WNBA week three is in the books and what a gay ol’ time it was! Sue Bird and Sylvia Fowles got their jerseys retired, A’ja Wilson brought a rainbow cake to the Aces game, Diana Taurasi turned 300 sports years old (still younger than Natalie and Heather, though!), and the league celebrated Pride with plenty of rainbows. We’re here to break it all down and make our little jokes!
Natalie: Heather, there were two big stories in Week 3 of the WNBA: the incident at the Dallas airport involving the Phoenix Mercury and the jersey retirements of Sue Bird and Sylvia Fowles, so I think we start there. I wrote a bit yesterday about what happened in Dallas — and focused, particularly, on how it happened — but I wanted to get your take on the situation. How’d you feel when you read Brianna Turner’s tweet and heard the subsequent reports and what do you think is the path forward?
Heather: I thought what you wrote about BG yesterday was perfect, in large part because you got to the heart of the issue I’ve had since this happened, which was how obfuscating every statement was from every organization and from WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert. They were all kicking the can around and making vague statements about how “charters had been approved” for BG — but then, all the statements unraveled.
How many charters had been approved? Apparently not charters for all the games! Who was footing the bill for these charters? The Mercury? The league? Who knows! Where was this promised security BG was supposed to have? Just a whole lot of words and a whole lot of (purposeful?) confusion, when the heart of the issue was: The one group of people who should have been proactively protecting BG, completely, failed her and her teammates. And, like you said: IN AN AIRPORT.
I am obviously still very worked up about it. The fact that the W waited for something to happen — when everyone with even the smallest capacity for foresight could have told you it was going to happen — makes me absolutely livid. And now, of course, I’m worried it’s going to become a thing with these right wing jackasses because this guy got so much attention. Do you think the W is going to rise to the challenge and actually put their money where their mouth is in terms of valuing BG’s health and safety?
Natalie: I think they certainly have to step up…and I hope that, now the reality of the situation has been exposed, more sports media can step up and hold them accountable and ask for the specifics that the situation warrants.
One thing that I didn’t talk about in my piece yesterday because I couldn’t find corroboration — and I said this in our slack channel immediately after I read the WNBA’s statement — was that, apparently, only BG was going to get the charter flights? Like she was going to be separated from her team and have to fly separately? On what planet does that make sense? This woman spent 10 months locked up in a cell, surrounded by people who didn’t share a language with her….and you want her to travel alone? Seriously, where’s the decency?
Heather: Absolutely agree. When you said that, I thought about the team that did the exchange for BG, how they said that when she got on the plane, they expected her to be subdued and exhausted — but that she wanted to talk the entire flight home from Russia, because she had been all alone for so long. Thinking about her being separated from her teammates, her family, again because of the league!, it is so upsetting.
Natalie: This idea that charter flights provide some dramatic advantage to the team that has them, I think, is preposterous. Back when the owner of the Liberty provided a charter flights for his team — a move that was subject to a $500k fine from the league — New York had a losing record over that period. Plus, and I think Stewie pointed this out, if you accept that charter flights provide a “competitive advantage,” what’s the difference between that competitive advantage and, say, having a private practice facility like the Aces have?
No one’s dissuading teams from building those private facilities…in fact, the league has been touting the Aces’ growth and, in turn, we’re seeing other teams in the league…like Seattle and Chicago…step up and commit to offering their players better facilities.
Heather: That’s absolutely right. Any team with money is going to have this competitive advantage in one way or another. Like, you think those rings that Aces owner Mark Davis got for the team for their championship, the hugest and most expensive rings ever, you think that’s not a recruitment tactic on top of everything else? The training facilities, like you said. Even the arenas where they play. Like Climate Pledge compared to, say, the Gateway Center in Atlanta. There’s not parity in the way money is spent in this league, and it feels like an excuse — especially when you’re talking about something as huge as this.
And! And! Name one single player in this entire league, one coach, one trainer, who’s going to say, “No, we don’t want BG and the Mercury to fly charter because it’s not fair to us.” NO ONE is going to say that because these players want BG to be safe and well, more than anything else!
Natalie: 100%. You’re absolutely right.
Heather: I’m really eager to see what the W does here. They better do it swiftly and completely.
Natalie: They better.
Heather: This actually fits in with a much larger cultural conversation about hyper-visibility, and if you’re an organization that’s making vulnerable people the face of your whole thing, it is your responsibility to make sure they have the protection and care they need from becoming hyper-visible. It’s not enough to put BG’s name and number and face all over t-shirts and gym floors. You’ve got to do the extra work to care for her, or else all that is just a pantomime! This is something gender nonconforming and trans people deal with all the time, and it’s heightened times a billion for BG.
