Thank you, Athletes Unlimited – we will meet again later this year and in 2023

Photo Credit: Jade Hewitt/Athletes Unlimited

The inaugural season of Athletes Unlimited basketball just wrapped up – and we can honestly say we miss it already.

When Athletes Unlimited had announced that basketball would be the next of their offerings in addition to volleyball, softball and lacrosse, we were all intrigued by what the product would look like.

As it turns out, the product was nothing short of an astonishing success. From how the games were produced by the various television partners to empowering Black women to tell the stories of the athletes to how one can tell the people at Athletes Unlimited invested plenty of money into making sure these world-class ballers received world-class treatment.

There is a reason why Athletes Unlimited’s first basketball season is already being hailed as a great success – and why it has already been announced that Athletes Unlimited will be back with a second basketball season in 2023.

One less-than-talked about reason why Athletes Unlimited basketball managed to be such a success was that it was perfectly timed. The month-long schedule which lasted from January into February was right around the time of WNBA free agency and its conclusion is only a few weeks out from March Madness. Meaning, before we know it, the W’s regular season will tip off again.

The fact that a number of Athletes Unlimited participants managed to translate the success they had in Las Vegas into training contracts with WNBA teams is arguably the biggest sign that this is only the beginning for the upstart league.

Taj Cole signed a training contract with the Connecticut Sun. She finished in the top ten in Athletes Unlimited’s point rankings with 4,415. In the 15 games Cole played in, she had only two where she did not post a double-digit point output and racked up a high of 26 points for Team (Isabelle Harrison) in a game with Team (Odyssey Sims). Unfortunately for Team Harrison, it was in an 87-71 defeat to Team Sims.

Another who inked a training camp deal after balling out at Athletes Unlimited was Kalani Brown. Formerly of the Los Angeles Sparks and Atlanta Dream, she inked a training camp deal with the Las Vegas Aces. Brown was a top ten finisher in Athletes Unlimited’s point rankings with 5,192 – and dropped 32 points for Team Sims vs. Team (Kelsey Mitchell). The 32-point effort for Brown also came in a defeat – 108-103 to Team Mitchell.

Mike Thibault and the Washington Mystics apparently liked what they saw at Athletes Unlimited in Las Vegas as they inked two of its participants to contracts. The Mystics signed Tianna Hawkins on February 1st – the first day of WNBA free agency when free agents could officially sign with teams. Hawkins was the inaugural Athletes Unlimited champion as she compiled 6,836 points – first in the overall Athletes Unlimited rankings. Four days after she inked her new deal with Washington, Hawkins closed out the second week of the Athletes Unlimited slate with a bang. Can someone say 40-piece? She had 43 in a 97-84 victory for Team (Lexie) Brown over Team (Natasha) Cloud.

In addition, MeMe Jackson, who played her college ball at the University of Tennessee and previously played with the Dream, also signed on the dotted line for a training camp deal with Washington. She tallied 2,829 Athletes Unlimited points on the circuit and had a high watermark of 17 points on February 4th when Team Brown faced off against Team (Mercedes) Russell. The game resulted in a 98-85 win for Team Brown.

Lauren Manis also signed a training camp contract with the Seattle Storm buoyed by her stellar outing at Athletes Unlimited. She saved her best for last on the Athletes Unlimited circuit as she scored 22 points on February 26th – the final day of the Athletes Unlimited basketball season – for Team Cloud vs. Team Hawkins. That too resulted in a defeat – 116-111 to Team Hawkins, but it was a game that took three overtimes to decide.

With the announcement that Athletes Unlimited will indeed be returning for a 2023 season, one wonders how it will look next year. Could there be a possibility that perhaps we see more than four teams? Maybe even a longer season? Only time will tell but the stellar on-court on top-notch storytelling that Athletes Unlimited presented for the 2022 season certainly has plenty a sports fan excited for how everyone there will top itself for 2023.

But before we get to 2023, there is still a chance to be part of future Athletes Unlimited offerings this year. Next month, the Athletes Unlimited volleyball season kicks off in Dallas on March 16. Its lacrosse offering for the 2022 season will start on July 23 at Maureen Hendricks Field in the Washington, DC area. Maureen Hendricks Field is part of the Maryland SoccerPlex in Montgomery County just outside of DC. The 2022 softball season will throw out its first pitch in late July at Parkway Bank Sports Complex in Rosemont – just outside of Chicago.

Athletes Unlimited certainly used the platform it had via its basketball season to plug its volleyball, lacrosse and softball leagues. One would expect that basketball would get the most attention and media coverage of any Athletes Unlimited sport and that could now translate into increased attention on its volleyball, softball and lacrosse leagues thanks to its hoops league.

So one does not have to wait an entire year if one has become an Athletes Unlimited fan and wants to see more of what it has in store – volleyball is in a few weeks.

And in the case of basketball, Athletes Unlimited does not have to be a competitor to the WNBA, but it can compliment the W by adding to the overall conversation with women’s basketball and women’s sports. The WNBA can also learn from Athletes Unlimited with how it invested in production and storytelling to let those watching it know that it treats world-class basketball players with the respect that world-class basketball players deserve.

Sometimes, the W will do the bare minimum despite the fact it is home to the best women’s basketball players in the world. Athletes Unlimited went above and beyond – and, in a sense, showed the WNBA what it can potentially be.

The old saying in life is that one only has one opportunity to make a good first impression. In the case of Athletes Unlimited’s basketball league – it made a great first impression and it far exceeded expectations. With one basketball season in the books, those that follow and are in charge of the Athletes Unlimited operation can look back with plenty of glee at how the first season for basketball turned out.

High marks for Athletes Unlimited include giving some of the world’s premier ballers another option to stay stateside as opposed to playing overseas after the conclusion of a WNBA season, empowering the Black women players and Black women content creators with the opportunity to be their authentic selves and presenting to sports fans that women’s sports does not simply have to be something that is treated and marketed like a novelty, but a necessity.

Athletes Unlimited’s lacrosse fields, volleyball courts and softball diamonds will await the eyes of women’s sports fans this spring and summer. If those seasons are anything like its basketball season, it appears to be well on its way to becoming quite the force to be reckoned with inside the realm of women’s sports.

One only has to look at its name to see the potential for this new league – unlimited.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.