The IX: Basketball Wednesday with Howard Megdal, April 1, 2020
The lost moments — Natalie Chou interview — Must-click women's basketball links
The lost moments
Growing up, I lived in an NBA household, not a WNBA household.
There was a very simple reason for that: the WNBA didn’t exist until I turned 17, just before I left for college. But what it meant was that the ample sports memories I had, watching with my father, were largely based around men’s professional sports. And despite the rise of UConn, which came in my teen years, the same was true in the collegiate realm as well.
But as my professional focus has shifted to women’s sports, so too have the conversations with my father. Knicks and Mets have not disappeared, but other players and teams have joined them. After 2015, Carli Lloyd became a key reference point, and when the USWNT came to Philly last year, he and I watched together from the stands before I ducked into the tunnel and did my postgame work.
Accordingly, he’d watched plenty of women’s basketball, especially games he knew I’d be covering — that was a sure way to get my mom to watch with him, too, the off chance she might see me for a fleeting second on the screen — and after seeing Morgan William’s shot drop UConn in 2017, he suggested a father-son trip to the 2018 Final Four.
Whatever casual fan lived within him prior to that experience became a full-blown fan by the time the 2018 Final Four was over. Those people we met, he’d check in with me about, like old friends. Kelly Graves, and Katie Smith, and Moriah Jefferson — her kindness to us comes up in every casual conversation we have about the WNBA.
But during the game, he watched, and I wrote. So he was in the building as a fan when Arike Ogunbowale sank one, then another game-winning shot. That moment cemented it: an Arike fan, a Muffet McGraw fan, for life, forged at age 70.
We haven’t had a chance to repeat what we figured would be an annual tradition. He fell a month before last year’s Final Four, and all is well now, but he couldn’t yet travel come March. This year, we’d booked plans already, looking forward to some beignets, some jazz and a whole lot of basketball.
Of course, you know how that turned out. I was supposed to be on a plane today. (I am not.)
Something I try to do, in my personal and professional life alike, is to remember, as I’m experiencing something special, that it might be the last time. We just never know. It’s the case when I cover elite athletes, getting to see them play up close — it’s easy to remember when it’s Sue Bird or Diana Taurasi, but it’s just as true for Elena Delle Donne or Breanna Stewart. I saw Maya Moore in the twilight of the 2018 season — who knows when, or if, I’ll see her play again.
In this current moment, those decisions have been taken out of the hands of players, or the fate of individual health, and all of it has stopped. Thousands of people lost the chance to go see Sabrina Ionescu or Aliyah Boston or Lauren Cox or Kaila Charles have an Arike moment in New Orleans. My wife and children had the New York Liberty home opener at Barclays Center circled on the calendar, but that too is in significant peril, at least on the date scheduled.
So we’re all hoping that the coronavirus runs its course as quickly and peacefully as possible, and life will resume on the other side. But the part of this that I keep returning to, the part that saddens me, is how many moments we’ve lost, moments we can never get back, when this is over. Moments like my father had in 2018, and for now, moments we won’t get, any of us, in 2020.
This week in women’s basketball
It was a week for retrospectives. Here’s PJ Brown on Arizona.
Terrific Mitchell Northam story here on Elissa Cunane.
Shelley Smith tells the story of homeless teenage Jasmine Walker, now a Bethune-Cookman player.
I HATE that Charlotte Carroll didn’t get to cover the NCAA Tournament this year, she’s been fantastic on the UConn beat.
Misha Jones caught up with Campbell coach Ronny Fisher.
Danielle McCartan’s podcast on women in sports is terrific! Here’s an episode with Courtney Banghart.
Paul Nilsen looked at the best international prospects in the 2020 draft.
Huw Hopkins was nice enough to talk to me for his piece on men covering women’s basketball.
Did not know this Denise Rife story, it’s amazing.
Alexa Philippou writing about Quinnipiac is central to my interests.