Natalie: That’s absolutely right: this, for better or worse, is a consequence of growing the game…and it was always going to be an issue but the situation with BG sped that process up considerably…so now the league has to deal with it. We’ll see what happens.
This week also saw the jerseys of two WNBA legends Sue Bird and Sylvia Fowles raised to the rafters for the Seattle Storm and Minnesota Lynx. Did you enjoy the retirement ceremonies? And do you have a favorite memory of those two players from their time in the league?
Heather: Oh, Natalie, I have been just luxuriating in my strolls down memory lane because of Syl and Sue. Look, there’s absolutely no way to fully describe Sue Bird’s impact on women’s professional sports, on gay athletes of all ages, of women’s basketball around the world. And she deserves every single accolade and the entire 90 minutes she spoke after her jersey was raised into the rafters!
But it’s always Sylvia Fowles for me. I’m an SEC girl, so I have been so close to her career since she arrived at LSU in 2004, and the more I have learned about her as a person, the more I have admired her. Sylvia Fowles is a hero to me not only because she is a generational basketball talent, but also because she is what I aspire to be as a woman in this world. Strong, accomplished, yes. But more than that, genuine and kind and a light who makes the world just a little bit brighter for those folks coming after me. So, you know, I just watched every single second of that entire Lynx celebration weekend with a very very very full heart. Syl deserves it all, and everyone in that organization knows it and was so happy to celebrate her.
Dominant on the basketball court and an overall great human 💐
A few of @SylviaFowles accolades, though the list is endless
2x WNBA CHAMPION
2x WNBA FINALS MVP
4x WNBA DPOY
WNBA ALL-TIME LEADER IN REBOUNDS
Recap of Sweet Syl’s jersey retirement 🧡 pic.twitter.com/5FQtOnYzbB
— WNBA (@WNBA) June 12, 2023
Off the top of my head, the Syl moment that’s jumping out to me is when she dunked in her last All-Star game. I don’t even know if she knew her knees still had it in them! The way the crowd and both benches went berserk, and her smile just lighting it all up. One thing I love about the W is how they’re wide open competitive all the time with each other, but when it comes down to it, they also just love to see each other succeed. And that moment with Syl was the embodiment of that.
What about you? And who do you think has the ability to carry on Sue’s lesbian ponytail legacy?
Natalie: Well, first, I certainly wish the league had stepped in and said to the Lynx and the Storm that they can’t possibly have these events on the same day. There’s no way to give both those players the space they deserve — the time to really be in the spotlight — by having them both on the same day. I think the ceremonies may have overlapped in the end and that’s really unfair to fans and to those legends.
Heather: Yes! Correct as usual!
Natalie: It’s been funny to watch men on the Internet get BIG MAD about what Megan Rapinoe said about Sue because the truth of it is, she’s one of the most decorated athletes to ever play the game. Championships at all levels. There’s simply not a corollary in the men’s game for what Sue’s accomplished. There just isn’t.
My favorite Sue memory, without a doubt, though is that 2018 playoff series against the Mercury — the masked games — where Sue just played absolutely out of her mind.
— WNBA (@WNBA) September 5, 2018
Heather: The Masked Games! ABSOLUTELY LEGENDARY. I actually love that every highlight package I’ve seen this past week has included The Masked Games!
Natalie: It was EPIC.
I don’t know if anyone will carry on the legacy of Sue’s perfect ponytail though. How was she always able to keep it so flawless?!
Heather: There’s something extra special about Sue and Syl’s jerseys being retired during Pride. The way the league has changed in terms of gay fans, gay players, during their careers? It’s grown more than every other sports league combined.
Natalie: With Syl, I think you hit the nail on the head in your reflection. She just genuinely seems like a great person on and off the court. And I think I’m kinda stunned by how she’s this incredible superstar with an incredible legacy…and is just this normal person off the court?
Seimone Augustus keeps comparing her to a grandma which is hilarious, but really, she’s just a superstar who keeps herself grounded.
Heather: Seimone Augustus is just projecting!
So kind of taking these celebrations a step further…how do you think the Storm and the Lynx rebuild now? I know we’ve had lots of readers asking us to get into it about the Storm. We have so many folks in the Seattle area! Let’s give them some hope!
Natalie: I think if you just look at the records of the bottom three teams in the league — Seattle, Minnesota and Indiana — you’re probably going to feel discouraged about where those teams are…but if you’re watching the games? I’d be confident about the future, particularly with Seattle and Indiana.
Seattle had the game last Tuesday against the Sparks where Jewell Loyd is out there doing Jewell Loyd things…but also Ezi Magbegor’s offense is starting to pick up and Jordan Horston is really starting to showcase what she’s capable of. After that win, they drop two games to the Mystics but one is a strong showing without Loyd and in the other, they battle back from a double digit deficit to make it a game. The team still needs help…they’ve got some holes to fill…but I’m encouraged by the talent on this squad and I think the future is bring in Seattle.
