New Country, Same Game

By Yaniv Orgad
Updated: November 23, 2009

Ashley (5) and Courtney Paris (3) during their days in Oklahoma.

Ashley (5) and Courtney Paris (3) during their days in Oklahoma.

ISRAEL — A few moments after Courtney Paris sealed Maccabi Ashdod’s 84-82 win in the Winner Cup final from the free throw line, her twin sister Ashley felt her throat choke up.

Ashley explains that it was weird enough playing against Courtney, since that had never happened before, but watching her twin celebrate taking “her cup” was just too much.

Courtney, who scored 16 points in Ashdod’s triumph over Elitzur Ramle, says the girls spent their whole life pursuing separate tracks – they even had completely different groups of friends. “But on the court we always played on the same teams,” she stresses.

At the height of Ashdod’s celebration, Courtney felt sorry for her sister and went over to comfort the Ramle forward, who scored 12 points in the game. But Ashley says it took her hours – when the two got a bite to eat together – before she could start thinking on the positive side.

She told herself that if it wasn’t her team, at least Courtney’s won the cup.

The Paris twins, who turned 22 in September, grew up in a family of athletes. Their father, William “Bubba” Paris, won three Super Bowl rings as an offensive tackle with the San Francisco 49ers and played in the NFL from 1983 to 1991. Leonard Gray, the brother of their 1.87-meter mother Lynne, played power forward for the Seattle Supersonics.

“We didn’t see Dad playing because we were small, but we grew up with a celebrity dad, and that was nice,” says Ashley. She says all the children – four brothers and two sisters – played sports because of their genes and because of the attention given to athletics in their household.

She recalls that, despite being an offensive lineman, their father was relaxed, soft and entertaining at home. However, she insists that doesn’t mean he didn’t know how to put everyone in their place and get what he wanted.

Courtney says their mother put her career on the back burner to drive the children wherever they needed to go and only recently fulfilled her professional goal of teaching high school in their hometown of Piedmont, California.

“She encouraged six children toward athletic careers,” Courtney says. The girls’ brother, David, a 2.06-meter forward, played basketball last year in Slovenia and is now being courted by Premier League club Hapoel Holon.

Courtney and Ashley Paris compete with each other over the smallest things, even while doing a photo shoot on a yacht in the Ashdod marina.

Yet it is impressive to meet two 22-year-olds who lack any pretensions.

Courtney had a promising rookie season in the WNBA and threatens to become one of the world’s premier women basketball players. Ashley is also a cut above the rest, and possesses a broad and mature perspective on life rarely seen at her age.

“I could have played in France or Russia, but I chose Israel because my agent told me it’s the best league to be in your first year outside the U.S.,” explains Courtney, as Ashley nods in agreement.

She says she picked Ashdod over one of the traditional powerhouses because she wants to accumulate experience, but that enjoying herself is more important than making money.

Ashley notes that Ramle was a natural choice for her because she was impressed by all that the club has done and continues to do. After five games, she is averaging 18.8 points and 8.2 rebounds per game.

Constant competition With the addition of Courtney Paris, it looks like Ashdod is joining the big clubs this season. Through five games, it is on a three-game winning streak – tied with Ramle for third place at 3-2 along with Maccabi Ramat Hen, which Ashdod thrashed Monday 89-56.

Courtney led all scorers with 20 points and added 11 rebounds for her fourth double-double of the young season. She is now averaging 20.8 points per game on a sizzling 68 percent from the field, while pulling down 15.8 boards per game.

“Winning the cup was like the opening shot, and there’s a buzz especially about the women’s team,” says local restaurateur Avraham Israelowitz. “When we sponsored the team, we were alone.”

“Now there are several sponsors and a core of a few hundred fans.” He says no one is investing in the team yet like the mayor of Ramle does in his women’s team, but things are moving in the right direction.

The sisters have no complaints about Premier League salaries for foreign players, which at $70,000-$100,000 are comparable to those of male players and supplement their WNBA salaries. “The WNBA still doesn’t pay enough for players to pass up on Europe,” stresses Courtney.

“I believe that if my daughter should play one day she’ll earn more, and the whole league will be better, but even so I have no complaints. Yeah, it’s sometimes annoying to think Kobe [Bryant] earns more in a month than I do in a few years, but I still make more than the average American girl. We see the world, gain experience and enjoy every moment.”