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Hoops Happening: 19 wishes for women’s basketball in 2019

From WNBA bobbleheads and shot glasses to expansion teams, #VanderQuigs and visions of Sabrina Ionescu in the WNBA come May, these are my wishes for women’s basketball in the new year.

MLS - MetroStars vs Real Salt Lake - July 4, 2005
What fireworks will the New Year bring to the world of women’s basketball?
Getty Images

It’s 2019, and that means the best in women’s basketball is yet to come! We have some conference seasons yet to kick off at the college level, the NCAA Tournament in spring and the WNBA season to look forward to come May. But anticipation of basketball awesomeness is packed with myriad WNBA-related question marks carried forward into the new year, as well as pervasive, persistent issues that continue to plague women’s sports, but basketball especially. With hopes of a better and grander and fairer and more equitable terrain for women’s basketball, here’s a list of hoops-related wishes for the new year (in no particular order).

19 wishes for women’s basketball in 2019

1. James Dolan will sell the New York Liberty to an owner who loves the team and the WNBA more than he does.

In a wide-ranging interview a few months ago, Dolan spoke about how he could not generate interest in the Liberty despite “pumping tons of marketing dollars” into the team. The question he was not asked — and, therefore, never answered — is whether the money tabbed for the Liberty was equitable to the money tabbed for the NBA’s Knicks: a team with regular turmoil in the front office, lack of success at the coaching position and a string of lackluster, unhappy players. The Knicks are 9-28 for the season so far and next-to-last in the Eastern Conference standings. Surely, fans are not packing Madison Square Garden to see this disaster play out, but Dolan hasn’t put the Knicks up for sale. Why? Because there’s a difference between lip service and commitment, between afterthought actions and locking in. Things succeed when people hold the attitude that they are making investments, not “pumping” dollars (as if down a drain). He does not speak this way about the hapless Knicks, which underscores Dolan’s lack of commitment to the Liberty. Unless the marketing dollars earmarked for the Liberty is comparable to the dollars pumped into the Knicks, Dolan hasn’t even tried.

2. A WNBA commissioner will be hired who can begin to untangle the league from the clutches of the NBA.

The National Basketball Association has soared into a billion-dollar, worldwide enterprise capable of paying individual players $200 million per year. Yet, the WNBA continues to struggle, with the NBA blaming this on revenue losses on the W side. The Liberty, banished to Westchester, are probably a major piece of the reported $12 million in lost revenue for the 2018 WNBA season. When there are only 12 teams, however, it makes sense that a few poorly-performing franchises could spell losses league-wide. But NBA teams incur losses, too. The NBA doesn’t incur them, however, because there are more teams to offset the balance sheet. Whatever the Golden State Warriors are raking in, for example, more than makes up for whatever losses the Knicks or the LeBron James-less Cleveland Cavaliers are incurring. Thus, a WNBA commissioner truly committed to the league and willing to shift the stale thinking that serves only to justify the NBA’s commitment to maintaining a second-class citizenry for the WNBA is really the only way forward in this day and age when people refuse to settle for the status quo, especially when the status quo amounts to unequal, inequitable treatment.

3. The WNBA will commit to merchandising.

For starters, people want to wear jerseys to games, so jerseys for top players on every team — Breanna Stewart, Sue Bird, Elena Delle Donne, Tiffany Hayes, Liz Cambage, Skylar Diggins-Smith, Brittney Griner, Diana Taurasi, DeWanna Bonner, Candace Parker and many more — should be made available through the WNBA store. At the NBA store, people can buy attire for babies and dogs, but WNBA fans have been left to pick through lanyards and key fobs, which is a disgrace. (Personally, I won’t be happy until I have a Diana Taurasi bobblehead and Phoenix Mercury shot glasses.)