Heather: Yes! You know I love that you’re comparing Indiana and Seattle here because I think that they’re both showing huge promise in the same way, because what they’re lacking is experience. Jewell Loyd is just… unreal, and the way she’s continued to give everything, every game, and has taken on the role of mentoring these young players? There’s so much to be excited about there. It’s not like you’ve got a team of stars who can’t figure out how to work together, or vets who can’t seem to get over that playoff hump, or a coach that’s always getting close but can’t manage one specific piece of the puzzle. They’re just young. Young and hungry and exciting! I agree with you that the future is bright in Seattle. And I think so for Indiana too. One question I have about the Fever is: Do you think continuing to drop these super close games is making them more hungry, or do you think it starts to take a toll after a while?
Natalie: I can’t imagine it not taking a toll, particularly when you’ve got games that they just let slip out of their hands. I think the responsibility shifts to Kelsey Mitchell and Erica Wheeler, who are Fever’s vets, to settle down the team and help them refocus on what comes next.
Heather: I think they’re up to the task! I think Christie Sides is doing an excellent job, at the moment, keeping that energy and that belief alive. She is one of those people that just radiates a kind of intensity that feels like a taut live-wire, and I think that’s what the Fever need right now.
Natalie: Another point I’d make here: when we talk about WNBA rookies and the adjustment they have to make to the league, part of it is losing, right? These top shelf players come from college programs that may lose a handful of games a season and they’re going to the worst teams in the league…and may lose more games in their first season in the W than they lost in their entire college career. So to see Aliyah Boston in Indiana and Jordan Horston in Seattle not be shaken by those losses…I think it speaks a great deal to their capacity to compete at this level.
Heather: That’s such a great point! Honestly, Jonquel Jones seems more frustrated than the two of them!
Natalie: She really, really does and I feel for her.
Heather: She’s gonna get there! (“There” is not the block! She does not want to post up!) But she’s going to get back to that place where she’s feeling good about her game again!
Natalie: I want to believe that JJ will, just because Jonquel has always been this incredible force…but I don’t know that I trust Sandy Brondello to step back and figure out how to better integrate her into the offense, particularly if the Liberty are winning.
Heather: I agree with that concern. Stewie has always been wrecking my teams, so this Liberty team is my first experience with really rooting for her, and now that she’s here doing her whole Stewie deal, I can see how easy it would be for her to cover an entire franchise’s worth of little issues. The Liberty have so many things they need to work out, and getting JJ’s puzzle piece square is one of them, but they’re winning on Stewie’s performances every single week. I think this was one of Brondello’s struggles in Phoenix too. She had BG and DT and so there was an inherent greatness…but they couldn’t get all the way there, consistently, because there were tweaks that didn’t get made because of that layer of pizazz that had them mostly winning?
What’s got you excited about Week 4 of WNBA action?
Natalie: WNBA All-Star voting! Have you been casting your ballot regularly?
Heather: You know I have! I think I told Stacy like ten times that All-Star voting was auto-doubled (count that twice!) on Sunday. My main thing, this year, is making sure Satou is there again.
Natalie: That’s been the driving force behind my All-Star voting: I want Satou Sabally to be an All-Star starter. She’s had an incredible season thus far and, frankly, she deserves.
But Sabally’s game is one thing, I hope, everyone can agree on…let’s find some differences. Last year, one of Chelsea Gray’s motivators, into the second half of the WNBA season and the post-season, was being left off the All-Star roster. Is she on your roster this year?
Heather: I have voted for her every time! I feel like I didn’t get to watch the Aces last year as much as I wanted to because they have all those late night west coast games and I’m old — but this year, they’re getting so many nationally televised normal time games. So it’s just easy to see that the Aces aren’t the Aces without Chelsea Gray. It’s not just her box score, which deserves an all-star spot on its own merit; it’s the point god of it all. When the Aces run through her, they really do feel unstoppable. Their half-court game and their transition game; their spread offense and their high-low. She seems like she has six sets of eyeballs!
My other vote getter every day is Alyssa Thomas. Who are some of your go-to every-day votes?
— Connecticut Sun (@ConnecticutSun) June 12, 2023
Natalie: So, oddly enough, Chelsea isn’t on my All-Star roster. I think you’re right in that she’s still the heart of that team but when I look at the Aces, I think the two driving forces for that offense have been A’ja and Jackie Young…so they’re the two Aces I have in my lineup.
