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This Week in Women’s Basketball: Might the WNBA be coming to the Mile High City?

This week, we discovered Denver is a finalist for one of two WNBA expansion teams, both of which would enter the league by the 2025 season. Here’s what else happened in the world of women’s hoops.

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2023 WNBA Commissioner’s Cup Championship - New York Liberty v Las Vegas Aces
When might Commissioner Cathy Engelbert make an announcement about WNBA expansion?
Photo by Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images

Talks of deals dominated this week’s women’s basketball news, with the possibility of a WNBA expansion deal in Denver, a new NIL deal between New Balance and Cameron Brink and the progress toward a new women’s college basketball television deal with ESPN.

Check out these developments and more:

Mile-high expansion for the WNBA?

On Monday the Denver Post reported that WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert was scheduled to follow up her trip to Las Vegas for the third Commissioner’s Cup Championship with a stop in Denver to determine the city’s viability for a WNBA expansion team.

Engelbert, along with other WNBA decision makers, did make the trip to the Mile High City, reportedly evaluating Ball Arena, home of the Denver Nuggets, and Magness Arena, Denver University’s basketball facility, as potential homes for a W team, in addition to meeting with an investor group, the city’s mayor and the state’s governor.

Denver, once home to the ABL’s Colorado Xplosion, is reported to be one of the finalists for the league’s two-team expansion, a goal the league intends to accomplish by 2025.

Speaking in Brooklyn earlier this month, Engelbert again emphasized the desire for expansion, insisting, “We need more than 12 teams. We need to be in some big cities in this country where our demographics and psychographics and all our data and information shows there’s some great markets out there for WNBA basketball.”

However, it is worth noting that players, including those in leadership positions within the WNBPA, are not all on board with the Commissioner’s expansion mission. At All-Star weekend, Kelsey Plum, who serves as First Vice President of the WNBPA, shared the player priorities that precede expansion, headlined by charter flights for all road trips. Plum asserted, “I don’t know how I feel about expansion, to be honest. I feel like we have some holes that we can work on currently. And we can do a better job of figuring out ways to fix some of the current issues we have.”

Expanding roster sizes, rather than adding new teams, is another option that not only would create more job opportunities but also improve the on-court product, as teams with multiple injured players would be able to elevate under-contract end-of-roster players into rotations rather than shuffling through transient players on hardship or seven-day contracts.

New Balance inks Brink to NIL deal

On Monday, ESPN’s Nick DePaula announced that New Balance had signed Stanford senior star Cameron Brink to a NIL deal. Brink becomes the first women’s basketball player to be endorsed by the brand.

Congratulations to Brink! It is encouraging to see more brands investing in women’s basketball players.

Yet, it necessary to demand that brands invest in women’s basketball equitably. New Balance follows Puma (Breanna Stewart) and Nike (Sabrina Ionescu) in making a white player the most prominent face of their brand’s women’s basketball initiative, even though the sport, at both the NCAA and WNBA levels, is dominated by women of color.

A new, equitable TV deal for women’s college hoops?

In a conversation with The Athletic’s Richard Deitsch, ESPN president of content Burke Magnus emphasized the company’s commitment to retaining women’s college basketball broadcasting rights. The current deal expires at the end of the 2023-24 season.

Magnus told Deitsch, “We take great pride in it. We call it our tournament....We love it. We’re thrilled that it’s succeeding. We know it’ll be competitive, but we hope very much to keep it.”

In recent years, various reports from outside firms have found that women’s basketball television rights have been grossly undervalued.

While the current deal is worth approximately $34 million, the gender equity report commissioned by the NCAA in 2021 argued that broadcast rights for women’s college basketball should be valued at more than $80 million, with other reports suggesting a value of up to $112 million.

2023 Battle 4 Atlantis field is set

On Tuesday, the eight teams participating in the 2023 Battle 4 Atlantis were announced: Arizona, DePaul, Howard, Memphis, Michigan, Middle Tennessee, Ole Miss and South Dakota. The third edition of the tournament will be held November 18-20.

USA Basketball 3x3 update

Cierra Burdick, Linnae Harper, Caroline Littlefield and Camille Zimmerman won the 3x3 Women’s Series competition in Katowice, Poland on Tuesday. The US defeated Lithuania in the final for their second Series win of the summer. Burdick, a Tennessee standout who last played in the WNBA in 2021, won MVP honors.

The next competition in the FIBA 3x3 Women’s Series began in Melilla, Spain on Friday; the US fell in the quarterfinals on Saturday.

Meanwhile, the U24 Series Team of the aforementioned Cameron Brink, LSU’s Hailey Van Lith, Louisville’s Sydney Taylor and Seton Hall’s Azana Baines participated in the competition in Quebec, Canada on Friday and Saturday.

The US squad advanced to the finals where they were defeated by the host Canadians in a thriller. As a reminder, 3x3 games are played to a score of 21. Canada seemed in control, leading 19-15, when the Americans scored four-consecutive baskets to knot the score at 19-19. But Canada’s Michelle Plouffe then closed it out, draining a 2-pointer to secure the title.

Aisha Sheppard shines at the Asia Cup

At the FIBA Women’s Asia Cup Division B tournament in Bangkok, Thailand, Aisha Sheppard, representing Jordan, blossomed into a star. The Virginia Tech product, who spent last season with the Las Vegas Aces, exploded for 38 points—the most in Asia Cup competition since 2007—to help Jordan defeat Kazakhstan.

Averaging 27.7 points, 6.0 assists, 4.3 rebounds and 3.0 steals through Jordan’s first three games, Sheppard embraced the opportunity, saying, “For me, I’m always trying to inspire the next generation because that’s what I had growing up. Everybody’s journey is different and I want everybody to know that. Whether your number is called right away or if it’s not, just continue to work, keep your head down and good things will happen.”

Jordan and Sheppard were defeated in the semifinals by tournament runner-up Iran. Indonesia won the event, earning promotion to Division A.