How the inspiring WNBA All-Star Game intro came together

Women's Tennis Association (WTA) founder Billie Jean King speaks during the launch to mark the countdown to the last edition of the WTA Finals to be held in Singapore on March 8, 2018.The tournament will take place in Singapore from Oct 21 to 28. / AFP PHOTO / Roslan RAHMAN (Photo credit should read ROSLAN RAHMAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Women's Tennis Association (WTA) founder Billie Jean King speaks during the launch to mark the countdown to the last edition of the WTA Finals to be held in Singapore on March 8, 2018.The tournament will take place in Singapore from Oct 21 to 28. / AFP PHOTO / Roslan RAHMAN (Photo credit should read ROSLAN RAHMAN/AFP/Getty Images) /

It was a week before the WNBA All-Star Game and Olivia Powers still needed a voice.

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Powers had created a video introduction for the ABC broadcast she thought was powerful and inspiring, but having the right person narrate the piece could take it to the next level.

As the production team met to discuss options, one person’s name immediately rose to the top of the list.

Billie Jean King.

A pioneer for women’s sports and equality, King was the perfect match for the message Powers was trying to portray.

But time was running short and King’s schedule was packed with appearances and speaking engagements.

Carol Stiff, the vice president of women’s programming at ESPN, knew King’s agent, Tip Nunn, and contacted him right away.

Within 24 hours, King had eagerly agreed to narrate the piece. She couldn’t get to a studio in time, so Powers had to improvise. She asked King to call and read the script over a patched line, praying the quality would be good enough to use.

“Dear Little Girl.

Yes, you.

I see you … ready to play”

As soon as Powers heard King say the opening words, she knew she had the final piece of an introduction that would resonate far beyond a WNBA All-Star broadcast.

The one-minute, 45-second clip would be played on TVs, computers and phones across the country and world. It would reach children and adults of all backgrounds, eliciting emotional responses spanning from goosebumps to tears.

“My whole point of this was for little girls to see it and feel inspired,” said Powers, 25, a content associate for ESPN. “Female athletes are doing amazing things, but they just aren’t as visibly seen or respected as much. I wanted to visually tell the story to maybe help empower others.”

Powers began working on the project at the start of the WNBA season in May.

Her original idea was to focus on “silencing the haters” from social media, an issue that has taken even more prominence this season as players push for better pay.

Powers began pulling quotes from WNBA and NBA players to use that showcased the value of the league and the talent on display.

But, with encouragement from ESPN Associate Producer Aimee Stokes, the project gradually evolved into something more profound.

“She was like, ‘This is a great idea and this can be way bigger. There is no limit here. Say whatever you want,’” Powers said. “I realized I was being given the platform on ABC and there were going to be a lot of people seeing it and that social media would pick it up somewhere as well.”

Powers began to incorporate all female athletes into the piece, and dug through footage and images to find ones that fit the narrative. As she expanded her search, the words for the script started coming to her in short bursts over time.

“I want you to know what you can achieve will not be defined by the color of your skin, by age, who you love or by being a girl

And should anyone try to tell you otherwise, look to us, look to them, for the courage, heart and perseverance to fight on, to challenge small-minded thinking, to shatter any ceilings that stand in your way.”

Throughout the creative process, Powers frequently met with ESPN WNBA producer Rodney Vaughn. He shared her vision of including all sports, starting with little girls, progressing into images of iconic figures and historical moments and culminating with WNBA footage.

“That was the message Olivia and I were trying to get out there, that it is not just about basketball,” Vaughn said. “Yes, it was anchored to an All-Star event of a league that is for women’s basketball. But the message itself spoke to my 12-year-old daughter and other little girls and women.”

After Powers sent him the first draft, Vaughn’s daughter was the first one to view the piece alongside him.

“I wanted her to watch this with me because this is a message she needs to see and needs to hear, that she can be whatever she wants to be,” Vaughn said. “My wife and myself tell her those things, but seeing other women saying that and seeing images of women doing incredible things really resonates more. I am glad I could share that moment with my daughter.”

Powers put the finishing touches on the introduction while balancing her responsibilities at the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas. She worked with her editor, Rabia AlGhani, to ensure her vision stayed true to the message.

All she needed was King’s voice to make everything come together.

With only days to spare, King called to recite the narration. She recorded an extra copy on her cell phone to send just in case.

“You are now in a time that knows no limit, when your impact can resonate far beyond the arena

You can be a leader on and off the court, a storyteller, a humanitarian, a mother

You can achieve all these things, show off your skill, silence the haters and inspire the next generation

All you have to do is play like a girl.”

“It was really powerful. I had to take a second afterward and process that I was just on the phone with Billie Jean King,” said Powers, a former swimmer and basketball player. “She was great. She was very patient and was excited about doing it.”

King’s participation didn’t just lend ultimate credibility to the introduction, it provided a chance to educate the audience on King’s impact on women’s sports and Title IX.

“With her voice, the younger generation can get a history lesson,” Powers said. “I am sure some of them might not know about her yet, and I thought it was important to spark their interest and let them find out who led the way for them.”

Before the All-Star broadcast, Vaughn asked analyst Rebecca Lobo to sit down at the announcing table and put on her headset. He wanted her to watch the final product before the national audience saw it live.

“She hadn’t seen it before and she watched it and said she had goosebumps on more than one occasion and she wanted to see it again,” Vaughn said. “That let me know how incredible of a piece it was. That Rebecca sat there and said it moved her emotionally more than once during a minute and 45 seconds told me everything.”

Powers was in Minnesota for the game, and took a walk outside the arena to help quell any nervous energy a few hours before tip-off.

“One thing that made a huge impact and resonated with me was seeing so many fans wearing jerseys of different teams and players,” Powers said. “That made it feel real to me and exactly how it should be.”

Once the piece aired on ABC, it immediately began spreading on social media. Powers started hearing from friends, family and former teachers and coaches, expressing pride at what she had created.

Not long after, the WNBA production staff received an email from ESPN president Jimmy Pitaro congratulating them on their work and vision for the project.

“It’s really humbling and it shows the type of leadership we have here,” Powers said. “It has really motivated me even more to be better and now look for the next thing I can do to elevate the sport.”