4. The WNBA or corporations will make it possible for Liz Cambage to return to the league.

As much as fans want to see her play again in a Dallas Wings uniform, and hopefully win a title, it is unfair that she be asked to sacrifice the prime years of her playing career in a league that does not pay players enough to ensure their financial futures after they’ve retired from the hardwood. A new collective bargaining agreement will not be in place by the start of the 2019 season, so a return for Cambage would likely come down to endorsement dollars. This shouldn’t be hard given that Cambage is a beautiful, statuesque woman with interest in fashion and modeling experience. There is no reason she shouldn’t be considered an advertiser’s dream.

5. Another WNBA power couple will make themselves known.

With the recent news of VanderQuigs — the marriage between the Chicago Sky’s Courtney Vandersloot and Allie Quigley — interest is piqued about other WNBA couples who may be out there. Love actually is exciting.

6. Candice Dupree will get traded back to the Mercury or retire from playing and be added to the Phoenix coaching staff.

From giving birth to twin daughters to being named a 2018 WNBA All-Star, DeWanna Bonner, Dupree’s wife, had quite a year, including playing the best basketball of her career. Dupree, however, is on the downside of her career, serving last season as a mentor to the rookie talent of the Indiana Fever. The long-distance relationship, with twin tykes, has been tough on them. So, for the sake of family, it’d be awesome to see them united again Phoenix — the city where they won the 2014 WNBA Championship together.

7. At least one team not named UConn or Notre Dame will make it to the 2019 NCAAW Finals.

Nothing against the Huskies or Fighting Irish, but they have dominated the college women’s basketball scene for so long that it’d be nice to see a team surge past them, especially one from the mid-majors since a good underdog story is something most people can get behind. If not mid-major teams, however, an appearance in the Finals by Mississippi State, the Louisville Cardinals, the Baylor Lady Bears or the Oregon Ducks would be just as swell.

8. Sabrina Ionescu will skip her senior year at Oregon and enter the WNBA Draft.

Now, this is purely selfish, I know, but the goal is not to cheat the “walking Triple Dub” out of her college education. It’s just that she’s so freakin’ good that she could be a weapon for any team that has talent, but has struggled either to make the playoffs or to go deep in the playoffs, like the Chicago Sky or the Dallas Wings. Plus, she wouldn’t be cheated at all since degrees can be completed online or during the offseason.

9. Courtney Williams will have a breakout year and the Connecticut Sun will make it to the 2019 WNBA Finals.

The Sun came thiiiiiiiiiiiis close to bouncing the Mercury from the playoffs in a single-elimination game to advance to the semifinals. This team did some great things all season, and they outplayed the Mercury for much of the game ... until Diana Taurasi handed the Sun the 86-76 defeat and barbed words for Williams. It was the second straight year that the Mercury darkened the Sun in the playoffs. But whether Connecticut must go through Phoenix or another city, it’d be nice to see this team advance in the playoffs.

10. Cornhole will be outlawed.

Apparently, this would be the only way ESPN would deem it right to broadcast women’s basketball, college or professional, instead of cornhole (and poker and esports and drone racing — which mostly involve people sitting).

11. Local media outlets will cover women’s basketball.

Let’s break it down this way:

How Things Grow 101

  • People see things.
  • People like what they see and want to see more.
  • People seek to learn more about what they see and, therefore, watch it more.
  • People become fans.
  • Fan people buy tickets to events and merchandise.
  • A fan people collective makes a crowd, otherwise known as a fan base.
  • Photos of these fan people collective events make it into national photo databases, like Getty Images.
  • National media outlets can now cover women’s basketball properly.

12. Swish Appeal will no longer need to use dated images of players, or photos of mascots, hardwood logos or arena crowds in lieu of players and coaches.

Photos of Lindsay Whalen as head coach of the Minnesota Golden Gophers should have been everywhere in 2018 because, duh, she’s Lindsay Whalen, and the team is doing well. But this was not the case, and it is the case with a lot of players, teams and coaches. This is shameful, and mainstream media — local and national — have a duty to their readers and viewers to cover women’s sports with the same resources and fervor they use to cover men’s sports. Anything other than this is discriminatory.

