The Ultimate Learning Experience
It was an interesting question, one that made me think. In fact, I have not stopped thinking about it from the day my internship with the WNBA in New York City began until this week, my last here in the league office.
"What makes the WNBA so special?"
But as I was sitting courtside at the 2005 WNBA All-Star Game, it became quite clear what makes this league so magnetic. The players. In a game that saw the All-Star points record shattered by more than 60 points, in a game where Olympic gold medalists were everywhere and in a game that countless people watched on television in 193 countries around the world, what was even more striking to me was the amount of fun that each player was having during the actual game. It was at this moment that I realized how awesome the WNBA was, and how much my perspective of the WNBA had changed over the past two months as an intern.
In April, I learned that I would be working at the Women's National Basketball Association, specifically in the Player Personnel department. I was eager for the opportunity to work with many departments and learn a great deal about how a league is run. However, I was still a little apprehensive at the beginning of the internship. I was an avid NBA fan, but I knew very little about the WNBA. I knew who the league stars were because I watch a lot of "SportsCenter," but beyond that, I did not know much. I had neither attended a WNBA game nor watched a complete game on ABC or ESPN. But I came in with an open mind.
As a freshman at Yale University, I once made the na�ve claim that I could beat fellow Connecticut collegian Diana Taurasi in a game of one-on-one basketball game. Now I'm 6-4, 200 pounds, quick, athletic, with a 41-inch vertical and can dunk over just about everyone I know, basketball players included. However, I could not have been more wrong about being able to beat Diana Taurasi, or, for that matter, any of the other stars that I met over All-Star weekend.
THESE GIRLS CAN BALL.
More than anything, this one fact has most influenced my perspective of the WNBA. Not only would Diana beat me� she would work me. After the game, she would make me call her "daddy" and then wash her Lexus. And unfortunately, she's not the only one. Don't get me wrong, I can put the ball in the hoop. They just do it better. If I had to choose someone to make 5 out of 10 three pointers for my life, I would take Sue Bird over an NBA player any day of the week. This realization has changed the way I perceive the WNBA. There is no difference in terms of the sheer ability of these players compared with their male counterparts. While the physical size and strength of NBA players is obviously on a different level, the fundamental skills and shooting ability of WNBA players is right there. And I think that is what makes the WNBA game a great one.
forward Chamique Holdsclaw is unfazed by constant double teams or hard fouls.|
D. Sherman/NBAE/Getty Images
The WNBA's greatest asset is its players, specifically (and more importantly), their accessibility to the fans. Meeting each of the players was easy and relaxing. While some have been called "divas," every player that I came in contact with was really down to earth and willing to greet fans and sign autographs at the drop of a hat. Whether it is Becky Hammon hanging out with teens at the NBA store on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan or Swin Cash teaching kids about healthy lifestyles at the All-Star Jam Session, people are drawn to these women, and rightly so. They are not just role models, they are innovators and leaders, pursuing an occupation that would have been dismissed entirely just a decade ago. They are changing the way people think about women and sports as a whole.
It took me some time to decide which player was my favorite. Chamique Holdsclaw averages 18+ points a night and is among the league leaders in several statistical categories. But it is the way that she scores that captivated me more than anything else. She is not fazed by constant double teams or hard fouls. She has amazing body control when she slashes to the hoop and is probably the best finisher in the WNBA. She plays the game like it should be played and that is why she is my favorite WNBA player.
It would just so happen that my favorite player is not on my favorite WNBA team, the Detroit Shock. With an intimidating lineup that includes five All-Stars (Swin Cash, Cheryl Ford, Deanna Nolan, Ruth Riley and the newly-acquired Katie Smith), the Shock are a team stacked with scoring ability, but still share the rock incredibly well. Even though they are playing sub-.500 basketball, they cannot be discounted in the run to the playoffs and could very well threaten Connecticut and Sacramento for the title.
In watching the Shock, I thoroughly enjoy the personality of their players and Coach Bill Laimbeer. Even though I mistakenly called Cheryl Ford by the wrong name at a Jam Session Event at the All-Star Game, she was still more than responsive whenever I needed her help or understanding. When it comes to Laimbeer, he has taken some criticism for his behavior on the court, but the passion that he puts into everything he does is always for the benefit of his players. The team always seems to entertain.
Deanna Nolan nearly threw it down at the WNBA All-Star Game, just missing twice.|
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty Images
But my internship has not just been all fun and games. No, I actually had to do some work every once in a while. From putting together scouting lists for general managers to organizing finance reports to helping out with basketball operations duties, my summer has been packed with learning opportunities in every facet of the game and the league. Of course, everyone is having a good time, too, which makes it fun. From top to bottom, the WNBA is filled with employees who love the game of basketball and love what they do. They know that they are integral pieces in the development of something really big. No one exemplifies this better than WNBA President Donna Orender. She took over in April and has not looked back. Orender is the perfect fit for where the WNBA currently is and where the league hopes to be in five and ten years. The joy she brings to the office everyday is unrivaled, and her enthusiasm manifests itself in the quality of work that everyone in the office produces.
I am grateful for the opportunity to intern in the WNBA front office this summer. Whatever apprehensions I had about the WNBA entering the internship are now completely dissolved. Why? Because I got to see how talented these women are, a conclusion I probably would not have come to if I had not seen a WNBA game. This is just one of the many lessons that I have learned here and will take with me for the rest of my life as a WNBA fan.
Jihad Beauchman is entering his senior year at Yale University, where he is majoring in economics. He is also a member of the Yale track team and owns the school's high jump record.