Skylar Diggins' game, social media presence, and her sex appeal are good for the Tulsa Shock and the WNBA

Tulsa Shock guard Skylar Diggins is the total package for her pro team. - Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Skylar Diggins comes to the Tulsa Shock this season as the franchise player that the team is looking for. With her abilities to score points in a hurry, to force turnovers, and by performing her best in big games, the Shock figures to be one of the WNBA teams on the rise in 2013, even considering the loss of its two leading scorers from 2012 and its 2011 top draft pick not returning. Diggins is also an attractive young woman which often is a talking point that is as big if not bigger than her ability to play basketball.

On the topic of sex appeal and attractiveness...

On this site, we focus on the game first and foremost, so it's not always easy to delve into non-basketball topics, in particular women's athletes' sex appeal to men.

At least when it comes to this year's "Big Three" WNBA Draft picks, some believe that Skylar is not worthy of that status. Some because of basketball reasons such as "Skylar's not 6'5" with her skills like Delle Donne" or "Skylar can't dunk like Griner." Some people even believe that her looks, which often get her attention for non-basketball reasons, are a big reason, if not the main reason, why Skylar is considered a "Big Three" pick for 2013.

This past Thursday, we linked a piece on our Facebook page to a piece from Colorlines.com regarding Diggins' social media popularity and her sex appeal. Now let's see how it affects her, the team she's on, and also the WNBA as a whole now that she's in the pros.

Revisiting Skylar's looks and her impact on the basketball court from 2011...

I've been a regular on this site for a couple years here now, and I'm going through all the archives here. It just so happens that my very first piece of writing here was a FanPost two years ago that focused on Diggins and her sex appeal soon after the end of her sophomore year in college. For your reading, link is below.

From reading that piece now for pretty much the first time since 2011, I don't think my views on sex appeal and its impact on women's basketball have changed much, if at all. If you don't know what that position is, I'll quote myself from the FanPost:

As a man, I'll admit that sex appeal does make me pay attention to some players on a team more than others initially, but at the end of the day, I'd rather see that player and her team play at a high level night-in and night-out.

Looking back on what I wrote in 2011, if Skylar Diggins was a sophomore today and just started becoming a big-time college athlete I would have written something really similar to what I did two years ago. Without rehashing everything from that piece, here are some quick things that happened since then:

  1. As of April 20, 2013, Skylar has over 370,000 followers on her Twitter page. This makes her the most followed WNBA player on the social network site. Candace Parker is the only other player to come remotely close to Diggins with over 174,000 followers; Maya Moore has over 88,000; Lauren Jackson has over 78,000; former WNBA star Lisa Leslie has over 76,000, and Cappie Pondexter has over 30,000. Among the other Big Three picks, Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner has over 32,000 followers; Chicago Sky forward Elena Delle Donne has over 34,000, and the fourth pick, Washington Mystics guard Tayler Hill doesn't even have 3,000 Twitter followers.
  2. Toward the end of the piece I touched on the issue on whether some of Skylar's fans like Lil' Wayne would continue supporting her. He certainly has. The two did happen to be at the same WNBA Finals Game in 2011 when the Lynx played the Dream (no they weren't dating). And last December when Baylor played Notre Dame, he attended and sat courtside to see her play. I wouldn't be the least surprised to see him at BOK Center sometime this summer to support the Shock and he very well may continue to do so after her rookie year.
  3. This past January, Diggins gave an interview on the University of Notre Dame's Athletics YouTube page with Kate Sullivan, a Notre Dame alumna who is a news anchor on CBS 2 Chicago (WBBM-TV). At the 3:55 mark we get to the part where Skylar addresses the perception that she doesn't fit the description of what a "basketball player is supposed to look like" and her attractiveness to men though not in those words. In her response, Diggins goes on to say, "I don't care why [some fans] watch. I just want them to watch." She's still appreciative of her fans, and credits her mom for the way she looks. I know this quote may not sit well with some fans of the women's game in particular but, to me at least, the way I take this quote is that Skylar loves the game and wants fans to enjoy that she loves the game the most which she says. Diggins also mentions that she hopes to impact the game for the "right reasons," meaning because she can play the game pretty damn well. Watch the video below:

All in all, in the two years that have passed by since I first wrote that FanPost, Diggins has let her game do the talking and be the main reason why she ultimately became the Shock's top draft pick this year.

Skylar was part of the Team USA 2011 World University Games team that won gold and was one of the team's major contributors. She was also on the 2012 Team USA 3x3 team that also won gold.

In college since the 2011 NCAA Tournament, Diggins didn't just fade away and become known as an athlete similar to Anna Kournikova in tennis who was attractive and a good doubles tennis player with Martina Hingis but ultimately not a perennial top ranked player in the singles game, which has more prestige. Diggins was Notre Dame's leading scorer in her junior season and had over a 2:1 assist to turnover ratio and got the Irish back to the championship game in 2012. And this past season after losing Natalie Novosel and Devereaux Peters to the pros, Diggins led a younger roster which included Kayla McBride and Natalie Achonwa, two players who are pro prospects in their own right, back to the Final Four where she was the leading scorer once again and had over 100 steals for the second straight season.

