To say that day one of WNBA All-Star festivities was a whirlwind would be an utter understatement. Allie Quigley made history! Sabrina Ionescu dazzled during the skills competition and the vibes were fantastic all around.
As enticing as the on-court product has been, All-Star is as much about the connection, the tangibility of everyone in the league conglomerating in the same realm for a weekend. It’s hard to bring people together from 12 different markets!
Like how often is that even capable of happening? Getting to soak in those interpersonal relationships and the humanity of the league is what’s made the event so special for me so far. Connection makes a day’s worth of memories kick like a mule. Everything of substance from prior interactions feels that much greater, possessing a gravity you only find through that closeness.
On a personal note, today was the first time I’d covered a W event in person, and I wouldn’t trade that experience for the world. Meeting people I’d known for upwards of a year and finally seeing them in person, dapping them up and hugging them, soaking in the events together made the journey to get here feel all the more fruitful.
You don’t know who’s going to step out of an elevator, and it’s incredible. Not in an “ooooo there goes so and so” type beat, but someone you’ve emailed back and forth with for a few weeks to set up a story might walk right out and there’s that moment of “Oh my god it’s you!!”
Like yeah, I’ve talked to A’ja Wilson before and I know she’s real, but actually sitting next to her and getting to have a conversation is that type of thing that you can’t replicate.
Wilson mentioned the need for this weekend to get away and relax to reset before the remainder of the year. The Aces were 2-5 heading into All-Star weekend after a raucous start to the season.
“We definitely needed this break to kind of get away and not see each other’s faces… even though I’m seeing their faces all day,” Wilson laughs.
“But, pressure makes diamonds at the end of the day, we needed this adversity. How many times can you fall down and get back up? We’re in that getting up stage. When we look back in October I don’t wanna say ‘Man, I wish we did this in July or June,’ this is where we really need to lock in. I’m glad we got this break, but I’m excited to get back to work.”
One of the greatest parts of yesterday: the shoes.
Talking to every player about their kicks, where they got them from, what they mean to them, and trailing off that was something you don’t even contemplate over Zoom. I met Sylvia Fowles for the first time yesterday, she was wearing a custom pair of Nike Dunks, and she immediately went “Oh my god, I love your shoes,” as soon as she walked in (I was wearing Adidas NMD R1 V2’s, they’re awesome) and it devolved into a whole few minutes discussion from there.
It’s been the little things like that that truly stick out even amongst larger projects I’ve been working on while I’m in Chicago.
“I got the AI’s (Allen Iverson’s) with the bubbles, The Answers and they were the red ones with the red toe, and I popped the bubbles like the third day, and I was so hot,” reminisced Candace Parker on her first pair of sneakers that she fell in love with. Bursting the bubble on a pair of AI’s is an absolute travesty, but Parker still wore the shoes around school with pride, she just didn’t hoop in them.
In talking with Candace, it was apparent how much this game means to her, playing at home in Chicago with her family here. It’s a weekend to connect and be together away from the grind of a road schedule for a fleeting moment. Although, her family would likely be with her regardless of where the game was played this year.
“I’m not gonna cheat my family, I’m not gonna cheat the game. I do everything possible to have my family with me, they’re here, we got an Airbnb here… we do everything possible to make sure they’re along for the journey.”
Parker mentioned in an interview with Kristen Ledlow on NBA TV shortly before the 2022 W season tipped off that she was thinking through retirement. Her contract is up at the end of the year, she’s enjoyed a long and remarkable career, but her family is on her mind. I asked her about the balance of being present now while also contemplating and weighing the future. How does she stay grounded?
“My daughter is gonna be starting high school next year, you know at some point it’s like, she’s sacrificed a lot for her mom and I don’t want to miss those days and you look up and it’s like you have four more years of her being under your roof. I don’t wanna miss that. It’s a balance. As long as my family supports what I’m doing and we make the decision together.”
In essence, Parker illustrates what the All-Star game is about. The game is (and will be) fun undoubtedly, but it’s largely not what it’s about. Watching the three-point contest is less about the results and more about enjoying the process, taking this half-hour roundabout to step back from the season. I started watching the challenge with Ariel Atkins smoking the net in the first round, but steadily became more and more drawn to the sidelines, witnessing interactions and reactions instead.
A’ja cheering on Kelsey Plum from the scorer’s table, giving her best Becky Hammon impression. Courtney Vandersloot egged on Allie Quigley as she gunned away and inched closer to her 4th three-point contest title. It was a blast to take in, and a reminder for me that there’s a necessity in stepping back to just soak in the present, enjoy the here and now, and appreciate the moments that this weekend provides in personality.
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.