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This Week in Women’s Basketball: Phoenix Mercury miss the mark with head coach hire

Amidst much positive progress for the WNBA and women’s basketball at large, the Phoenix Mercury’s head coaching hire hits like a speed bump. Here’s more on the Mercury’s decision and other women’s hoops news.

Phoenix Mercury v Seattle Storm
Members of the Phoenix Mercury huddle during the 2023 WNBA season.
Photo by Scott Eklund/NBAE via Getty Images

Congratulations to the Las Vegas Aces, the 2023 WNBA champions and first back-to-back champions since 2002. Catch up on the women’s hoops news you might have missed during all the festivities:

Phoenix Mercury name Nate Tibbetts next head coach

On Monday, the Phoenix Mercury filled their head coaching vacancy, hiring Orlando Magic assistant coach Nate Tibbetts. This is the second major hire for which new owner Mat Ishbia has tapped a young(ish) white man who has worked in the NBA and has no experience in women’s basketball, first naming Nick U’Ren, previously a basketball operations executive with the Golden State Warriors, general manger and now selecting Tibbetts, who also had served as an assistant coach for the Portland Trailblazers and Cleveland Cavaliers, as head coach. Ishbia also made Tibbetts the highest-paid coach in the WNBA.

While Ishbia’s early willingness to invest in the Mercury has inspired optimism, the decision to hire Tibbetts—and then make him the league’s highest-paid coach—has provoked deserved criticism. On Twitter/X, ESPN’s Michael Voepel thoughtfully explained why the hire is so disappointing.

Ideally, we’d live in a basketball world where coaches—regardless of gender, race or sexual preference—could move between jobs in women’s and men’s basketball at the collegiate and professional levels. Yet, we’re still far from that world. Whereas women, people of color and especially women of color often must travel long, winding roads to achieve a head coaching job, cisgender white men seem to have exclusive access to a superhighway, where their credentials are never questioned and instead given instant credibility.

At Tibbetts’ introductory press conference, both U’Ren and Tibbetts responded to the criticism of his hire.

For the sake of Mercury fans, it’s worth hoping that Tibbetts proves to be the right man for the job. (Getting more defensive effort from Diana Taurasi will be good start.) But no matter how much success he might achieve, the message sent by his hire will still feel wrong.

New York Liberty fined

On Thursday afternoon, the WNBA announced, “The New York Liberty organization has been fined $25,000 for violating league rules governing postgame media interview access.” Additionally, Sabrina Ionescu, Jonquel Jones and Betnijah Laney each were fined $2,000 for skipping their postgame media obligations.

While it is understandable that the players were not interested in speaking to the media after Game 4, teams’ and players’ desire for more recognition and respect requires cooperation with the media, even when it is inconvenient or uncomfortable. If the Liberty insist they are the best basketball team in New York, they need to hold themselves to higher standards than their brethren who play at Madison Square Garden.

Watched them work!

The thrilling conclusion of the WNBA Finals came with more viewership records. Through Game 3, the 2023 WNBA Finals were the most-watched in 20 years. Game 4 only confirmed this milestone, as 889,000 tuned into the title-clinching contest.

Defending champion LSU takes top spot in AP Poll

Defending champion LSU claims the No. 1 ranking in the season’s inaugural AP Top 25 Poll.

Considering the Lady Tigers are adding transfers Hailey Van Lith (Louisville) and Aneesah Morrow (DePaul) to a roster that not only returns Angel Reese and Flau’jae Johnson but also welcomes the nation’s top-ranked recruiting class to Baton Rouge, it unsurprising that Kim Mulkey’s program received 35 of 36 first-place votes and will enter the season ranked No. 1 for the first time in school history.

The UConn Huskies, hoping for an injury-free season from Paige Bueckers, received the other first-place vote and enter the season ranked No. 2. Iowa, UCLA and Utah round out the top five. South Carolina is sixth, followed by Ohio State, Virginia Tech, Indiana and Notre Dame.

Angel Reese will represent Reebok

The rejuvenation of Reebok, with Shaquille O’Neal recently named President and Allen Iverson Vice President, will begin with Angel Reese. The women’s hoops phenom is the first basketball athlete the brand has signed, with O’Neal announcing, “For my first appointment in this role, it had to be the GOAT. There is no one making a bigger impact on the game right now than Angel Reese.”

On the partnership, Reese shared, “I am honored to be working closely with one of my longtime mentors, Shaq, along with a brand that I have admired since I was just a little kid. It means the world to me that they trust in me to extend their legacy to a new generation.”

End-of-season fashion honors

The end of the WNBA season not only comes with awards handed out for on-court performance, but also those for off-court style. Although not our expertise here at Swish Appeal, GQ Sports and League Fits evaluated the W’s most fashion-forward players. While Satou Sabally edged out A’ja Wilson in GQ Sports’ fan-voted “most stylish player” bracket, Tiffany Hayes took top honors from League Fits as neither Sabally nor Wilson made the cut for League Fits’ First Team (Hayes, Natasha Cloud, Diamond DeShields, Rae Burrell and Olivia Nelson-Ododa) or Second Team (Arike Ogunbowale, Courtney Williams, Kahleah Copper, Shatori Walker-Kimbrough and DiJonai Carrington).