But the Aces were beat last week…Connecticut dropped the first game of that series but then they go back and regroup and give the defending champions their first loss of the season. I think DeWanna Bonner had an incredible game — and I wouldn’t be surprised to see her pick up All-Star votes on the strength of her recent performances — but for me, AT is the star of that Sun squad…she just does anything and everything they need to help get them get a win. I mean, it feels like every single game she’s a hair shy of a triple double. She’s a definite All-Star in my book.
Heather: I read a beat reporter say that in DeWanna’s huge game, AT opted not to go back in for the last five minutes, even though she was just — like you said — a breath away from another triple double. And when they asked her why, she said it was because she simply wanted to see her girlfriend shine.
Natalie: Well now I just want to vote for her more!
Heather: You’re such a secret sap.
Natalie: Ssshhhh… don’t tell anyone.
Who was the hardest choice to leave off your All-Star roster?
Heather: Marina Mabrey. She isn’t as good as the players I’m voting for, but I love her all the same. I couldn’t have guessed, when they were at Notre Dame, that she and Arike were going to become two of my all-time favorite modern day WNBA players, but here we are. She is just such a fireball and she absolutely tickles me how damn mad she is all the time. I don’t have the capacity to stay angry, but it’s fun for me to watch someone who can maintain it and play awesome basketball for 40 full minutes at a time. She’s kind of like the anti-Sue Bird. Messy bun, scrap city.
Natalie: So, oddly enough, we’re choosing from the same team but I’m going with Kahleah Cooper. The WNBA voting mechanism has her slotted as a forward and as much as I love Kah’s game (she’s on my fantasy team!), I couldn’t put her ahead of Stewie, A’ja, Satou, Nneka, BG or AT.
If she’s a listed as a guard, she’s absolutely in my lineup with Arike, Jackie and Jewell.
Heather: YES! Good point! You’d think she might have an easier time because there’s more voting slots for forwards, but wow, it is stacked. Maybe Kah and Mabrey will have the last laugh on all of us when the playoffs roll around. Just one more chip on their shoulders!
Natalie: They probably will. James Wade and the Sky love to be underestimated.
Heather: Absolutely, and all those players too. Dana Evans, Courtney Williams. Just keep telling them they can’t. And now! It is time! For Carmen Phillips’ Fit of the Week!
Carmen: The obvious winner here is Sue Bird. The “Storm green” color?? Sensational! The impeccable tailoring?!? Shut uppp!
And I’m not really into the return to boot cuts as a fashion trend (though I recognize that it is trendy!!) mostly because I’m short and stocky and it looks terrible on me as if I lost half my leg length. Obviously Sue Bird doesn’t have that problem so she looks like a glamazon.
Heather: What about the sunglasses inside, C?
Carmen: Ok this controversial, but!!! I like it? I feel like sunglasses inside can be kind of a cocky move that usually turns me off, but if it’s YOUR jersey retirement ceremony? Live it up. Be a fucking rockstar. The thing about Sue Bird that I still haven’t gotten over though is her curls?? Like I guess I’m so used to her tight back pony that I was fully unprepared for how much hair she had.
Heather: Me and Natalie were just talking about Sue’s hair! Natalie thinks no one will ever compete with Sue’s perfect lesbian pony.
Carmen: It’s iconic
Natalie: Sue wearing her hair like that…it’s like Obama bodysurfing in Hawaii after he left the presidency.
Carmen: It’s the peak of “i’m retired and i am not coming back”
Natalie: Like your ex just stunting to show you how good they are without you
Carmen: Ok but I do want to shout out Sue Bird’s stylist who is also Brittney Griner’s stylist and Breanna Stewart’s stylist, Courtney D. Mays. It is my dream interview to talk with Courtney this year so I’m gonna just keep putting that out into the universe. I have immense imposter syndrome around it because… would I know enough fancy fashion words to pull off interviewing a stylist? Am I just a pretend fashion girlie? But I hope to one day find out, her impact over the last year has been fire on every level.
Like she dressed BG for the freaking MET CARPET!!!! Anyway shout out to Courtney forever.
I do want to say one last thing, if Sue hadn’t cleared the table with her look — I was going to give this week to a random trend across WNBA teams that has thoroughly entertained me, which is… twinning?
So much twinning!
Candace Parker & Chelsea Gray
The Ogwumike Sisters
Kia Nurse & Arella Guirantes
Natalie: My favorite thing about that second pic of Chelsea and Candace is Syd Colson in the background like, “Why ain’t nobody tell me?”
Heather: Eternal Syd vibes.
Carmen: I wanna know what’s going on here. Who is leading up this group text and spreading the word.
Heather: Here’s my favorite Syd Colson Clown Town Moment of the Week
Carmen: OMG new segment alert! Syd will always provide.