The IX: Basketball Wednesday with Howard Megdal, May 19, 2021
Why Seimone Augustus matters — Sabrina Ionescu talks triple-double — Must-click women's basketball links
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If I’d written this last night, I could have used a NEW YORK — dateline. Which I did, actually, as I sent out the alert to folks at The Next about Sabrina Ionescu’s triple-double.
But we’ll have plenty of time to get to the 2021 New York Liberty. (Short version: 3-0 is not a fluke and they are making the leap like the Sun did in 2017.)
I want to, today, address a legacy that deserves proper care — now, and moving forward. That is Seimone Augustus, who abruptly retired last week, and spoke to us in the media Wednesday evening. She described the decision as one made by the gap between her mind and her body.
“We’re able to command our bodies to do amazing things… for once, my mind couldn’t tell my body to do what it wanted to do,” Augustus said Wednesday. “…and that really starts to tug at your heartstrings.”
To all of us. The idea of a Seimone Augustus who cannot do exactly what she wants is hard to fathom. Because, weighed down by the expectations of the world during a time when the appreciation of Black women in sports simply wasn’t close to minimally acceptable, Seimone Augustus responded with greatness by any measure.
This is a woman who was asked to be the face of women’s basketball at a time the WNBA was so new, there was no one to compare her to in the women’s game — hence this cover of SI for Women.
How do you live up to that kind of advance billing?
“Having the spotlight early on you, obviously changes everything for you,” Augustus told me back in 2018. “You gotta carry yourself differently. You gotta think differently. You gotta do things differently because you understand at that age, that you’re not just representing yourself. People are watching you…. eyes are on you.”
Well, pressure or no, two-time Naismith Award as best college player, number one overall pick in the 2006 WNBA Draft, immediate stardom here and abroad for the Minnesota Lynx all worked as a solid start.
That doesn’t mean it was easy.
“After that article, everything changed for me,” Augustus said back in 2018. “Every game I played after that was difficult. Every loss that I had was very tough because people went, ‘Oh, we beat the girl that was on Sports Illustrated.’”
It is important to understand what Seimone did back at the turn of the last decade in Minnesota.
Those early Lynx teams didn’t have enough help for Seimone and lost more than they won. After injuries set her back, by age 26, she was in precisely the spot many superstars elect to go somewhere new. Add in a new coach in Cheryl Reeve and a pair of new stars in Lindsay Whalen, traded for, and Maya Moore, drafted, and it would have been very common for a player like Augustus to feel overshadowed. Whalen was the home-state pride, after all, and Moore the next big thing out of UConn.
That’s not how Augustus saw it, however.
“Lindsay alluded to that when she was messaging and tweeting about Seimone being the most unselfish superstar she’s ever played with,” Reeve recalled on Tuesday. “…There were some teams in the league that that tampered with Seimone, knowing that we were going to land a number one pick, we’re going to be taking Maya, and they thought maybe it would be the time for Seimone to leave the franchise. And I remember Seimone’s reaction because she called me and told me, you know, who the team was and, and just that, you know, coach, why in the hell would I leave now? This is what this is what I needed, I’m going to be a winner now. And she wanted to lead the young rookie.”
That’s just what happened. Augustus had her best defensive season, the quartet of stars — Rebekkah Brunson as well, with a championship pedigree from her Sacramento Monarchs years — won in 2011, 2013, 2015 and 2017, defining the era.
“They all needed each other,” Reeve said. “And Seimone was the one that recognized that the most how much she needed Maya, she needed Lindsay, you know, they all needed Rebekkah. And then when Syl [Fowles] came along, they all needed each other. And there was no one that recognized that more than Seimone.”
Think about what Reeve is saying here. Seimone Augustus put ego aside, and the result was one of the greatest runs in the history of the sport.
That is vision.
So, too, is Augustus’ timing to speak out for marriage equality. Augustus downplayed her decision to offer her own life experience in 2012 as a counter to the hate being offered as justification for banning gay marriage in the state of Minnesota’s constitution.
“I’ve always been comfortable in myself. People are, ‘Oh, well, she came out.’ I’m like, ‘Well, the people that needed to know always knew,’” Augustus said. “The people that needed to know always knew. But then the time came around with the whole marriage equality thing here in Minnesota.”
It’s easy to lose sight of how brave that was in 2012, when 2012 was only nine years ago. In the fight for LGBTQ+ equality? It might as well have been 90.
The amendment failed, 51-47. That’s how close it came. That’s where she chose to publicly live life as herself, in the heat of a political debate over her right to live it. That’s Seimone Augustus.
