On kindness in the WNBA space — Flashback: Kara Lawson on coaching — Must-click women’s basketball links
The IX: Basketball Wednesday with Howard Megdal, June 16, 2021
Hi! Howard Megdal here. The IX helps build the necessary infrastructure for women’s sports media. By connecting these worlds, it gives women’s sports the networking boost men’s sports can take for granted.
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I keep thinking about a tweet thread Amanda Zahui B. put out on Monday night, in the wake of extended back-and-forth on the platform between Skylar Diggins-Smith and members of the New York Liberty.
It’s an interesting time in women’s sports, with many of the lines, and relationships between players, fans and media still getting defined. For a long time, we’ve seen these leagues take an approach of sisterhood over all else, with things like rivalries, antagonism and even revenge from transactions getting scrubbed out of the picture.
It’s long felt like that is a limitation on the potential emotional buy-in of the fans of individual teams. I know how far we’ve come in the women’s soccer club space, for instance. Back in the aftermath of the 2015 World Cup win, every visiting team to Sky Blue FC got treated like heroes as well. The identification of club team as tribal was in its infancy, and the games, as a result, carried with them an exhibition vibe.
Compare that to Megan Rapinoe’s recent celebration in Portland.
I often think about another observation Rapinoe made to me a few years ago, namely that women’s sports doesn’t need to be an echo of men’s sports. It is new territory that can be defined in its own way.
But she also recognizes the necessity of raising the stakes.
That brings us back to the WNBA, a league that just a few years ago still hesitated to embrace Diana Taurasi as an anti-hero for everyone else, a strange decision about someone who won her first 13 road elimination playoff games and loves that role as much as anyone loves anything.
But in the men’s sports space, there’s ugliness that comes along for the ride with rivalries. We saw it again and again in the NBA playoffs. And it brought to mind that first game back in Connecticut for Chiney Ogwumike after she asked to be traded. Nneka shared a story after the game with me that was chilling, about a fan who followed them back to their hotel room at Mohegan.
I loved the fact that there was booing, true stakes. It’s frightening to think Chiney’s well-being, or even comfort, could be upset by a fan taking it too far.
So when Amanda asks for respectfulness in this space, how do we get there? Can it happen with rivalries? It’s a shade of gray that I believe many can follow, but how can it happen with any certainty? It’s probably out of our hands, regardless.
Just from a macro look, what’s changed in my view is how much more engaged WNBA Twitter is these days. This, too, is progress. It’s just the reality: more people engaging on WNBA topics keeps the league in a larger conversation.
What that means for the day-to-day life of players who want more time in the spotlight, and rightly so, with the equality of opportunity and financial parity that comes with it, we’re still grappling with. I offer no answers here, beyond a hope that as many of us as possible find ways to engage in our roles — and for me, in the media, that’s easy, I won’t be taking sides in a Twitter beef — to advance the conversation, even the rivalries, in the kind of respectful way Amanda describes.
It may be a pipe dream. But most aspirational goals are. So what do you think we can all do to stake out that territory?
This week in women’s basketball
And here’s Hannah Withiam’s power rankings, part of a meta-conversation I had with a few folks following last week’s piece here on the subject. As I have said to others, it is entirely possible I am wrong about this. Regardless, read Hannah, period. I always do.
Five at The IX: Classic from Kara Lawson
There’s been a lot of conversation about women potentially heading to the NBA as a head coach — Becky Hammon, Kara Lawson and Dawn Staley all on team lists with openings. So I want to take you back to just a few years ago, a long conversation I had about this with Kara, to get a sense of how quickly things have changed. It’s good for the soul, if you’re like me and feel like this is taking forever.