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Will she or won't she?
Playboy still waiting

Page 2 columnist

Lisa Harrison might have played her college basketball at Tennessee and might be a starting forward for the WNBA's Phoenix Mercury, but as of two weeks ago, she was far from a household name.

Lisa Harrison
Lisa Harrison, left, towers over Jackie Stiles in recent rankings of the most popular player profiles.
Much has changed since July 11, when Harrison told the Arizona Republic that, in exchange for publicity and money, she would consider posing nude for Playboy if she was voted's "Sexiest Babe of the WNBA."

This past week, she was the second most searched-for athlete on search engine Lycos (July 15-22), trailing only Anna Kournikova, who has topped the Lycos Sports Web's Most Wanted Athlete list every week but three since August 1999. Harrison's name was searched for 70 percent more frequently than two-time defending Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong and 250 percent more frequently than Tiger Woods.

"When women who we don't expect to see naked are or will be featured in limited amounts of clothing, they tend to be very highly searched," said Aaron Schatz, editor of the list.

Harrison's name appeared in newspaper and Internet stories across the country, and she was the subject of 167 TV and radio stories since she first talked, said Pro Sherman, senior vice president of VMS, a news monitoring company in New York. And the sizzle showed no signs of slowing down. On Monday, Harrison's player card on received more than four times as many hits as the Jackie Stiles card, which ranked second.

Following her public acknowledgement that she was considering taking Playboy up on its offer, Harrison's lead in the poll has increased from 29 percent to 45 percent. Ultimately, she defeated New York Liberty guard Andrea Nagy by 14,423 votes when the 20-day, 10-player poll concluded July 16. One of those votes was even cast by Harrison herself.

"I doubt many people knew who Lisa Harrison was before we did this poll," said Blair Fischer, sports editor for "Casual fans tend to know a handful of WNBA players' names, but she's obviously not in that group."

CBS Sports sideline reporter Jill Arrington turned down Playboy's offer after winning the "Sexiest Sportscaster" poll, as did last year's WNBA poll winner, Michelle Marciniak, now with the Seattle Storm, who sat on the bench as a transfer during Harrison's senior year at Tennessee in 1993.

For Phoenix Mercury GM Seth Sulka, Harrison's decision not to immediately reject the offer has made the past two weeks quite interesting.

Lisa Darlene Harrison
Born: January 2, 1971,
in Louisville, Ky.
Height: 6-1 Weight: 164
College: Tennessee, 1993
WNBA statistics
Yr. Team PPG FT% RPG
1999 Pho 6.0 .682 4.1
2000 Pho 6.5 .811 3.9
2001 Pho 8.7 .872 4.9
Personal: Has a Yorkshire Terrier named Princess, which is also her nickname. Wears No. 3 in honor of her idol Rex Chapman. Favorite food is chicken and bow tie pasta with white sauce.

When Harrison said on the day after winning that she would "listen and see what they (Playboy) have to say," Sulka said a throng of 25 to 30 media members showed up at a practice. It reminded him of the days when the ever quotable Charles Barkley played for the Suns. "Even the male-dominated sports talk radio shows (in Phoenix), who usually give us one mention, talked about Lisa throughout the four-hour afternoon drive show," Sulka said.

Although Harrison's interest in posing for the magazine has given the WNBA arguably its most concentrated blast of media attention this year, league officials have been relatively quiet. As league spokesperson Maureen Coyle told, "We've said all along that ultimately it's her decision." Coyle said the league has not pressured Harrison to not pose for the magazine, and confirmed that doing so would not violate a morals clause in her contract.

Bruce Levy, a prominent WNBA agent who represents more than 30 players, said the clause wouldn't be violated because "Playboy counts as a mainstream publication, since Jimmy Carter and the governor of Minnesota (Jesse Ventura) have been in it."

While Fischer said that Harrison and Playboy are "in very preliminary talks right now," Harrison hasn't talked to the media about her plans in a week. And Playboy has been tight-lipped, as well, which is why Fischer said that any offers reported by the press thus far are likely exaggerated.

"Reporters have thrown out numbers like $500,000 and $1 million," Fischer said. "Those numbers are erroneous and ridiculous. One paper said that we offered her $100,000 -- I swear to God -- before we even contacted her. They threw the word 'reported' in front of it and thought that that made it OK.

"We have to make sure there's interest from her, and then we can start talking about money. We've had tons of people show interest before and things just break down."

