Let’s rethink how WNBA players participate in NBA All Star Weekend — Hear from Indiana’s Teri Moren — Must-click women’s basketball links

The IX: Basketball Wednesday with Howard Megdal, Feb. 22, 2023

Happy Basketball Wednesday. Let’s talk NBA All Star, shall we? No, not the game itself, nor the dunk contest, but yes, the Celebrity Game — very specifically, how the WNBA is utilized in the game and what it tells viewers about the league.

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This has been an issue of mine for a long time. Not a primary issue, but one that I believe matters, in the same way that designating the Final Fours as “Final Four” and “Women’s Final Four” mattered.

The WNBA players who have appeared for years at the All Star Weekends for the NBA pop up in the Celebrity Game. Not in a display of their own professional prowess. Not as a way to spotlight the league.

But primarily as a sideshow along with Nicki Jam, Everett Osborne and The Miz.

I’m mixed [Mizzed?] about it because the players who play in the game, when I’ve spoken to them, tend to love it. And then there’s the argument — who cares? That’s a primary argument you’ll hear. It’s just a Celebrity Game. Leave it alone.

The thing is, that’s not all it is. It’s a message, too. It’s a stand-in for thinking bigger. And it’s a status quo that dates back to the Celebrity Game’s earliest days. The critical reason, one I’ve had league sources tell me for years? You can’t do anything basketball, really, because the biggest names tend to be overseas. (Notably, I was told nothing could be done about the Final Four/Women’s Final Four logos because they’d been made years in advance and it was too expensive to change them until whoops, there was a big public outcry and they changed real fast.)

But about that idea that players aren’t around: the league isn’t just blessed with a number of players who are now staying stateside, it is paying many of those players — ten, to be exact — to stay stateside and promote the league. I ran the numbers and it turns out that’s exactly how many players you need for a five-on-five game to spotlight the league’s talent.

Now it’s not a perfect fit for a game this particular time — Dearica Hamby, for instance, is one of the ten players on PMAs and she’s pregnant — but putting together an actual basketball display involving players being compensated to amplify the league sure makes sense to me. Nine players, plus another WNBA player (Stef Dolson, I’d imagine, would be game) you pay stateside for a one-off appearance. (Maybe the NBA chips in since, you know, the NBA owners own approximately 42 percent of the WNBA and it’s their event.) Picture a game like this:

Dolson/Collier/DeShields/Ogunbowale/Richards vs. Harrison/Copper/Atkins/Mitchell/Thomas

Then again, I’d also do things like have the players who show up at their alma mater’s games — see Napheesa Collier and UConn, Arike Ogunbowale at Notre Dame to cite two recent examples — do more than grab a mic and wave to the crowd. I’d have them tell the crowds the way to see them year-round is on WNBA League Pass, put a QR code up on the scoreboard, and turn the appearances directly into league revenue.

No, an actual game involving WNBA players wouldn’t be quite as direct a revenue source as the QR code. But it would reinforce the added message that watching WNBA players play basketball is the point. It is not a sideshow. It is not another vocation separate from playing basketball professionally, like acting or wrestling or doing whatever the hell Jesser does.

Then again, the league can always just stay the course. This seems like a perfectly appropriate place to celebrate the WNBA talent at the NBA’s signature event, and doesn’t minimize the value of the WNBA players involved at all.

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This week in women’s basketball

Debbie Antonelli talks with Belmont head coach Bart Brooks.

The great Howard Beck caught up with Candace Parker at NBA ASG weekend.

Ben Pickman writes about how WNBA players handle injuries overseas.

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Five at The IX: Teri Moren, Indiana head coach

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Written by Howard Megdal

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