13. The WNBPA will negotiate a player-friendly collective bargaining agreement that will enable players to compete year-round overseas only if they want to, but not because they have to.

The WNBA product — quality of competition among even the lowest-ranked teams in the standings — is the best it has ever been. The only way to maintain it is to protect the longevity of the players, and the best way to accomplish that is to pay them enough so that they do not have to compete overseas in the WNBA offseason.

14. Playoff games will no longer be moved out of home arenas.

There is no better way to topple the momentum of a thrilling WNBA season off a cliff than that send a team to a neighboring city to compete in the biggest games of the year. Many fans are not able or willing to make the drive, which leaves arenas half-full before a national viewing audience. This terrible practice, therefore, causes those who do not follow the league more closely to assume fans do not even show up for hotly-contested playoff games, which surely is not the case. Beyond that, some of these other arenas have safety hazards, such as leaky air conditioning units causing slips and falls (experienced by the Mystics and anyone who played them) and just days after the Mystics played at the Charles E. Smith Center at George Washington University, the jumbotron crashed onto the court. Had this happened during a game, people would have been severely injured, if not killed.

15. A WNBA expansion team will be brought to Houston.

To grow the league, you have to grow the league, so the time is right to bring WNBA teams into new cities — or, into cities that once had them but lost them. First up, the Houston Comets are due for a comeback, if for no other reason than reparation for the mismanagement that led to the folding of a franchise that had won four straight championships.

16. Becky Hammon will be hired as head coach of a championship-contending NBA team.

Hammon’s resume speaks for itself and includes a 15-year WNBA playing career, seasons as an assistant head coach of the San Antonio Spurs under Gregg Popovich and head coach of the Spurs Summer League team, which won championship that summer. Yet, a head coaching job in the NBA has eluded her because she’s a woman. Male coaches with no playing or coaching experience at all have landed head coaching jobs (Erik Spoelstra of the Miami Heat), coaches have emerged from the college ranks (like Brad Stevens of the Boston Celtics). But a player who competed in the WNBA for 15 years and has been an assistant with an NBA team for several more years hasn’t been hired to coach an NBA team?

17. Homophobia will cease to be a factor in people’s ability to embrace women’s basketball.

Under former WNBA president Lisa Borders, the league made great strides to foster inclusion not just in and around the league, but society-wide as well. Instead of hiding from the fact that some players are gay, the league and its players have emerged from the shadows to embrace difference. Although we see more gay people in media and society than ever before, our society still is streaked through with homophobia, which causes those who hold such beliefs to write off women’s basketball entirely because of which players may or may not be gay. Anyone who loves exciting basketball should embrace the game, whether the players are men or women, heterosexual or homosexual, black or white or Asian or Latino. A ball dribbled up the court, passed behind the back of a skilled guard, caught in the air by a front-court player and dropped into the basket with balletic grace knows no color, sexual orientation, nationality or gender.

18. Charlotte will get an expansion team, too.

The Carolinas are a basketball haven, what with Duke, North Carolina and South Carolina especially. With Dawn Staley as head coach of the Gamecocks Women’s Basketball team, and so many strong players emerging from her program, interest in women’s hoops in the Carolinas has probably never been higher. A’ja Wilson is a household name in that part of the country and Staley once played for the Charlotte Sting — both of which are strong pegs upon which to bring a franchise back. People would show up with their daughters and sons to see A’ja Wilson and the Las Vegas Aces take on the Charlotte Sting.

19. Angel McCoughtry will finally win a WNBA Championship.

McCoughtry, the 2009 Rookie of the Year, has made some deep playoff runs in her career, but her Atlanta Dream team hasn’t managed to finish things off with a championship trophy. With 2018 Coach of the Year Nicki Collen at the helm and some strong talent, the world saw a promising, new-look Dream that had a strong chance of winning it all before McCoughtry’s season ended early because of a knee injury. So it would be great to see McCoughtry, now 33, get a championship before Father Time puts an end to her basketball career.

Happy New Year!