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How WNBA players are assisting their communities off the court this season

Check out the impactful efforts of WNBA Community Assist Award winners Briann January, Danielle Robinson and A’ja Wilson, plus Dawn Staley Community Leadership Award winner Natasha Cloud. 

AT&T WNBA All-Star Game 2019
A’ja Wilson, the WNBA Cares Community Assist Award winner for July, greets youth basketball players before the All-Star Game.
Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images

We love the players of the WNBA.

We appreciate their play. The pull-up jumpers. The intimidating swats. The flashy fast breaks. The step-back threes. The masterful moves.

We enjoy their personalities. Their fire fits. Their awesome kicks. Their enviable eats. Their camaraderie. Their straight-up silliness.

But it is also important to recognize and respect their outreach efforts. WNBA players not only represent their communities — providing examples of the power of women from all walks of life — but are of their communities.

Headlined by Phoenix Mercury guard Briann January, Minnesota Lynx guard Danielle Robinson and Las Vegas Aces forward A’ja Wilson, the winners of this season’s WNBA Cares Community Assist Awards, and Washington Mystics guard Natasha Cloud, winner of the Dawn Staley Community Leadership Award, WNBA players have captained an array of community projects and programs. These players have taken ownership of concerns in their communities, whether hometown, home team city or an imagined community united by shared experience.

Here are some (but certainly not all) of the admirable ways players are assisting their communities off the court this season:

WNBA players assisting their communities

These days, it often is expected that athletes will do charity work. From a cynical perspective, an athlete might appear to perform generosity to earn positive publicity. However, the efforts of WNBA players, especially these award winners, suggest otherwise. Their activities reflect their individual personal priorities, often intended to address the discrimination and inequity they have experienced or witnessed, whether based on gender, race, class, sexuality, age or ability.

Briann January, May Community Assist Award

Despite again serving as an assistant coach for her alma mater, Arizona State University, Briann January still devoted time to the people of Phoenix during the offseason. Before the 2019 season officially began, she worked with Save the Family to take a homeless family on a grocery shopping spree and participated in the Phoenix Police Department’s basketball camp for at-risk girls. For the home opener, January organized an event influenced by her own experience. She provided all-access passes to residents of an LGBTQ+ foster home, meeting with them post-game when she, according to a WNBA press release, “discussed her journey of learning to accept who she was as an individual and encouraged the group to embrace the beauty of their difference.”

Danielle Robinson, June Community Assist Award

In only her second season in Minnesota, Danielle Robinson already has embedded herself in the Minneapolis community. Even rehabbing from the severe high ankle injury she suffered last August did not reduce her investment. Robinson particularly made time for Simpson House, which provides support for people experiencing homelessness. Once a month, she visits the organization to serve meals, often bringing along a teammate.

Robinson has expressed the value of her involvement, especially during her injury, telling WNBA.com:

Although I couldn’t contribute to my team on the court, I was able to give back to the Twin Cities community that gives so much to us and Simpson House was a vessel for me to do that. It’s such a blessing to be a moment of joy to those who sometimes don’t know where their next meal is coming from. The Simpson House is so important to the community. My time there has changed me, grown me, and shown me that my purpose lies in service to others, so I’m thankful to the Simpson House for giving me that opportunity.

Robinson also has been a public representative for the Timberwolves & Lynx Pride Initiative, including sharing more than 800 healthy snack boxes with Avenues for Homeless Youth, a shelter that offers services for LGBTQ+ youth.

A’ja Wilson, July Community Assist Award

As the No. 1 pick in 2018 WNBA Draft, A’ja Wilson instantly became the face of the newly-relocated Las Vegas Aces. Her unanimous 2018 Rookie of the Year award and two-time All-Star nods indicate Wilson has lived up to this billing on the court. But she has done so off the court as well. Throughout the 2019 season, Wilson has mentored a local high school girls basketball team through the Aces’ Lace Up Mentorship Program. She also has worked with Opportunity Village, a program that serves adults with disabilities.

Wilson’s efforts extend to her home state of South Carolina. During her senior season at the University of South Carolina, Wilson publicly shared her struggles with dyslexia, penning an editorial in The Players’ Tribune. For all the ways in which athletes speak their truths these days, Wilson’s willingness to open up about her learning disability, something that retains negative connotations, required a certain courage. Through the A’ja Wilson Foundation, she is translating her representational power into real impact. The mission of her foundation is to “empower children and families to reach their full potential with educational programming, workshops, camps and grant opportunities.”

Natasha Cloud, Dawn Staley Community Leadership Award

On Tuesday, the WNBA announced Natasha Cloud a the Dawn Staley Community Leadership Award winner. According to the WNBA’s press release:

The award, which is named in honor of WNBA legend and Hall of Famer Dawn Staley, annually recognizes a player who reflects Staley’s spirit, leadership, charitable efforts, love for the game and inspirational presence in the community.

Of Cloud, Commissioner Cathy Engelbert added:

Natasha has been an outstanding example of how players value their time spent connecting with the community. Natasha’s commitment to volunteering is exemplary of how socially conscious WNBA players are and how they continue to excel as role models for the next generation.

The award honors Cloud’s outreach throughout the 2018 season and offseason when she partnered with Monumental Sports and Entertainment (MSE) for a “Christmas in July” shopping spree for families in need, participated in a KaBoom! Playground Build, inspired students through a panel event at Anacostia High School and shared holiday cheer through her involvement in several of MSE’s holiday initiatives.

Throughout the 2019 WNBA season, Cloud has used her platform for good — asserting herself as the league’s leading advocate for gun control. In June, she spearheaded a media blackout by Mystics’ players, protesting the city’s inaction about everyday gun violence. After the game, a loss to the Seattle Storm, Cloud simply stated:

Tonight didn’t go as planned. But we’re talking about a game, the loss of a game. There are a lot more losses going on within our community, especially within this community of Ward 8. We as a team only want to bring light to the issues going on within this community, and that is the violence around kids going to school. There will be no statements made about the game. Again, it’s just a game. We’re talking about people’s lives.

After a July game, Cloud met with gun violence survivors and organizations dedicated to ending the nation’s gun violence crisis. She also has used her pregame fashion to raise awareness.

Keep tossing assists

As we know from watching basketball, the most memorable assists are those that appear most difficult, when the ball is threaded through a tight space to create a seemingly impossible scoring opportunity.

Like an ambitious point guard driving into a crowded paint only to complete the perfect pass, let’s hope WNBA players continue to seek ways to assist their communities with fearlessness, addressing their communities’ more difficult and discomfiting issues, such as gun violence, police brutality, domestic violence, reproductive rights and voting rights.