It was “a terrific summer for women’s sports,” proclaimed WNBA President Laurel Richie in her second “State of the League” address on Sunday prior to the first game of the 2012 Finals.
From Title IX’s 40-year celebration to the USA women’s basketball team’s fifth consecutive gold medal, “We were very, very proud that all 12 members of that team are currently on WNBA rosters…a great, great summer for women’s sports,” said the second-year league president.
Richie proudly talked about “some real breakout stories” this season by the sistahs in her league: “Kristi Toliver [Los Angeles] was just on fire this season. It was terrific to see her as our most improved player. We all got to see what it looks like when Candace Parker [Los Angeles] is 100 percent healthy throughout the entire season. Tina Charles [Connecticut], who began her summer by building a school in Africa for young kids, then went on to become our MVP.”
She also liked Chicago, “who came close, closer than they have ever been to making the Eastern Conference playoffs” this season, continued Richie, “and Tulsa is another team who really performed well this year… I would argue that their team performance really exceeds their record.”
Business-wise, Richie noted that the W is like a Chicago song — getting stronger every day – and pointed out three key lifelines: attendance (“Our goal here is really to build a sustainable fan base. We have seen an uptick in season ticket renewals.”), national television exposure (“We were absolutely thrilled when ESPN made the decision to cover our draft lottery live for the first time ever.”), and corporate sponsorship (“This was our first full season with our league-wide marquee partner.”).
Yet Madame President fully understands that everything isn’t all rosy. “We are really focusing in on some of the key measures that help tell us that we are building a strong and sustainable fan base,” she said.
Richie also addressed the criticism that Phoenix, perhaps dishonorably, put themselves in position to get the 2013 top pick. “If there had been anything that I personally or the league overall felt was improper, we would have absolutely taken action,” said Richie. “There’s lots of chatter, and I call it noise in the system.”
However, whether it’s bad talk or good, it only means that finally, after years of being an afterthought among the snobbish sports crowd, people are talking about the W.
“It shows a level of knowledge, engagement and passion for the W and for our teams, which is a good thing,” Richie said. “Any time there is discussion about the game, our players and competition, I view that as a very positive engagement of a very knowledgeable fan base.”
Other presidential summations from Richie:
On the 2012 playoffs: “I think both the Eastern and Western Conference [playoff match-ups] have been some terrific games that have literally gone down to the last shot.”
On ESPN: “We have seen the bulk of our games on NBA TV [which is not on basic cable], and we have seen the highest-ever viewership for the WNBA on that network,” she concluded. “We were a little softer than we would have liked to have been on ESPN and ESPN2 during the regular season.”
First Finals game impressions
A sellout crowd of 14,322 whooped and hollered and watched Minnesota lose Game One to Indiana on Sunday.
“As a player on the other team, to have that enthusiasm — the place was rocking tonight. You just look around and see all those people in the stands, and it definitely is inspiring,” recalled Indiana forward Tamika Catchings
“You couldn’t have asked for a louder, more energetic or wonderful crowd,” observed Lynx guard Candice Wiggins, adding that she hoped “the whole city” would be in the stands for Game Two, scheduled for Wednesday.
“The crowd was awesome,” added former Gopher Kim Bell, now a Hennepin County probation officer.
Did you know…?
Who was the first Black head coach to win a WNBA championship? (Answer in next week’s “View.”)
Answer to last week’s question: Rickey Foggie and one other Minnesota quarterback did something in school history that hasn’t been duplicated since. Name the historical feat as well as the other quarterback.
Foggie led the Gophers to a 20-17 win over then-second-ranked Michigan in 1986, the first QB to knock off a highly ranked opponent since Sandy Stephens twice defeated number-one Michigan State 13-0 in 1961 and top-ranked Iowa 27-10 in 1960. Both Foggie and Stephens are the only Black starting quarterbacks in school history ever to achieve this.
Next week: a one-on-one interview with WNBA President Laurel Richie
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.