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Hoops Happening: In the wake of Lisa Borders’ exit, where does the WNBA go from here?

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In news no one expected following the most exciting WNBA season in recent memory, Lisa Borders stepped down as president, leaving an uncertain future for the league. This is today in women’s basketball for Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2018.

Lisa Borders presents Maya Moore with the WNBA All-Star Game MVP trophy on July 28, 2018 at Target Center in Minneapolis, Minn.
Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images

In news that came as a shock to WNBA fans just two days after Team USA won the World Cup on Sunday, WNBA President Lisa Borders announced her resignation, stating she had accept a position as the first-ever President and CEO of anti-sexual assault misconduct group, Time’s Up.

In an interview with Vanity Fair, Borders said, “I was being not just invited, but encouraged — implored — to step forward and be part of this transformational change for women.”

In other words, Borders felt her talents were desperately needed elsewhere, to more directly fight gender inequality and pay inequity. Her move bodes well for women and the overall health of the nation if Time’s Up is successful in its mission under her leadership. But Border’s exit comes at a tender time in the advancement of the WNBA into the mainstream, leaving many to wonder what happens next.

Where do things stand right now with the WNBA?

Under Borders’ three-year tenure, the WNBA saw more growth, advancement and exposure than the league has enjoyed in a really long time. As one fan wrote in the comments of yesterday’s article, “She left the WNBA in better shape than it was when she came aboard and deserves credit for it.”

Here are Borders’ most noted achievements:

“In 2017, the WNBA recorded its highest regular-season attendance in six years.”

Borders ushered in new ways for fans to engage with the league, through “live-streamed games on Twitter and the launch of the WNBA’s first official one-day fantasy game with FanDuel.”

She led the way for a full roster of WNBA teams and players to appear in a video game for the first time in the league’s history, in NBA LIVE 18.

“In 2018, the WNBA delivered its most-watched season in four years, with combined viewership across ESPN networks and NBA TV up double digits.”

The league launched the “Take a Seat, Take a Stand” in the 2018 season, “a program that donates a portion of WNBA ticket proceeds to designated nonprofit organizations committed to empowering women and girls.”

Borders played a key role in bringing a WNBA team to Las Vegas, with the Aces.

These accomplishments pushed the WNBA to the status of buzz-worthy phenomenon in 2018, with fans more vehemently demanding coverage from major networks and new fans joining the frenzy following each history-making game.

The season culminated in the Seattle Storm winning its third WNBA Championship in a 3-0 sweep of the Washington Mystics, who had made it to the WNBA Finals for the first time in that franchise’s history. It was a third title for basketball legend Sue Bird and a first for up-and-comers Breanna Stewart and Jewell Loyd, who joined Bird on the USA Basketball Women’s National Team to win a third consecutive FIBA World Cup gold medal, pushing the national team’s record to 100-1.

Stewart, of course, was voted WNBA MVP, named Finals MVP, and awarded the FIBA World Cup MVP award.

Under Borders, the WNBA enjoyed its most competitive season and the resulting increase in popularity. The problem, however, is that the success is very recent and, therefore, delicate. If the keys to the WNBA kingdom are turned over to the wrong hands, the hard-won gains are at risk of falling — with the continued existence of the league left hanging in the balance — leaving a zero-percent margin of error for Borders’ successor.

What are the problems the new WNBA president will need to solve?

Whoever is granted leadership over the WNBA will arrive to a host of issues in need of resolve, including:

  • players’ increasingly vocal complaints about salaries, which will likely have a major impact on forthcoming Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) negotiations
  • history-making Dallas Wings center Liz Cambage being unsure of a return to the WNBA because of the low salaries
  • the future of the New York Liberty, which was forced to give up its home at Madison Square Garden for a much smaller venue in Westchester and remains up for sale
  • the need for a bigger, broader TV deal and wider-reaching marketing initiatives

The WNBA’s new leader must be willing to meet these base requirements in the interest of sustaining the progress made under Borders and expanding the league in the next few years. It is vital that the new leader of the WNBA be a formidable spirit willing to challenge the structure of the NBA-WNBA relationship, and challenge NBA Commissioner Adam Silver for the NBA’s purse strings.

None of this will be easy, however, considering persistent losses. According to a WNBA spokesperson: “The WNBA has lost significant money in each of its previous seasons,” with a source familiar with the situation putting losses for 2018 at $12 million. The NBA owns 50% of the WNBA and, therefore, took some of those losses.

ESPN’s Mechelle Voepel, for one, suggested the WNBA needs a commissioner rather than a president who is in service of the NBA. Given what many consider an inequitable distribution of revenue between the NBA and WNBA, such a change to the structure of leadership seems like the only option for pushing the league, at last, to its delayed potential.


Drink up, link lush!

Becky Hammon stars in a television commercial for Macy’s, to the tune of No Doubt’s “Just a Girl,” and it’s a thing of beauty.

Anyone in need of an empowerment boost should watch this a few times.

In other news ...

Two Washington Mystics stars have secured impressive winter jobs with the Washington Wizards. Kristi Toliver has been hired as a coaching intern while Tierra Ruffin-Pratt has been brought on as a video intern.

Hopefully, these internships are paid.

Also:

  • Diana Taurasi and Breanna Stewart were among the FIBA All-Star Five. They share the honor with Liz Cambage (Australia), Emma Meesseman (Belgium) and Astou Ndour (Spain).
  • In this story from CBS News, some of the NBA’s most familiar faces discuss their favorite WNBA players. And here’s the video.
  • Lindsey Whalen has been on a mission to promote her team and her players. And she recently shared how serious Minnesota is about winning in the classroom as well as on the court.
  • Start brainstorming your travel plans now. The NCAAW Final Four, from 2021 through 2024, will be in San Antonio, Minneapolis, Dallas and Cleveland, respectively. In 2019, it will be in Tampa Bay and in 2020 it will be in New Orleans.
  • In a new HBO documentary, LeBron James and Maverick Carter go after what they deem to be a corrupt NCAA.

Shine brighter. * flicker flicker *