Tweet of the week
Five at The IX: Natalie Chou, UCLA
I spoke to Natalie, who is bravely using her platform to call out racism in this incredibly fraught time for Asian-Americans. Listen to what she has to say.
HOWARD MEGDAL: You have always spoken about your desire to be a pro player. Well, your ability to score in the post-up as a 6’1″ guard forward, a lot of twos and threes guarding you, significantly above average in the 85th percentile per synergy on those moves.I just wonder how significant you think that part of being bigger than your defensive opponents, is going to play a part in your ability to continue growing both at UCLA and at the next level?
NATALIE CHOU: Everything that I know since I was young, I’ve learned from my mom. She’s trained me since I was a really young girl, and ever since. She’s just worthy on my skills. One of the things that we really realized that could be a strength of mine, was posting up smaller guards, because I just started to get my growth spurt in high school. I used to be the shortest one on my team growing up. But as I started to grow, my mom was like, the game is turning into a more versatile style, and the more versatile I can get, the better. So we would, whenever I come home and work out with her, we would always focus on post moves, because it has been such a big part of my game today.
HOWARD MEGDAL: And I mean, let’s not understate it, your mom played for the Chinese national team who, so like a supportive parent, but also just a remarkably talented person and player in her own right. What was her primary position when she played?
NATALIE CHOU: She was a guard. A little bit shorter than me, but yeah, she was a guard.
HOWARD MEGDAL: It’s so interesting to me. She played guard, and you were on the shorter side for such a long time. What was it that led to post ups being a critical part of that emphasis for both of you guys?
NATALIE CHOU: Once I started growing she was like, “Oh, we could really use this” because it was just so unexpected that I was 6’1″ by the end of it. And so, I mean, she’s really creative in the way she teaches me, and we’re always looking to be a threat on the court and post ups have really emphasized me as a threat.
HOWARD MEGDAL: Natalie, you felt it was necessary, important to speak out on the way people are talking about COVID-19 right now. And rather than me putting words in your mouth, I’d love to get your take on how and why that came about?
NATALIE CHOU: Yeah, so I mean there were some really inaccurate words said by our president a week ago, and just the ramifications that occurred right after, like he said, it was just really evident to me. So I had come home from UCLA to Dallas, because everyone was just at home to quarantine, and I just hanging out with some friends, and then there were just some comments that really did not sit right with me. And it really hurt and offended me.
But during that time I didn’t really say anything, because I didn’t know what to say. I was shocked. But then after I was pretty disappointed with myself that I didn’t say anything and I just walked away. So I decided to compose the tweet that I posted a couple of days ago, just saying that that’s not okay. And the example that the president has been showing is not okay.
HOWARD MEGDAL: But it’s got to be a very frightening thing to modulate how and how much to speak out. There was something in the LA Times piece that was written about this. I thought it was really interesting, where you had said that prior to getting in to UCLA, you don’t know if you would have felt as comfortable, but also you were younger before you got to UCLA. There’s a lot of things that go into that, and I’m wondering if you could take me through, not just how you came to feel uncomfortable speaking out about this at this time, but what that evolution’s been like for you, the duration of your life leading up to now?
NATALIE CHOU: Well, I was definitely going over the pros and the cons of posting that, and saying something about that. Because I mean, in my eyes, my culture, my Asian Chinese culture, we aren’t one to say anything about it. We don’t want to be like the problematic or confrontational culture, that’s not how we’re viewed.
And we’re seen as the model minority. We’re self-reliant. We don’t really talk about these kinds of things. We just go under the radar in this country. So I really felt the pressure of even my culture, because I mean we saw that Jeremy Lin tweeted, and I also saw some other actors in the industry tweeting about this kind of stuff, but no one else really.
And so I felt a little pressure to not to, because I felt like it wasn’t my culture. It’s not something my culture does. And then also like growing up, people have always told me to stay in my box. I’m a basketball player, I’m not supposed to talk about anything else. It’s not my business or my responsibility. And you see so many times when athletes do talk about stuff like this, they get burned, and they usually shut down, and I also knew that that was a factor as well.