From Jordan shoes to hip-hop, Black culture has been the dominant culture in both the WNBA and NBA. Through music, fashion, and gaming, Black culture has inspired players to want to be a part of the WNBA and NBA. Including myself. Growing up as a Black kid in Mississippi, I wanted to be Allen Iverson and Michael Jordan. These were some of the players that made many people want to be a part of the NBA. I wanted to dribble, play, shoot, dress, and even talk like them. It was to the point I was asking to get every pair of Jordans and asking my mom for braids exactly like AI.
The growth of the game of basketball in the WNBA and NBA has helped build bridges between cultures and communities. The platform both leagues share also inspires many across the world. The influence they had extended way beyond the court.
For Satou Sabally, the voyage to the WNBA was much different than American players on and off the court. Sabally is a 6’4” WNBA player for the Dallas Wings from Germany. In the 2020 WNBA Draft, she was selected second overall by the Wings. Sabally grew up in the German culture, where the predominant sport was soccer. Sabally was able to learn about the NBA and WNBA through YouTube videos and getting up at 4 AM to watch games live from time to time.
“I played soccer before basketball. It is like the cultural identity in Germany [to play soccer],” said Sabally. “My first coach saw me on the playground and approached me because I was significantly taller than a lot of my classmates. She asked me if I wanted to go to the girls’ basketball camp and I said sure why not.”
Sabally wasn’t the only player to transition from soccer to basketball. Former NBA legend Steve Nash and current NBA all-star Joel Embiid both made similar transitions and credited their home country’s sport in helping them gain a competitive advantage. Their footwork helps make these players extremely hard to deal with on the court. Satou earned the nickname, Unicorn, because of her athletic ability and skill set at her height, which led her to be recognized by colleges in the U.S. At the age of 19, Sabally chose to take her talents to America to attend the University of Oregon.
“When I originally thought of America, I thought of country [music], but the people I hung out with here playing basketball listened to hip hop and R&B,” said Sabally. “Lil Durk is someone I absolutely now love but I never heard of him in Germany. Here [in the U.S.], my friends listen to him. He is so dope. I am always bumming his jams.”
“It was a lot [when I moved to the United States]. I was super excited and also nervous. I love new beginnings and a new challenge,” said Sabally. “I had amazing teammates who were mostly Americans. So, being in that environment I pick it up super-fast.”
Despite the adjustments in environment and lifestyle, the game of basketball was still the same. Sabally was just as unique as she was on the court coming from a different culture compared to most of her teammates. Through the love of food, Sabally learned the culture of the U.S. and fused it together with her own. The enjoyment of cooking for her teammates helped her bond with them, introduce them to her culture, and learn more about the culture in the U.S.
“Once a week, I like to cook when I have my friends [around]. It is a way to share my love for them and my culture. If they had questions, I would answer them,” said Sabally. “Being open and talkative…connecting with people was a way for me to connect with the [American] culture.”
After three seasons with the Oregon Ducks, Sabally’s world became even bigger when she entered her name into the 2020 WNBA Draft during the unprecedented times of the COVID-19 pandemic. The 2020 WNBA season was a big one for the players. Despite being a pandemic bubble year, WNBA players showed unity and empowered each other to speak up on social issues.
“WNBA is about equality. The WNBA fights for equality. We stand for that. It shows the people how representative we are of the world and not only one country,” said Sabally. “We have players from Australia, Germany, Belgium, and many other countries. I think it is cool when all these cultures clash together, and you have to function on the court.”
The WNBA is becoming more than just a basketball league, but a league that bridges cultures and communities together. In the 2021 WNBA Draft, there were seven international players drafted. As Prince Akeem from Coming to America said, “No journey is too great when one finds what [they] seek.” For many of these international players, they come to the U.S. seeking to be a part of league culture. The WNBA and NBA have shown us how Black culture has become a global influence upon other cultures outside the U.S. As players from across the world join these leagues, it expands the culture to new and higher heights.