UNCASVILLE, CONN. — “Her-stories” were aplenty here last Saturday at the 2013 WNBA All-Star Game. “I think it is very reflective of the 17th season of the WNBA,” said League President Laurel Richie. “We have a wonderful mix of rookies and first-timers but also many of our veterans coming back.”
After a couple of near opportunities that for one reason or another didn’t materialize, Shelley Patterson was finally a West All-Star assistant coach.
“It’s taken me a long time,” admitted the Minnesota Lynx’s only Black assistant coach. “I’m on a different team and not on that staff.” [The previous season conference champions are the coaches for the all-star game.] “Then in 2012 it was the Olympic break [and no all-star game was scheduled].”
She also was the only coach of color on either bench last weekend.
Her first, too
Lynx guard Seimone Augustus was the only four-time All-Star (2006, 2007, 2011, 2013) in this year’s game, but last weekend it also was her first as a starter. She scored 12 points in 22 minutes for the victorious West squad.
“I’m thankful and almost in tears,” recalled Augustus upon hearing the news that fans voted her to the starting lineup. “I couldn’t believe it when I got the phone call. If I made the team, it would be as a reserve. But as a starter? I played the message over and over again.
“Everybody says it was a long time coming, but you have to wait your turn,” Augustus pointed out. “Earlier in my career in this league there was Lisa Leslie, Sheryl Swoopes and all these players who deserved to be there. Now it was my time.”
Three Minnesota starters — Augustus, Maya Moore [also voted in] and Rebekkah Brunson [named a starter to replace the injured Britney Griner] — also started last weekend, and all finished in double figures: Moore (14) and a double-double for Brunson (11 points, 11 rebounds). The fourth, Lindsay Whalen, scored eight points off the bench.
Their first as well
Danielle Robinson (San Antonio) and Glory Johnson (Tulsa) were among nine first-time All-Stars. Both are second-year players.
“I’m extremely blessed to be here,” said Robinson, who currently leads the W in assists.
Added Johnson, who thought she would watch the game on television, “The All-Star experience is a great opportunity, something not a lot of people get a chance to do.”
Among the several points WNBA President Laurel Richie emphasized during her half-hour pre-All-Star Game press conference was that league-wide attendance this season is up over two percent as well as “double digit” increases in viewership.
Richie stated, “We are no different than any other sports entity in that our goal is to bring more and more fans into our arenas to experience the level of play and the entertainment of being at a WNBA game. I hear a lot from fans this season about how exciting it is because all 12 teams have really interesting stories and are doing really interesting things on the court. Our attendance figures are heading in the right direction.”
Her predecessor often floated a still-unfulfilled expansion plan, boasting that one city or another was joining the W, when actually two franchises disbanded and another relocated to a non-NBA market. When a reporter asked Richie about expansion, she responded, “My focus right now is on the 12 teams that we have and making sure that they are as strong as they can possibly be,” adding that expansion “is in the future but I have not put a date…on it.”
The 2013 season thus far has been “so exciting and so successful,” which the president believes is partly because “the depth and breadth of our coaching is equal to the depth and breadth of our players,” but more media coverage remains one of her league’s biggest needs.
“I just think we have a fabulous product on the floor,” surmises Richie unabashedly. “We focus an awful lot on attention, and anytime I have an opportunity to sit with the media [I tell them that].”
Two weeks ago, almost every local media swarmed the new Gopher men’s basketball coach, peppered him with December- or March-type questions more suited then than in the middle of summer. But not one of them was at last Saturday’s WNBA midseason event, save the MSR. And this was despite the fact that, for the second consecutive All-Star Game, the local Lynx had more players (four) than any other team.
“I will also say the more coverage and the more we can tell our story and have you [media] help us tell our story of the game, of the players, of the coaches, that just helps get the word out, because it’s a terrific product,” said Richie.
However, these “her-stories” won’t be told if the W remains dependent on mainstream media to do the storytelling.
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