If Harrison is interested, Playboy will be interested. And if she's not, Playboy likely will do everything possible to change her mind. Sex, in the world of sports, sells.

Anna Kournikova could easily drop out of tennis' top 20 if she doesn't return to the court soon, but the Russian sexpot, who hasn't won a single tournament as a professional, reportedly earns between $10 million to $15 million annually in endorsements.

Squash player Vicky Botwright was one of the most searched-for athletes in early July, only a few weeks after she asked to wear a thong in match play and later posed in it for British newspapers. Botwright has since launched a Web site (, where you can download pictures or book her for an appearance. No dates, she cautions. But the thong is for sale, with the proceeds going to charity and, as of Saturday, the high bid was 270 pounds (approximately $383).

During a charity auction, one bidder spent $705 for the opportunity to play H-O-R-S-E with Harrison. Another bidder spent $630 to play the game with Lisa Leslie, the Most Valuable Player in the recent WNBA All-Star Game. Perhaps swaying the auction price is the fact that bidding closed on the day Harrison was declared the winner of the Playboy poll.

Levy, the prominent agent, said that if the league or the Mercury -- behind closed doors -- tried to prevent Harrison from posing, Playboy's offer would allow Harrison, who does not have an agent, to have some leverage in future contract negotiations.'s Sexiest Babe of the WNBA voting results
Lisa Harrison, Phoenix Mercury forward, 18,336 votes, 45 percent
Andrea Nagy, New York Liberty guard, 3,913 votes, 9 percent
Eva Nemcova, Cleveland Rockers forward, 3,143 votes, 7 percent
Carolyn Peck, Orlando Miracle coach, 3,103 votes, 7 percent
Sheryl Swoopes, Houston Comets forward, 2,803 votes, 6 percent
Annie Burgess, Washington Mystics guard, 2751 votes, 6 percent
Erin Buescher, Minnesota Lynx guard, 2,470 votes, 6 percent
Nikki McCray, Washington Mystics guard, 1,865 votes, 4 percent
Allison Feaster, Charlotte Sting forward, 957 votes, 2 percent
Lisa Leslie, Los Angeles Sparks center, 878 votes, 2 percent
-- Source:
* sports editor Blaine Fischer said that all players were contacted before the poll began on June 26th.

"She making $40,000 and is a key starter, so if the club or the league happens to believe that it will hurt the family atmosphere or compromise sponsorship agreements, then they better offer her more money to compensate for not doing it," said Levy.

Sulka said Harrison's full-year financial package is actually worth closer to $100,000, according to Sulka, since playing salary is supplemented year-round by housing and transportation, as well as additional income for her team community relations position.

Unless Playboy offers her much more than her yearly salary, Jane Kachmer, agent of WNBA player Jennifer Azzi and volleyball star and Playboy poser Gabrielle Reece, said it might not be worth it.

"If she's not protected in this deal, she can come away very damaged," said Kachmer, who maintained control of Reece's shoot by choosing photos taken by an independent photographer hired by Reece. "She can look at the Gaby Reece story and say, 'Oh, cool, that's what it's like.' But no one from Playboy was even at our shoot. You have to make sure they deliver what you want."

Sulka said that while he doesn't condone Harrison's posing, Playboy "is very legal and is obviously a fabric of our society." He also said he doesn't think team relations next year will be hurt if she decides to do it.

"From everything I've heard around here (from) the players is that they are very much 'pro-her' in doing what she wants," said Sulka, who said he believes the mix of international players on the team creates a more liberal atmosphere. "(Rookie forward Ilona) Korstine was a French citizen when she played there, so walking around the Riviera and seeing topless people wasn't a big deal."

Other players, like New York Liberty forward Sue Wicks, aren't so sure. Wicks said that posing "would go against a lot of things that (the WNBA) stands for and the image we're giving women."

"(The media attention) perpetuates the only ways that people think about women, and that they don't want to see them as athletes and strong," Wicks said. "It's kind of sad, but that's society."

So will she or won't she? Everybody's waiting to find out Harrison's decision, even Playboy. But Fischer said Playboy's patience has a limit.

"If she sticks by what she originally said (that she'll pose for the right price), we obviously want to strike now while the iron's hot and not wait until the buzz goes away," Fischer said. "Before people start forgetting who Lisa Harrison is."

Darren Rovell, who covers sports business for, can be reached at

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