This column is dedicated throughout the month of July to a discussion of the good, bad and everything else in women’s basketball in general and the WNBA in particular. We will talk to coaches, players, fans, and current and former bigwigs for their input, and will share their thoughts throughout this discussion series.
UNCASVILLE, CONN. — If I didn’t have it in my hands, it would be unbelievable: A USA TODAY sports front page article on the WNBA published two days before last Saturday’s All-Star Game.
Although the article mainly centered on Chicago Sky’s Elena Delle Donne, even remotely mentioning the league or its annual midseason event in “The Nation’s News” is shocking but worth being duly recognized, even by this longtime league beat writer.
“Yeah, so, yeah, we’re very happy to have coverage,” proclaimed W President Laurel Richie when the MSR asked her about it during her annual All-Star press conference before the game. “Media coverage is always so hard to, with a finite point, gauge day-to-day or event to event.”
“I did not get a chance to read it yet,” responded Delle Donne after playing in Saturday’s game. “I heard [about it] and somebody showed me a picture [Delle Donne’s headshot made the USA TODAY’s prestigious front page as well]. To be on the front of USA TODAY is huge.”
“I very much appreciate USA TODAY and all the media covering our game,” said NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, who spoke to the MSR after the West’s 117-112 victory in which Minnesota’s Maya Moore won MVP honors.
Still, it is so doggone hard for many media types to cover the WNBA annual All-Star Game — the MSR once again was the only Minnesota media present last weekend. In fact, it’s 10 straight summers of coverage by the state’s oldest Black newspaper, while the larger local radio, television and print media virtually ignore it despite the Lynx annually having at least three players voted or named to the game.
Minnesota was one of three WNBA teams providing the most All-Stars (three) in 2015, and the local club has twice sent four players to the game (2011, 2013), the only WNBA franchise to do this in All-Star history.
The WNBA is 19 years old. The All-Star Game is age 12. And we’re still talking about serious media coverage rather than the “niche sport” stories. It shouldn’t depend on a USA women’s soccer team winning a world title every four years or Serena Williams again at the top of her tennis game in order to get a flicker of media attention to women’s sports
“It’s only going to get better,” believes Moore. “The WNBA season is going to be what people remember, and this is a big moment within the WNBA season.”
Instead of drive-by notes, more should have been made of Tamika Catchings’ 10th-straight All-Star game — and probably her last, as she plans to retire after the 2016 season. The MSR talked to the Indiana star and asked about her “elder spokesperson” status.
“I never really thought about it,” admitted Catchings. “I remember going to events with Lisa [Leslie], and she [spoke] on behalf of the league and for the players.” Now it’s the 13-year veteran forward who has comfortably filled the Hall of Famer’s role. “It’s truly an honor to step into that role of being the older, wiser ambassador for the players,” she said proudly.
Catchings, who passed Leslie last weekend to become the WNBA’s all-time All-Star scorer, truly cherishes her tenth All-Star selection like a Foreigner song — it felt like the very first time. “Every year I come, I’m excited for the first-timers like it’s my first time,” she continued.
“She’s such a consummate pro,” noted Chicago Coach Pokey Chatman, who was the first Black female All-Star head coach in league history — and Catchings’ coach for the East team. “She just wanted to blend, have fun, and help the younger players truly understand what this moment is about,” said the coach.
“She never takes a moment of this for granted,” added Richie of Catchings. “She enjoys the game, working with kids, welcoming first-time All-Stars and showing them their way. I think she has a great respect for the history of the league.”
When asked, Catchings told the MSR that the league is in very good hands, thanks to stars like Moore and Delle Donne among others. “Elena can take that charge for the WNBA. The way she’s playing right now [she leads the league in scoring] is bringing attention [to her], which in turn brings attention to the game. Hopefully, as a league, we can build on that.”
Moore is among “the younger group” that Catchings believes is leading the league’s transition from veterans such as herself. “There are so many great women who are stepping up,” she noted.
Such WNBA storylines that most mainstream media typically ignore or treat like something unusual should instead be weekly, if not daily, commonplace stories in sports sections in column inches rather than measured words.
“I do feel like the level of talent in the league, the personalities that are coming in, young players who think about their brand, all of that I think makes it so much easier for us to tell the stories of our games and of our players,” concluded Richie. “I think it makes it easier to for the media to find these stories and to talk about these stories.”
The question always is why the media can’t or won’t find these stories.
See post All-Star notes, quotes and anecdotes: Post WBNA All-Star Wrap-up
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to email@example.com.
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.