2017: The Year It Was in Women’s Basketball

Photo Credit: Mark J. Rebilas/USA Today Sports

As we throw our 2017 calendars into the trash and plaster our 2018 calendars on our walls, we would be remiss if we did not take a trip down the memory lane that this year provided us.

In other areas of popular culture, it felt as if we were living in a perpetual bizarro world (and perhaps 2018 is the next step in fixing that bizarro climate). On the basketball court – and even off of it, there was lots of good that 2017 gave us.

Off the court, a lot happened. Angel McCoughtry took some time off from the Atlanta Dream to rest up for the upcoming season. Within the midst of that rest, there was a huge celebration in the ATL as she launched her ice cream business.

Just like that 👌🏾 @mccoughtrys_icecream

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McCoughtry, while she was away from the court, also took some time to announce her support of Keisha Lance Bottoms for Atlanta mayor, which she won.

McCoughtry was not the only one who dabbled in off-the-court ventures. As we know, there is always a market for women’s beauty products and Kelsey Bone decided to tap into that market with the launch of Halo Hair.

While last season was the final campaign in the illustrious career of Tamika Catchings, her work in the community is just getting started. One of her first girlboss moves in her post-playing days involved her purchasing a local tea outfit in Indianapolis.

Teams were in the business of expanding their presence off the court as well – notably the Chicago Sky. One of the moves the Sky made was a pact made with Chicago-based Model Atelier, a fashion boutique aimed at tall and confident women. Some Sky players were even featured prominently in a marketing campaign for Model Atelier and it was everything to say the least.

The WNBA’s top boss, Lisa Borders, was making boss moves left and right – including a daily fantasy deal with FanDuel, and another deal that provided for the free streaming of WNBA broadcasts via Twitter.

But when it came to boss moves made by the league in 2017, not much topped the announcement of the W in NBA Live 18.

 

 

And, as expected, it became a hit among WNBA players that they too were finally “in the game.” EA Sports fired the first shot, and we are still waiting for a response from the folks at 2K…

Also, how can us at Beyond The W overlook the move we made with the launch of The W Podcast! Hosted by our EIC Lau and Princess Streeter, we have, so far, done 13 terrific episodes – including our latest where we chatted with Imani McGee-Stafford about a variety of topics.

We are also pretty sure you may have heard of Rosalyn Gold-Onwude, who herself took the next step in her blossoming career heading to Turner Sports. She was a previous podcast guest as well!

And we’re just getting started…

It was also a year where players continued to be leaders in the fight for social justice. The year was a very tumultuous one socially, but left and right, players kept up their efforts to make a difference and create a better country and world than the one which they found.

Shortly after the announcement after a controversial travel ban aimed at predominantly Middle Eastern countries, mass protests took place from coast to coast at airports throughout the United States. Breanna Stewart documented one of the protests that took place at LAX.

 

Her team, the Seattle Storm, also put itself on the front lines as well. Dawn Trudeau and Ginny Gilder (Force 10 Hoops) were very vocal in their support of Planned Parenthood. This garnered national attention from supporters as well as critics. The Storm even held a rally outside of KeyArena prior to a game at the Key vs. the Chicago Sky which took place prior to the All-Star Game, which Seattle hosted.

 

Planned Parenthood not only received support from the Storm, but also the New York Liberty. Prior to an August 25 matchup vs. the Washington Mystics at Madison Square Garden, Planned Parenthood of New York City announced it would give away two free tickets to the game with whoever could come up with a creative hashtag that fused together basketball with support for the organization.

One of the more tragic events of 2017 was a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia that resulted in a confrontation with counter-protestors. One of those that perished in the tragedy was a young woman by the name of Heather Heyer.

In the days following the events in Charlottesville, WNBA players locked arms in consistent displays of solidarity – including prior to a game in Washington, D.C. where the Mystics were scheduled to face the Los Angeles Sparks.

 

Several other teams, including the Storm, Minnesota Lynx, and New York Liberty also engaged in moments of silence to honor those that died.

One WNBA player that is putting herself out there more as a champion of social justice is one who has won a quartet of championships on the basketball court – Maya Moore. Recently, she has displayed her support for criminal justice reform.

