Late at night in a casino/mall in Connecticut more than a year ago, my wife and I were walking down a crowded hallway when we saw the tallest person we'd ever seen and then heard the rudest words we'd ever heard.
"Oh my God, how tall are you?" a woman asked Margo Dydek.
A 7-foot-2 center for the Connecticut Sun of the WNBA, Dydek speaks Polish, French, Spanish, English and Russian, which means she understands that question in five languages. Five times the pain.
Here's how I would have answered the "How tall are you?" question if I were standing in Dydek's shoes: "How rude are you?"
Dydek answered without emotion, staring off into space.
Dydek's not clumsy, has a decent pair of hands, and a pretty soft shooting touch, yet, she doesn't dominate. She is fourth on the Sun in scoring with 10.7 points per game, second with six rebounds a game, and has led the WNBA in blocked shots five years in a row.
Why doesn't she dominate? Strength, balance, and speed. Dydek, 32 and a native of Poland, doesn't play with a wide base and can get shoved out of position.
It will be enjoyable catching Danica Patrick's act next Sunday at Kansas Speedway, but when she's competing, she looks like the rest of the field, which is to say made invisible by her car. I'd rather watch Dydek play, but that's not what makes me root harder for her than I've ever rooted for a woman in sports. It's that encounter in the hall that makes her No. 1 on my list. The rest of my top 10 favorite women in sports history:
2. Katarina Witt: The photogenic figure skater from Germany blended grace and beauty, style and power.
3. Chrissie Evert: She was an even better host of once-funny television show Saturday Night Live than she was a tennis player.
4. Pat Summitt: As smart and accomplished as she is, the Tennessee basketball coach ought to be far more impressed with herself.
5. Dorothy Hammill: One of these days I'll meet a man my age who didn't spend the 16th year of his life obsessed with finding the figure skater's phone number. Hammill turns 50 next month. Her smile remains frozen in 1976.
6. Evelyn Ashford: Political boycotts prevented the U.S. sprinter and East Germany's Marlies Gohr from Olympic showdowns in 1980 and 1984, so just imagine the pressure on both runners when they faced off in August of 1984. Ashford won the 100-meter race in a world-record 10.76 seconds. She gave birth to a daughter in 1985, took the year off, and returned with the fastest time of 1986. In 1989, she spoke on Capitol Hill, pleading for help in ridding steroids from her sport. Repeat: 1989.
7. JoAnne Carner: Somehow, the LPGA star's smile had a more genuine feel to it than Phil Mickelson's.
8. Anna Kournikova: By marketing herself, she marketed her sport better than any non-winner in history.
9. Billie Jean King: She knew she would crush well-past-his-prime Bobby Riggs in their battle-of-the-sexes tennis match and went along with the promotion.
10. Michelle Wie: The risk in competing out of her age group: She could live to regret not learning how to win.