In its 23rd season, the WNBA is finally getting coverage and exposure that is long overdue. It just took a global pandemic and civil unrest.
By now, you have probably seen the orange hoodie. Maybe you saw LeBron James and other household NBA players wearing it. Maybe, if you are really keen on women’s sports, you saw 2018 US Open and 2019 French Open Champion Naomi Osaka sporting some monochromatic orange. That one marketing move made the orange hoodie the most popular item on the Fanatics website.
That reminds me of when Oregon standout Sabrina Ionescu’s #20 replica jerseys sold out in less than 24 hours on Oregon’s site. Oh, and when she was drafted as the first overall pick in the 2020 WNBA draft and her New York Liberty jersey sold out in minutes.
You might know the phrase: if you see it, you can be it. These scenarios prove that, if people see it, people will buy it. It’s all about exposure, something that is long overdue in the world of women’s sports.
Okay, so now that you have seen the hoodie, hopefully you have tuned in to the games on ESPN and its networks. If not, now is your chance to learn more about the women behind the league.
Welcome to the W. Here are the 5 W’s to bring you up to speed.
WHEN: The WNBA is the ‘sister league’ to the NBA, and held its inaugural league in 1997. (Only 90’s kids remember) According to Encyclopedia Britannica, the NBA held all of the rights to the original eight teams, which were located in the same cities as NBA teams, until 2002. Beginning in 2002, teams could be formed in or sold to cities in which the NBA was not located. This allowed the league to branch out to different, unsaturated market areas. But, that doesn’t mean that those markets latched onto the league.
WHERE: The original teams of the WNBA included the Charlotte Sting, Cleveland Rockers, Houston Comets, New York Liberty, Los Angeles Sparks, Phoenix Mercury, Sacramento Monarchs, and the Utah Starzz. Today, there are a total of twelve teams, with only three of the original team franchises. The Eastern Conference includes the Atlanta Dream, Chicago Sky, Connecticut Sun, Indiana Fever, New York Liberty, and Washington Mystics. The Western Conference of the league includes the Dallas Wings, Las Vegas Aces, Los Angeles Sparks, Minnesota Lynx, Phoenix Mercury, and Seattle Storm. The 2020 season is currently being played in a safe site, nicknamed ‘The Wubble’, in Bradenton, FL.
WHO: Oh, besides all of the incredible players and teams? Okay. The Houston Comets won the first four WNBA Championship titles. The only other team to match those titles has been the Minnesota Lynx. Last season, the Washington Mystics won their first WNBA Championship with the help of league MVP, Elena Delle Donne. Delle Donne played through the finals with a broken nose, a leg injury, and three herniated discs, all while battling Lyme Disease to which she recently talked more about in a recent article for The Players’ Tribune. The goat, aka Diana Taurasi of the Phoenix Mercury, is the league’s all-time scoring leader with a total of 8,707 points over 16 years in the league. Sylvia Fowles of the Minnesota Lynx is the all-time leader in rebounds with a total of 3,400 rebounds. The other goat, aka Sue Bird of the Seattle Storm, is the all-time regular season leader in assists with 2,856. Bird also leads the league in total minutes played with 16,304, followed by Tina Thompson, who competed in the league for the first 17 years. A’Ja Wilson, of the Las Vegas Aces, is in the running for MVP this season and Napheesa Collier, of the Minnesota Lynx, earned Rookie of the Year last season. The two players have recently joined forces on a Wubble-based podcast: Tea with A & Phee.
WHY: Why should the league be recognized? Why should the league be recognized for its forward thinking, for its inclusion, for its commitment to change? Because these women spend their lives dreaming of making a living doing what they love. They put the blood, sweat, and tears into their basketball careers. They raise children while competing in the league. Members of Team USA play in the league, along with other international stars. This is the most talented group of players that the WNBA has ever had. The level of play that we see on the court this season is unprecedented. That’s the tea.
WHAT: What is the league all about? The league has led professional sports leagues in their inclusivity and support of the LGBTQ community. For years now, they have spoken out about social justice issues. This year, they dedicated their season to the #SayHerName campaign. This campaign was launched in 2014, by Kimberlé Crenshaw, to bring light to the black women and girls who are and have been victimized by police violence. Every player in the WNBA wears the name “Breonna Taylor” on the back of their jersey. Also, before each game, a different woman’s story is told. These players are giving a voice to the voiceless.
Watch the games. Tell your friends and family to watch the games. Follow the teams and players on their social media accounts. Get the app. Did I say to watch the games? And, when we can all safely attend sporting events in person, GO! Show the online trolls that people do care about women’s sports and women’s basketball. Show people will watch women’s sports if they are given the opportunity.
This season is so much more than a few games. This league is so much more than just basketball.
(Photo of court: Phelan M. Ebenhack – Associated Press)