Married to the Game

Ros Gold-Onwude

The 2012 New York Liberty season extended through the first round of playoffs ending on September 29th at the Prudential Center. From Newark, New Jersey, most Liberty players traveled to their home states to enjoy two, three, maybe four days with their loved ones before heading overseas to begin their international season. For many of them, their overseas season will extend into April, and those players whose teams go far into postseason play will find themselves competing during the early part of May. They will play their hearts out for national pride, championship hardware and, oh yes, a generous bonus check, before having to rush back to the United States and join their WNBA team in training camp.

This is the life of the typical professional women’s basketball player: WNBA, Overseas, WNBA, Overseas, WBNA, Overseas. A cyclical schedule, never settled long enough on either side to call one place home. Still, these women are incredibly fortunate. WNBA players get to play the game they love for a living and, compared to the monthly pay check of most common office jobs, are paid well for it. WNBA players also make the majority of their yearly revenue overseas as they are often the stars of their international team and are paid generously. Their paychecks are in addition to being provided meals, a car, healthcare and the chance to travel to many different parts of the world. The opportunity is once in a lifetime, rare and special, but also may come with the price of extended distance from loved ones, loneliness, travel fatigue, occasional boredom, and homesickness. This very situation was demonstrated well in “Love and Basketball”, a movie that is a favorite amongst many hoopers and basketball fans. However, the title seems misleading. In the life of a professional women’s basketball player there is a whole lot of basketball and much less time for love.

Entering her third WNBA season is guard Alex Montgomery. Because life overseas makes it harder to have a relationship she expressed excitement at the chance to meet new people. “It’s hard to be in a state of missing a significant other. I want to be single and to be free. At this point I’m less concerned about serious dating and more interested in traveling, meeting new people and making friends”. She went on to describe life abroad, “the team will go out together, maybe to a club. Sometimes the town you play in is small and you end up at the same clubs or bars and see the same people over and over, but it’s something to do- it’s cool”. Usually, seeing the same people consistently are the ingredients to dating. “I know some people who go overseas and date the locals. That is challenging because it is hard to date outside your culture, but you figure it out,” she said.

WNBA veteran Plenette Pierson has experienced basketball championships both overseas and in the WNBA. She believes success can be realized both in basketball and in romance, however, she says the key is maturity. “It’s definitely doable to have a relationship. It takes two mature people who understand and respect each other’s lifestyles. Beyond the distance, there are other factors, small things that can prove to be hard, like the time difference. There will need to be some sacrifice on both ends. Communication is important. You have to find ways to stay in the loop with your loved ones back in the United States using tools like Skype, Twitter, Instagram, Whatsapp, and the rest.” She went on to explain “On either side, whether in the U.S. or overseas, your days in one place are numbered. That is tough, but again, I’ve seen it done successfully.” Pierson explained that there are many options and you have to pick one that works for you and makes you the most comfortable. “It’s toughest on women with families. I know women who bring their children overseas with them. If I had a kid that’s what I would do,” she said.

Although professional female basketball players face unique battles of balancing travel and romance, they face the same dilemma of working women worldwide: balancing career and children. Should they want to have kids one day, basketball players, like any other career woman, may feel the pressure of their “biological time clock” ticking away. Many female professionals report feeling some sort of internal conflict, either imposed by self, society or both. However, there are women who choose not to worry about it. WNBA All Star Cappie Pondexter just celebrated her 30th birthday on January 7th and proceeds without doubt. “Yes I want kids and I don’t feel any pressure. I let life guide its course. I can’t control what happens or when it happens.” She continued, “I live life best by taking opportunities. I don’t plan and say, ‘In three years I’m going to stop playing ball, have a kid, and then play again.’ I live daily. If I have a game tomorrow, I’m going to plan for that.” Even though she’s in no rush, Pondexter sees being a mom in her future, “Oh yes, that is going to be a blessing. A mini Cappie running around? That would be the greatest gift,” she said.