(Video Credit: The Players’ Tribune)

She was featured in an episode of The First Step hosted by Jerry Stackhouse at The Players’ Tribune where she particularly highlighted the case of Jonathan Irons in Jefferson City, Missouri. A website that is advocating for his release says he was wrongfully arrested as a teenager in a burglary case.

She also co-worte an op-ed piece in USA Today along with Miriam Krinsky, who is the executive director of Fair and Just Prosecution, and Mark Dupree, the district attorney of the majority-minority Wyandotte County, Kansas outside of Kansas City.

In the midst of on-field protests occurring throughout the NFL, the Sparks also did something similar when, during the National Anthem prior to Game 1 of the Finals, they stayed in the locker room. The Lynx’s players and coaches remained on the court, but with their heads turned away from the monitor with arms locked in unison.

When looking at social issues and the WNBA, it was defined in many ways by the #MeToo movement.

There was Layshia Clarendon and Elizabeth Williams of the Atlanta Dream participating in Mic.com’s “Athletes United” initiative which featured athletes expressing what can be done to combat sexual misconduct as well as them telling their stories about their harrowing experiences.

 

Clarendon also wrote her own story on Mic.com and showed her support for the #MeToo movement. Recently, former WNBA president Val Ackerman, who is now the commissioner of the Big East Conference, participated in a meeting with other top-ranking sports executives on how to address sexual misconduct in the sporting realm.

 

In WNBA circles, the #MeToo movement reached a tipping point when Breanna Stewart wrote, for The Players’ Tribune, of her own harrowing experiences with being sexually molested as a child. She wrote of how when she was a child, she would stay awake and watch television while a man, who she described as a construction worker, would make sexual advances on her.

She wrote that she told her parents of everything that had happened and that it led to the man’s arrest and that he eventually confessed everything to police. But the events were so difficult for her that it even clouded her having a crush on a boy in the fifth grade.

Along with business-wise and socially, it was also a notable season for the W in terms of player marriages.

Layshia Clarendon married her girlfriend Jessica Dolan at the Hotel Shattuck Plaza in Berkeley, California. Dolan is a much-known figure as she works for the Wasserman Agency in Los Angeles and works with women and Olympians.

11.11.17 💍 📸: @jedjacobsohn @playerstribune

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They also had their honeymoon in Napa, California.

But prior to that, there was the much-ballyhooed betrothal of Elena Delle Donne, coming off her first season with the Washington Mystics, and her girlfriend Amanda Clifton in New York.

 

Those processions took place at the Hempstead House in Nassau County and was tabbed as The Knot’s Dream Wedding. In addition to the wedding itself, they also hoped to give back by establishing a charity registry for donations to the Elena Delle Donne Foundation. A highlight of the wedding – that 6-foot-4 wedding cake, which we still say would make a pretty good 5 on a WNBA court.

 

As a perk of them being The Knot’s Dream Wedding couple, they also chose their honeymoon destination which turned out to be Tahiti.

The only letdown – no appearance by Delle Donne’s favorite musician, Pink. That’s not to say Delle Donne did not give her attempt to get her to perform at the festivities a good “try.”

 

Also, Skylar Diggins became Skylar Diggins-Smith in 2017 as she married her longtime college sweetheart Daniel Smith. Their wedding took place back in May at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago.

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BTS with @TheKnot for #TheKnotMagazine 📷: @SarahKayLove @LaurenNolan

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Eternal youth. #S&D

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Now that we have dissected many of the off-court storylines around the WNBA this year, it is time to highlight what happened, predominantly, on the court. The league staged an All-Star Game for the first time since 2015 and in a city that had never hosted it before in Seattle.

The Emerald City decked itself out in the W’s signature orange color, including raising a large WNBA flag atop the Space Needle with the league’s All-Star festivities set to take over the 206.

 

A highlight of the All-Star Game was the return of the three-point contest which took place during halftime and was modeled after the format its big brother league, the NBA, uses. Allie Quigley of the Chicago Sky ultimately won the contest with a 27 in the final round, topping a 19-point effort from the Liberty’s Sugar Rodgers.

 

As for the game itself, it was a high-scoring affair, but was ultimately won by the Western Conference by a final of 130-121. Maya Moore won MVP with 23 points in what was her second Most Valuable Player award in as many All-Star Games.

