All-Star weekend was incredible, as hit on in the first edition of All-Star diaries. Yet again on my second day in, I expected to be taken away by the on-court product, but the interactions I experienced and relationships developed reigned paramount. I’m pretty much solely a person who watches games on my laptop or in my office, and that was heightened by the pandemic.
Sitting next to people I didn’t know and then getting to know them while simultaneously watching Allie Quigley go off or Sylvia Fowles opening the All-Star game with a three was awesome. It was the kind of event that generated feelings leading to me looking up ticket prices back in my hotel for Fever games, the closest arena to me. Can I try and find a story that coincides with a three-game road trip I fly out for?
The event did its justice to me. I’m already an avid watcher of games, but I miss what that in-person experience brings and it hasn’t even been a week.
The skills competition and the events overall during the first day highlighted things I really want to see moving forward with the league and its branding partners Pairing WNBA stars with high school players on the Nike EYBL circuit and bringing in all of their teammates was an incredibly fun and inventive idea. Including the next generation of potential W players as well as spurring on fandom is a win.
The next wave of prospects needs to be covered starting with prospects. Learning about and highlighting that next class of the league before they get here to better establish branding and recognition is an untapped source of coverage in women’s basketball, and this was a quality step forward. I’m not saying expectations for prospects need to be heightened, but rather that even casual fans knowing more about Rori Harmon (she’s going to be GOOD) is a good thing for the league and for players of that top caliber.
Zoe Brooks (remember her name), a guard out of New Jersey committed to North Carolina State, paired with Liberty star Sabrina Ionescu to team up and win the skills competition in its entirety. I sat in front of her AAU team for most of the event and they were the loudest people in the building without question. The energy of all the teams was fantastic and electrified the gym.
One of my resounding takeaways from the weekend, something I’ve felt all season but emboldened during my time in Chicago, was the need for more all-encompassing coverage of the league.
The three-point and skills competitions were flexed to ESPNU when the Wimbledon Finals took precedence and ran over. ESPNU requires an additional subscription to watch on top of the cable subscription to watch ESPN in most cable packages, or if you subscribe to ESPN Plus.
As Los Angeles Sparks star and WNBA Players Association President Nneka Ogwumike pointed out last week answering a wonderful question from Jackie Rae of NiteCast Media
“It shouldn’t be so damn hard to watch our games.”
Ogwumike’s whole answer spanned a few minutes and was incredibly insightful and in-depth, something I fully recommend listening to (shout out to the great Dorothy Gentry for clipping here).
Nneka’s quote ran through my head so many times while I was in Chicago, and I was fortunate enough to catch up with her and dive a little deeper into her thoughts on the media’s place in W, expanding coverage, and growing the game.
“When 2020 happened, I sat on a lot of panels, I did an internship with Deloitte, and they would put me in like their DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) sector and they’d ask me “What can we do? What can we do?” as if it doesn’t already exist. So for example, when they asked me questions about diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace… if you’re not doing it at home, it’s not gonna translate to work. So like with media, what would you do if you wanted to get to know me, even if you weren’t interviewing me?”
As we did at that moment, we’d sit down and have a conversation. As a side note, meeting Nneka was fantastic. Talking to one another, it felt like I’d met her countless times before and she was incredibly warm and welcoming. I could’ve asked Nneka questions back and forth all weekend.
And that’s kind of the point, not saying I’m in the right, rather than that’s what it’s about. Getting to know one another and finding understanding.
“The power is understanding that you don’t know,” says Nneka
“And then there’s even more power in seeking the answer and someone that can give it to you… You’re working with a league where it’s eighty-plus percent black women and those are stories that go untold. In media, you have to do your job… but every once in a while, if you have the agency… “Hey, let me do this feature on a player that doesn’t necessarily get the spotlight,” pick one where you can go a little deeper…but just getting to know people in general, that’s what media does. You have to be able to get me to give an answer like this.”
Much of this weekend was made about Sylvia Fowles’ last ride and her last All-Star weekend, and rightfully so. You could say it was a slam dunk!
I sat down and talked with Syl for a while, one of the highlights of my weekend, but she was pointed in answering how she feels about being called underappreciated still at this stage of her career. In prepping for our interview, it kept popping up in articles, tweets, and podcasts: underappreciated. I mentioned how crazy that was to me as I asked her a question about her defense throughout her career.
“It’s crazy to me too sometimes,” chimed Fowles matter of factly (More on this in the coming week).
One of the all-time greats in the sport of basketball continually being described as underappreciated or under-highlighted is wild to me. Perhaps I’m being naive in my relative youth as a media member, particularly in the W, but if a player is in that category, let’s change that. There are countless stories worth telling, divulging, and spotlighting in arguably the most diverse league in sports.
This weekend in Chicago was phenomenal, but as much as this weekend stood for how far the league has come, remembering legends, and enjoying a wonderful season, it also stood out to me that there’s a great deal of room for the game to grow. Whether it be in branding, accessibility, media deals, or media coverage itself, this weekend served as a great reminder that there’s still more work to be done to amplify this league and those who play in it.
Newly hired WNBA reporter Mark Schindler writes a column on WNBA.com throughout the season and can be reached on Twitter at @MG_Schindler. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the WNBA or its clubs