3 Fresh Faces Usher In New WNBA Season
LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:
The women's pro basketball season is underway, and this year the WBNA features three former college stars. These standout players are being marketed as the Three To See. They are Elena Della Donne, Brittney Griner, and Skylar Diggins. NPR's Mike Pesca saw two of the three to see play each other last night. He has this report.
MIKE PESCA, BYLINE: Skylar Diggins can still get the crowd to go wild.
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PESCA: That she can elicit this response at an away-game for her Tulsa Shock; a game in which her team lost and she had recorded only eight points to go with three assists and three turnovers says a lot. It says that she was playing in Chicago, where her accomplishments at nearby Notre Dame are fondly remembered. It says she's charismatic, having just signed with Jay Z's new sports management company, and it says she's marketable.
Diggins herself, however, doesn't think the adulation is yet warranted.
SKYLAR DIGGINS: I don't ask for any of that. I think it's disrespectful to say I'm one of the three to see in the WNBA because we've got so many great vets who have been here and done many things. I haven't done anything yet.
PESCA: Diggins' discomfort points out the double edged sword that is the three to see marketing campaign. The WNBA is eager for Diggins, Elane Della Donne and Brittany Griner to be the faces of the league, but in pushing them forward the league puts a bit of a target on their backs. These three women already have name recognition and in Diggins' case 400,000 Twitter followers.
The WNBA would be unwise to ignore their appeal says Sky owner Michael Alter.
MICHAEL ALTER: We all, kind of, recognize we need to do what works best at this time. And it's going to elevate everybody's stature in the league and the teams and whatnot. And so that's what were all trying to do, even though there's some unfairness as part of it.
PESCA: Alter is one of six independent owners in a league that has been bolstered but also overshadowed by its NBA ties. Six WNBA teams are owned by an NBA franchise. The comparison between the men and women's leagues is inevitable if unfair. From an economic perspective, consider that the minimum - the minimum - salary for a fourth year player in the NBA is higher than the salary cap for an entire WNBA team.
The brands of basketball are also different, the NBA is aerial ballet and thunderous dunks; the WNBA is more about ball movement and flow. In fact, the WNBA, if anything, is a poor fit for a three to see marketing campaign, because it is such a team game. So WNBA players are looking to take the spotlight and turn it into a bit of a floodlight. Chicago center, Sylvia Fowles.
SYLVIA FOWLES: If that's how they want to market it, keep on marketing it so we can get some publicity around here.
PESCA: Fowels, in the Sky's home opener became only the 13th player in league's history to record 20 points and 20 rebounds in a game. That accomplishment was kind of lost in the shuffle by the next game as eyes turned to the Della Donne-Diggins match up. The Sky beat the Shock, taking their record to three and zero, two of those wins coming against Diggins and Griner's teams.
After last night's game, Elena Della Donne, who has been averaging 19 points a game, drew some attention away from her supposed match up with Diggins.
ELENA DELLA DONNE: What I've said to people is that there's far more than three people to see in this league and, you know, maybe it can draw attention to the league and then people can watch and see how great everyone else is too.
PESCA: Della Donne won't forever have to tread the waters of being asked to both attract and deflect attention. She has the option of simply buying into what her coach thinks of as the best marketing.
POKEY CHATMAN: Wins.
PESCA: Sky coach Pokey Chatman.
CHATMAN: You know, they'll come to see three to see but they want to see the third win in a row, and then the fourth one, and the fifth one and the sixth one. But it's a nice start.
PESCA: Indeed it is for the Sky who now have the league's best record. TV ratings are up early, which could be curious fans checking out big name attraction, or not. Either way, the league will take it. Mike Pesca, NPR News, Chicago.
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WERTHEIMER: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.