So this is who Seimone Augustus has been. Things like talking about her rank in win shares — 23rd all-time — don’t begin to capture it, when she’s responsible for keeping a team together for a decade that also featured 4, 7, 14 and 18 on that list.
Even the decision to step away was made with the roster spots of Nia Coffey and Bria Holmes — Augustus mentioned that she knew Holmes had a child, and both had worked so hard to “live their dreams” — in her mind. Even the end of her career came from a place of selflessness.
I asked her what that young woman on the cover would be proudest of, if she had known what was to follow. Her answer was: “my impact on others.”
A generation of women’s basketball asked Seimone Augustus to deliver for others. And she never failed. Now she gets to impart those lessons from the bench, as a coach. Those wise enough to listen to her will prosper. And we won’t see the likes of her on and off the court again anytime soon.
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This week in women’s basketball
At FiveThirtyEight, I dive into Elo’s WNBA projections and identify one factor for each team that will determine how that projection will look at the end of the season.
SLAM had a tremendous roundtable interview. Just watch.
This Lindsay Gibbs look back at media clips around the debut of the WNBA is somehow both laugh-out-loud funny and exasperating all at once.
Five at The IX: Sabrina Ionescu
Here’s what Sabrina had to tell us after Tuesday night’s triple-double.
Hey Sabrina. I know the win is the most important thing obviously, but fastest player, ever reached to get a triple-double in league history, the first one in franchise history. Does that mean anything to you to get that in a win?
Yeah, for sure. Obviously getting a triple-double in a win is what’s important. If I got that in a loss it wouldn’t mean anything to me. And so super just proud of my teammates for helping me get that, my coaching staff. Those things never are easy and they never come without help from everyone else on the court. And so I’m just super thankful to have the teammates around me and to be surrounded by such great players, but it’s definitely pretty cool.
Hey Sabrina. I mean, this is only your sixth-ever WNBA game. What do you think has allowed you to adapt so quickly to the pace and competition level where you’re able to reach these milestones so quickly?
Yeah I, I’m just staying true to myself. The way that I trained, the way that I approach every single game, it doesn’t matter what level I’m playing, who I’m going up against, it’s honestly me versus me and doing everything that I can to be the best that I can. And so, obviously learning as I’m going. This is basically my rookie year. And so I’m just learning, getting familiar with a lot of these teams. Haven’t seen a lot of them, haven’t played against a lot of these teams. And so I’m just learning as I’m going, seeing what I can improve on, watching a lot of film, listening to my coaching staff. And they obviously are helping me the best that they can. And so I’m just going to keep trying to get better every day.
Hey Sabrina. You’re no stranger to triple-doubles. I remember there was at least one college game or maybe a few in college where you didn’t realize you had the triple-double until they handed the box score to you after the game. So I was just curious, when you realized you had it tonight, based off the TV angle, it almost looked like Jazz was the person, post game, when the buzzer went off, telling you.
Yeah. You know, during the flow of the game, I don’t really pay attention to the box score at all. It’s more just the score, but you kind of have a feeling that you’ve been getting a lot of something. And so I knew that I was passing the ball and my teammates were scoring and I had to get rebounds. I kind of buckled down, I think, in the second half of the game and were getting rebounds. So I didn’t really look up and realize. I knew I was close. And then that last one [Jazmine Jones] had said something to me when I was going for what would be my 11th rebound. And so that’s kind of when I realized like, Oh, okay, I got it, but I have to close out the game and that’s really what’s important. So I’m glad we were able to do that.
Sabrina, thank you for joining us. Congratulations on the win and a strong performance. You talk about going through these teams for the first time in your career. You go against the Minnesota Lynx, a championship team, a championship coach, Cheryl Reeve. What are your impressions of Minnesota? And what were the biggest adjustments you guys made to take down, particularly their interior game, in the second half?
Yeah, they’re a great team. And like you said, I haven’t played against a lot of these teams. So I’m just trying to educate myself by watching film, listening and trusting the coaching staff. They’ve coached against these players, and also the returning players that have played against these teams, know their strengths and weaknesses. And so really leaning on them and learning, but also just understanding like the flow of the game. There has to be adjustments, quick changes and being able to do that. And I think our team did a great job of seeing how they were scoring and trying to manipulate that. And so I thought Kylee did a great job and Kiah did a great job in the post and just not allowing easy baskets. And obviously they have one of the best players in the post and Sylvia Fowles, probably to go down in history as one of the best. And so I thought they did a great job and tried their best to make her hit tough shots. And that’s what she had to do.