This culminated in Diggins winning the Nancy Lieberman Award, given to the best point guard in women's college basketball, two times, making her one of three players to win it multiple times (Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi are the other point guards to do so). In addition, she is a multi-time All American, and would have likely won some more national individual awards if not for Brittney Griner's presence the last couple years.

If that doesn't back her game up and isn't justification for why she can't be an impact player in the WNBA besides "looks," well, I don't know what does.

How all this ties in with the Tulsa Shock and the WNBA

As a professional basketball player, Skylar is going to face challenges because she's going to a Tulsa Shock franchise that is still rebuilding from the time the franchise relocated from Detroit in the 2009-2010 offseason. While we have certainly been feeling optimistic about the Shock after its promising 2012 season, here are some things where I think she will make an impact on the team and/or the league:

  1. With Skylar joining the team from a basketball standpoint, this team should be pretty scary in terms of getting steals and transition buckets. The Shock was the second leading team in steals, which partially negated its league worst rebounding differential which must improve this year if the team figures to make the playoffs. Still, with Diggins and Candice Wiggins replacing Ivory Latta and Temeka Johnson who left for the Mystics and Storm respectively, the Shock could be an even scarier team when it comes to getting steals and easy fast break points along with great ball stealers like Glory Johnson and Riquna Williams.
  2. Skylar's presence should be able to boost attendance, possibly considerably over the long haul in Tulsa, not just for a season opener. Again, the team never really had a true franchise star with a national presence, and now they have such a player. I don't know if the Shock's attendance, which has been either the lowest or second lowest in the WNBA since 2010, is because the team is in a small area, or if it is because there is not much interest in a bad WNBA team, especially when the Oklahoma City Thunder NBA team has also become a league power at the same time. The Tulsa Shock also becomes an attractive team to watch when it goes on the road, and other WNBA teams - especially those that lack star power and/or competitiveness - should have attendance boosts because of Diggins coming to town. I could see the Washington Mystics see a bigger than normal crowd on June 30 when the Shock comes to Verizon Center.
  3. In an interview with TheGrio's Todd Johnson, Skylar mentions that "being available to the fans" is an important part of growing the WNBA. This includes social media and the community. In Tulsa, having a star like Diggins in the community would be potentially HUGE for them and even better if the Shock becomes a Western Conference contender.

And that last point about Diggins talking about availability is something that's really important. With most WNBA stars, including A-list stars for the league, they're playing overseas during the NBA season, and that ends up negating much of the availability that they may have during the summer. Sure, Diggins may be give the WNBA a boost this summer (sorry for using puns Boost Mobile), but once the NBA season starts, it's not like Skylar is playing winter ball here again. If she's not visible for the WNBA during that time, here in the US, then her starpower will fade because of European play, if that is what she chooses to do. If she does something else like broadcasting (similar to Connecticut Sun guard Kara Lawson), then it could help keep her in the spotlight in some form during the NBA season.

In summary

Skylar Diggins comes to the Tulsa Shock as a great basketball player who may be that key missing piece to lead the black and gold to becoming a perennial contender in the WNBA's Western Conference. In addition she is also a media friendly personality who will keep the Shock in the national picture.

To me as a Washington, DC area native, Skylar may very well be the Robert Griffin III for the Tulsa Shock, and be "the total package", taking a page from the former Baylor and now Washington Redskins star who is making a big impact on his team and the NFL both as a player and as a media friendly personality.

Unlike RGIII however, Diggins doesn't play in a "Big Four" league, and the WNBA is trying to get out of the novelty phase despite deciding to remain the NBA's summer basketball fix league for the time being. Though Diggins has consistently been a notable women's athlete presence in college, if she plays in Europe this offseason, would that dampen the outreach she could have for the WNBA? It's great that she is a visible presence on Twitter especially, but also being on TV and being in the US, especially when it comes to the WNBA is important as well in order to keep her presence known throughout the year, not just for the summer.

Skylar is also an attractive woman to many, if not most, men and even me as part of the sports-hungry straight male demographic that the WNBA wants to attract more of. And yes, attractiveness is also in the eyes of the beholder and this poetic masterpiece by slam poet Katie Makkai certainly comes into mind:

After watching this several times - I really try not to get too deep into metaphors, etc. - the biggest takeaway I got from it was that women shouldn't try to just be merely "pretty" based on social mores, and that the word should be merely an afterthought (go to around the 3:25 mark). So how do I tie all this back to the Shock's franchise player?

Whether you like it or not, and whether it's intentional or not, Skylar's sex appeal is also a tool for her to attract fans, and it has helped her to some degree, likely her presence on social media. Going back to the first video of her interview with Kate Sullivan, Skylar noted that she credits her physical attributes to her mother and focuses more on the game of basketball which is something she can control, rather than aspects she can't control, which include fitting the norms of being "pretty" which Makkai talks about in her video. And that is definitely a good thing.

Seeing that more men may take interest in the Tulsa Shock and/or the WNBA as a whole in part because of Skylar Diggins' sex appeal is also not a bad thing in and of itself. But they have to appreciate her play as well, and hopefully they appreciate that more over the long term.

At the end of the day, I look forward to seeing Skylar Diggins as a basketball player first, and how she will help this Tulsa Shock franchise continue getting toward its goal of being a perennial Western Conference power. Everything else to me is just a plus.

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