The IX: Basketball Wednesday with Howard Megdal, June 17, 2020

Into the Unknown — Conversation with Amanda Zahui B. — Must-click women's basketball links

(Hi! Howard Megdal here. The IX helps build the necessary infrastructure for women’s sports media. In this moment, freelance budgets have been cut, reporters are losing their jobs. Women’s sports always bears the brunt of that first.

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The news, broken Monday, that the WNBA and the WNBPA had agreed to a plan to play a 22-game season at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, is best understood less as a destination, and more as a joint willingness to begin to feel their way forward in what is mostly darkness.

Here, hit play on this song while we go over all the things we don’t know yet. (This one is on a lot in my house, my children make sure of it.)

Okay, let’s get to it.

The season start date has not been officially set yet. The hope is on or about July 24, but it requires teams to come relatively intact down to Bradenton. It requires a typical training camp. It means no COVID-19 breaches that are large enough to compromise the league — do you know what the size of that breach even is? Because neither side has defined it yet, and there’s literally no precedent to determine it.

And then there are so many other known unknowns. Here’s one of them, a league source pointed out to me: is the cleaning staff quarantined too? If not, is temperature checks for a virus where symptoms are often a lagging indicator a reliable way of keeping the space safe? Do you know? No! Nobody knows!

And that’s before we get into unknown unknowns. Would you like me to list those? I can’t. They are unknown.

Look, everybody involved here is trying their absolute best. Cathy Engelbert understands the risks, the extent to which her decisions will help guide the well-being, even the survival, of the league. That’s a lot for someone who is less than a year into the league — we both laughed when she pointed out that next month is her one-year anniversary, because good lord, that’s a lot, this first calendar year in charge.

So, too, are the Executive Committee, and WNBPA Executive Director Terri Jackson. The best and brightest minds in this space are all working toward the best possible resumption of play for the WNBA.

Here’s the thing that keeps me up nights: what if there isn’t a best possible resumption that’s safe, or close to it? What if what’s about to happen is a televised superspreader event among the greatest players and coaches of this generation?

Everyone is desperate to resume, for matters both financial and emotional. This is what the players do, what they’ve spent their whole lives working toward. This is what coaches do — the conversations I have around the league almost always turn toward how this new player fits or how to scheme against that new-look lineup. There’s a whole universe in everybody’s mind, yet the physical world hasn’t allowed any of us to inhabit it.

This promises the chance to do it once more. It is deeply appealing across the board, for me as well — to think in terms of that player’s big game, how to properly cover an upcoming showdown between two elite teams, watch a critical third quarter run and formulate the question in my mind for postgame that comes from it.

Will we all get to do it? Will it be safe? No one I spoke to this week even pretended to know.

That’s a lot to be hanging in the balance compared to your typical WNBA season. The risks, and the rewards, are only going to be clear in retrospect. And a generation of women’s basketball has their collective futures hanging in the balance.

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This Week in Women’s Basketball

Ben Dull breaks down the importance of Rickea Jackson staying at Mississippi State.

He also looks at the loss of Kelsey Plum, and how the Aces can replace her.

Jacqueline LeBlanc caught up with Kelly (Hunt) Gay to reminisce.

The Wizards and Mystics are working together to turn George Floyd’s death into meaningful reform.

Renee Montgomery sat down (using social distancing) with Monica McNutt.

I caught up with Amanda Zahui B.

Really good statistical look at Maya Moore and what her missing seasons might have been.

Good stuff on Mikayla Boykin from Mitchell Northam.

If you don’t know Max Bonnstetter, get to know him here, interviewing Aerial Powers.

More WNBA salary cap explaining from Jacob Mox here.

Bo Wulf goes deep on the Drexel women’s basketball team’s final moments this season.

Rachel Banham wants to be a bridge between protestors and police officers.

Courtney Banghart’s UNC is going to be a problem.

Adia Barnes is helping her Arizona team process this moment in American life.

Gabe Ibrahim was joined by Jenn Hatfield on his podcast.

Kenny Morales spent time with Mississippi State commit Knisha Godfrey.

Meredith Cash explains what Kyrie Irving can learn from Maya Moore.

Doug Feinberg is learning to cook, I guess, better get back to basketball soon.

