Each week of the WNBA season, we’ll go “All In” on five topics that are worth a closer look and preview what is upcoming.
Aces honor players of the past
The WNBA continues to reach new heights in its second quarter-century, and as part of the “Count It” campaign, it will honor the league’s 25 greatest players.
But a league builds on more than simply the best players to take the court. It grows behind every single player who dons a jersey and logs minutes, even if it’s only a brief training camp appearance.
The Las Vegas Aces — launched as the Utah Starzz before becoming the San Antonio Silver Stars and later Stars — are honoring those players and what they mean to the organization in a special way.
Mark Davis, who moved the NFL’s Oakland Raiders to Las Vegas, has taken a special interest in growing the sporting landscape in Sin City. He purchased the Aces in January and while there was initial concern about what he might bring to a flourishing organization, he’s shown he cares about not only the current players but what this league means to all.
As part of that, he and the Aces are bringing alumnae to every home game of the season. They’re mentioned on broadcasts and celebrated on social platforms. Davis and president Nikki Fargas, whom he hired the week before the season in a new role, takes them out for dinners. They’re invited to meet with the team and see the facilities.
It was Sylvia Crawley Milbry (San Antonio, 2003), Heather Butler (San Antonio, 2014), Kristen Rasmussen (Utah, 2000) and Adrienne Goodson (Utah and San Antonio, 1999-2004) who made the trip last weekend. And if this doesn’t capture what it means to these women who were there at the beginning, nothing else will.
When Goodson was drafted by the Utah Starzz in the 1999 draft, she wasn’t celebrated on national TV like the Aces’ 2021 picks Iliana Rupert or Destiny Slocum. As her career continued from the league’s third season through its ninth in 2005, she watched as fewer and fewer reporters showed up at the arena. Her triumphs might not have been celebrated then the way they are now in an age of social media, women’s-specific sites and expanded coverage.
But they are no less important. The Aces and Davis know that. Every player in the organization’s stops is why this team is a title favorite with an MVP and two-time Sixth Woman of the Year among a deep roster. Goodson deserves to be a part of that and see it up close, especially in a year when the WNBA is honoring what is has become.
This league is not only the 144 right now, but the 3,600 (give or take) over the past 25.
— Cassandra Negley
Noelle Quinn on the historical significance becoming coach
We touched on the importance of former players becoming coaches in the WNBA when Seimone Augustus retired days before the season and became a Sparks assistant.
Noelle Quinn did the same following the 2018 WNBA Finals she won while with the Seattle Storm. Now, she’s the Storm head coach with Dan Hughes abruptly retiring this week.
And not only is Quinn a former player, she’s a Black woman. The significance of that is vast, particularly since offseason coaching hires have rightly sparked controversy over a lack of diversity.
“They crawl so I can walk,” Quinn said earlier this week. “I sit on those shoulders. And for me, it’s important that I’m not a woman, I’m a Black woman. I sit with that everyday, and sometimes that can be a negative, a double negative for me to be a woman and to be Black. But I’m empowered in that. There’s value in that.”
Quinn joins the Mercury’s Sandy Brondello and Wings’ Vickie Johnson as the only three former player head coaches in the league. She and Johnson are the only Black women.
Her knowledge, experience and ability to relate to players will help as she jumps into the lead role weeks into the season. The Storm have high expectations despite losing key talent, especially on the defensive end, while the Aces have boosted their roster.
The Storm won their first game under Quinn, 88-73 over the Fever on Tuesday, and have a Commissioner’s Cup matchup against the Wings on Friday (10 p.m. ET, Amazon Prime Video). The Storm lead the league at 6-1 and the Commissioner’s Cup West standings at 4-0.
— Cassandra Negley
Brittney Griner dunks … again
Before Brittney Griner came into the league, there had been four players with an in-game dunk. Then, Griner and her 6-foot-9 frame showed men’s professional players like Shaquille O’Neal that no, the rim absolutely doesn’t need to be lowered in the WNBA.
