn't direct its usage toward anyone in particular.
"By no means did I call my players the N-word," Toler told ESPN. "I'm not saying that I couldn't have used it in a context. But it wasn't directed at any of my players.
"It's unfortunate I used that word. I shouldn't. Nobody should. ... But you know, like I said, I'm not here to defend word by word by word what I said. I know some of the words that I'm being accused of are embellished. Did I give a speech that I hoped would get our team going? Yes."
Toler, who has been the Sparks' general manager since retiring as a player in 1999, also called the players "motherf------," multiple players told ESPN, leading one player to opine: "You can't say that in 2019."
The Sparks would drop Game 3 by a score of 78-56, with head coach Derek Fisher electing to bench key players down the stretch. Two-time MVP Candace Parker, widely considered among the best to have ever played, logged just 11 minutes in the defeat, none of which came in the fourth quarter.
Toler dismissed the notion that her speech after Game 2 had an adverse effect on the team's performance in Game 3.
"If I offended someone, I didn't mean to offend anyone," Toler added. "But my point is, I was saying what I was thinking. And I have the right to do that as the GM. I've been the GM for 20 years and this is the first time something like this has occurred.
"Clearly, some people were offended. That wasn't the message I was going for, obviously. And that clearly is not the reason we lost Game 3. And if that was the reason, what was the reason we lost the first two? I wasn't in the locker room then."
The WNBA's head office has taken notice and will look into the incident.
"We understand the heat of the moment and that the Sparks lost in the semifinals, but we don’t condone that kind of language and will be reviewing it over the next few days," commissioner Cathy Engelbert said on ESPN after the initial story broke Thursday, according to The Associated Press.