This series will cover the WNBA’s 21st season with at least one story on the league weekly from the season’s May 13 opening to its closing on September 3 and through the 2017 playoffs.
Whenever a Black coach is hired — male or female, college or pro — this columnist cheers like the little angel bell on the Christmas tree in It’s A Wonderful Life. Conversely, we register disappointment whenever the coach gets the Ziggy.
This naturally occurred when Bobbie Kelsey was hired in 2001 as Wisconsin’s first Black female head coach, then later got fired in 2016 after five seasons. “I wasn’t going to stop [coaching] just because of a bad experience” losing her first head coaching opportunity, Kelsey told the MSR last week during her first time back in the Cities since leaving Madison. She is now in her first season as a Los Angeles Sparks assistant coach.
Head Coach Brian Agler hired her in April, replacing Amber Stocks, who left for the Chicago Sky’s dual head coach-general manager position. “I’ve worked for some of the best coaches in the country,” Kelsey explained, referring to her previous stops at Virginia Tech, her alma mater Stanford, where she also played, and her first head coaching job at Wisconsin.
During her almost half-year away from basketball, Kelsey was the Boys and Girls Club of Dane County (Wisconsin) corporate and wellness programs vice-president. She was confident that coaching would one day return to her life, as it did. This time it’s a step up to the pros.
“It’s still basketball, but it’s a different level,” noted Kelsey on coaching in the WNBA. “It’s definitely a faster game.”
Kelsey was hired just a few weeks before training camp starts, but Agler and holdover Assistant Coach Tonya Edwards’ assistance made her transition a smooth one. “Brian is a great coach,” said the first-year assistant. She and Edwards comprise one of the league’s few all-Black assistant coaching tandems.
“She’s awesome,” said Kelsey of Edwards, a former W player and college head coach. “She helped me a lot. It makes it easy for me.”
Commenting outside the visitors’ dressing room after last Thursday’s Minnesota-Los Angeles contest, Kelsey said of life in the W, “The pace of the game, the talent in this league, the ability to come back [in games] even when you’re down — every team in this league has the talent to do it.”
More importantly, Kelsey, after an unplanned hiatus, is back on the sidelines as a coach. “When you love it, you don’t let things [like getting fired] bother you,” she said.
Five of the 35 “Powerful Women in Sports” recently named by Adweek are Black females: WNBA President Lisa Borders; U.S. Tennis Association Chairman-President-CEO Katrina Adams; Spalding Vice-President, Global Brand Marketing and Partnerships Kenyetta Bynoe; Chief Marketing Officer Pamela El, NBA, WNBA and NBA G-League; Under Armour Global Brand Management Senior Vice President Adrienne Lofton; and National Basketball Players Association Executive Director Michele Roberts.
None of the five sistahs made the magazine cover shot, however.
Once competitors, now teammates
“When she was in Dallas, she always had been a problem for us. To have her part of our team, and have other people have to guard her, definitely has been a help for me,” says Lynx center Sylvia Fowles of 15-year veteran forward Plenette Pierson, now in her first season in Minnesota.
“Just having Syl under the basket as a big target… A great dominant player like she is on my side is always a plus,” replied Pierson on Fowles, the ninth-year veteran.
Yes, she said it…
“They are very motivated and they want to get back to the top,” said Washington guard Kristi Toliver of the Minnesota Lynx’s season-long mission to finish as league champions.
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.