Griner threw down her second dunk of the season in the Mercury’s 77-74 win over the Sky on Thursday, five days after her first dunk of the season and first since 2019. She now has 16 dunks in her WNBA career.
The spicy airplane celebration is fun and much-deserved for a player who has a unique skill set. Only two other players have dunked since Griner’s WNBA debut — Jonquel Jones and Liz Cambage, both in All-Star Games.
What Griner is doing is special, and it will push the game forward. What won’t push the game forward are men’s basketball players who have never played against these elite athletes suggesting that they’re not as good somehow if they don’t dunk.
“We have to acknowledge that’s different. Ain’t nobody doing that in our game,” Skylar Diggins-Smith said after Griner’s second dunk of the season.
Oh, and we’ll just leave this here:
— Johanna Huybers
Liz Cambage, Curt Miller make amends
Aces center Liz Cambage rightly called out Sun coach Curt Miller for comments he made about Cambage’s weight to an official during the Aces-Sun game on May 23.
Miller apologized after Cambage posted a series of Instagram videos detailing the incident. The league also fined and suspended him one game. And that would have been an acceptable end to the incident.
Before the two teams met again on Tuesday, Cambage made a point to go over to the Sun bench and clear the air with Miller. The two hugged and Cambage told him, “We’re in this together.”
“We just apologized to each other and she summed it up best: We’re in this together. We’re a league that really supports each other, fights for each other as we try to grow this league, grow the fanbase,” Miller said after the game, via the Hartford Courant.
“We all really care for each other. As much as we’re competitive against each other and want to beat each other, there’s camaraderie with the players in this league, there’s a mutual respect with the coaches in this league. We’re in this together. It was quick, but there’s a lot of mutual respect between the two of us.”
Cambage was booed during pregame introductions, which seemed to fire up the known trash-talker as she blew kisses to the crowd. The boos continued throughout the game.
“It really does get me going,” Cambage said, via the Hartford Courant. “The girls were like, ‘Was it everything with Curt that got you going tonight?’ I was like, ‘No, I hugged that man before the game, we cleared the air.’ But for me to come out and have the crowd boo me like that, that’s like cheering for me. That’s like adrenaline straight into my veins.
“Thank you, Connecticut crowd. Keep booing me, I love it.”
There is a clear line between the disparaging comments that Miller made about her body and the boos from the fans. Both were motivators, but in different ways. Cambage set the tone for how these players deserve to be respected, while also showing a level of compassion and understanding that is sometimes lost in professional sports.
— Johanna Huybers
WNBA All-Star Game coming soon
While it was expected that the league would hold an All-Star Game in its 25th anniversary season, details have not been announced and the timing was always going to be tight with the rescheduled Tokyo Olympics falling in the middle of the season.
Commissioner Cathy Engelbert said that the All-Star Game could be announced next week and the likely date will be before the Olympic break. Typically, the league has not staged an All-Star Game in an Olympic year.
Teams are already dealing with players coming late because of overseas and Olympics commitments or leaving before the league’s Olympic break to train with their Olympic teams.
This could be a great season to experiment with the format of the game, as the NBA has done in recent seasons. As with the Commissioner’s Cup, adding social justice elements also would be a great option.
Engelbert also said during her media availabilities this week that she expects “close to 100%, 99%” of players to have received the COVID-19 vaccination and that teams will be ramping up fan capacity.
— Johanna Huybers
Catch up on the week
What to watch for the weekend
Chicago Sky at Los Angeles Sparks — It’s been a tough go for the Chicago Sky to start the season. If Candace Parker plays, it’ll be her first game at her old team and her first since the 2021 opener. The Sky should at least have back Stefanie Dolson after the U.S. 3×3 team clinched a spot at the Olympics. The Sparks earned their first two wins of the season in a trip to Chicago last weekend.
When: Saturday, 3 p.m. ET on ABC
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