We’ve got to talk about these Vegas odds next week, I have some concerns.

Bailey Johnson spoke to Nicki Collen about the Dream’s return.

And Christine M. Hopkins looked at how Lisa Fortier and Gonzaga are processing Black Lives Matter protests.

Tweet of the Week

Five at The IX: Amanda Zahui B., New York Liberty

I spoke to Amanda on a range of issues. Always worth hearing from her.

HOWARD MEGDAL: I want to read a quote that you gave from a speech I’ve cited a few times since you made it in 2019, talking about a prize you were awarded.

“This prize is for all of us who are too thick, too long, too black, too dark. For girls and for boys. For us who are different. God loves us because we are different. So to all of you who do not know how, dare or can stand for their own rights and what you are passionate about, I stand here for you. For all of you who stand up for your rights and show that we can spread love, I stand here with you.” For someone who wrote those words, who delivered those words, what have the last few weeks felt like seeing people around the world doing just that?

AMANDA ZAHUI B.: Oh, man. It’s a beautiful thing. It’s beautiful that people are — I want to use the word finally — realizing that they have a voice and a platform and they know what’s going on in the world. What’s been going on for hundreds of years. And that people are finding the courage to not only speak up for themselves, but for others. Being an ally, being a moral and mental support or just simply say, I am tired of the shit and I’m standing up for my own rights. It’s a beautiful feeling and it just sucks that we actually have to do it.

HOWARD MEGDAL: It’s true that what has prompted this is yet another, in what feels like this unending series of tragedies that we’re all seeing, that we’re all hearing. And for a lot of people, it feels more like they’re just choosing not to unsee it instead of a recognition or an understanding that should have been in place some years ago. When you think though about what the movement’s opportunity is in 2020, what are measurable ways that you’ll feel like something good has come from this tangible going forward beyond the conversation? What are some markers that you’re looking at?

AMANDA ZAHUI B.: Well, I think the first thing that comes to mind is that people are acknowledged and allowing themselves to feel a certain way and speak up about it. I think that in today’s stage that we are on right now, people are tired of just having someone’s name being a trend on Instagram and a hashtag and then move on with their lives because this is something that we carry with us every single day. That people find that courage to be, you know what, I’m allowing myself to say that I’m tired. I’m tired of policemen being brutal and murdering people on the street. And then walking free. I’m tired of white people killing black people for no damn reason. And actually speak on it and feel like they have the right to be tired. I think that’s the most powerful thing. That is one thing that I see because now it’s like a domino effect, right?


AMANDA ZAHUI B.: I see someone that expressed themselves on Instagram and it’s said, I can do this because I’m not alone. I know I’m not alone in this. And I think that it’s just going to keep on going and people are going to see us and hear us. And when I say people, I’m talking about the people that not necessarily are racist, but they are ignorant. They are not really in tune with what is really going on. They are living in their own bubble. They never stood up to a family member that said some inappropriate things. Now it’s like, hold up. I just saw 15 videos on Twitter about people talking about Black Lives Matter, and I never thought about it, but now I’m going to stand up against my grandfather.

HOWARD MEGDAL: Sure. It’s a comfortable silence.

AMANDA ZAHUI B.: Yes, exactly. And I think this is a great start, honestly. It’s not where we want to be. We do not want to be out in the streets and protest, especially with a virus going on. But it’s something that needs to be done and we can’t just sit at home. People are out protesting. I went with my best friend here in Stockholm, and we went and demonstrated and we saw so many people from all different corners of the world. And she actually pointed out to me, she said, hey look, it’s not just black people out here. And there were white people crying and hugging each other and really tired of it. And I don’t know these people, but I feel like they know that we have a heart just like they do.

Mondays: Soccer
By: Annie Peterson, @AnnieMPeterson AP Women’s Soccer
Tuesdays: Tennis
By Joey Dillon, @JoeyDillon  Freelance Tennis Writer
Wednesdays: Basketball
By: Howard Megdal, @HowardMegdal The Next
Thursdays: Golf
By Carly Grenfell, @Carlygren
Fridays: Hockey
By: Erica Ayala, @ELindsay08 NWHL Broadcaster

Written by Howard Megdal

Howard is the founder of The Next and editor-in-chief.