 

Speaking of which, the 2018 All-Star Game will be in Minneapolis, so Moore will more than likely have her sights set on making it a “three-peat” in terms of MVP awards given that she will likely be selected as an All-Star in front of her home fans.

Towards the end of the year after the basketball season had concluded, we received some shocking news when it was revealed that Spurs Sports & Entertainment was selling the San Antonio Stars and that they would be moving to Las Vegas.

Vegas has become an increasingly attractive market for sports with the NHL’s Vegas Golden Knights and the NFL’s Oakland Raiders in the process of moving to Sin City.

Eventually, MGM Resorts was revealed as the buyer, and after an attempt for them to keep the Stars name, MGM announced in a much-ballyhooed news conference that the name of the team will be the Las Vegas Aces. They will play their first season in 2018 at the Mandalay Bay Events Center.

 

The head coach of the team will be Bill Laimbeer, formerly the head coach of the Liberty, whose position was filled by Katie Smith. The Liberty are in limbo themselves after it was announced that they, one of the original eight WNBA franchises, were being sold from MSG.

Lots of speculation began that perhaps the Liberty’s days in New York were numbered, but a recent report out of ESPN New York indicates that all may be well and that their new purchaser may keep them in the New York market.

 

On the court, a highlight of the WNBA season happened when Diana Taurasi, arguably the greatest player up to this point in W history, became the W’s all-time leading scorer. It happened at Staples Center in a blowout loss to the Sparks, but everyone will remember Taurasi breaking Tina Thompson’s scoring record.

The Mercury celebrated Taurasi’s accomplishment on June 30 when they play the Lynx, which included giving bobbleheads to the first 5,000 fans in attendance.

 

Also on the court, one has to turn to the NCAA Women’s Final Four for a signature moment of the sports year. Morgan William’s midrange buzzer-beater in overtime lifting her Mississippi State Bulldogs to a 66-64 victory over UConn.

The victory for the Bulldogs snapped what was a 111-game winning streak for the Huskies and head coach Geno Auriemma.

The Bulldogs faced the South Carolina Gamecocks in the national championship game, but in the closing moments of the contest, “Itty Bitty” was on the bench and the feeling of jubilation that had taken over Starkville had soon subsided as Dawn Staley, A’ja Wilson, Allisha Gray, and Kaela Davis had brought a national championship to Columbia.

(Video Credit: Student Gamecock Television)

(Video Credit: City of Columbia)

Columbia held a parade and a celebration in honor of the Gamecocks, and we even spoke with Staley prior to the start of the WNBA season.

It was a WNBA season that would culminate in another classic Finals between the Sparks and Lynx – as many predicted prior to the season. Los Angeles had taken a 2-games-to-1 lead over Minnesota and it appeared the Sparks would top the Lynx for the second consecutive season.

The Lynx won a pivotal Game 4 in Southern California with Game 5 back at Williams Arena (The Barn) in Minnesota, where they played because of the NHL’s Wild taking over Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul and the Target Center’s renovations close to completing at the time for the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Despite a furious rally from the Sparks late in that Game 5, Moore came up with a clutch basket on what looked to be a blown offensive play that was an important moment in Minnesota claiming victory.

 

There were a plethora of storylines that came from that championship. Lindsay Whalen winning a ring on the court she called home during her collegiate playing days. Rebekkah Brunson’s fifth championship and becoming the first player in WNBA history to win five rings. The Lynx tying the Houston Comets’ four titles for the most championships as a franchise. Sylvia Fowles grabbing a Finals record 20 rebounds along with 17 points to claim Finals MVP honors to go along with winning the regular season MVP that same season.

The 2017 year had lots of memorable moments and news items on and off the court. As we enter 2018, lots of questions will still be asked about the Las Vegas Aces as well as what is the next step in the New York Liberty situation.

How will Minnesota top Seattle’s presentation of the All-Star Game? Are we setting up for Lynx vs. Sparks Part III in the WNBA Finals?

What other moves will the WNBA take to further broaden its reach and how will players continue to reach into the social and political arenas with 2018 being the year of a very important midterm election.

In more ways than one, the women’s basketball landscape will be one to keep a close eye on in 2018 – one that Beyond The W and The W Podcast will certainly do as the ball will soon drop and a new year will soon be upon us!

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