Your Day in Women’s Basketball, August 31: WNBA players return to the court, keep speaking out

WNBA players and coaches continued to advocate for social justice as games resume

The WNBA players powerful strike continued through Thursday, which offered not just the league, but its fans, an extra day to reflect. That is crucial in a time like this: players went to the Bubble hoping to keep the focus on social justice and the Black Lives Matter Movement. For many, basketball resumed as the main focus in their lives. It was paramount that the energy shifted back, and as always, this is what WNBA players were ready to do.

The burden of holding a social justice movement on your shoulders is enormous, especially when the work should not be forced upon marginalized people. But they knew this strike is what will make people listen. So they continue to amplify the Black Lives Matter movement and strive for actionable change.

Sylvia Fowles and Napheesa Collier, who generally address the media individually, paired up to let the basketball community know that for them, basketball no longer comes first.

“I think it’s great that we’re using our platform, because people watch sports more than they know who their local officials are,” Collier said. “It’s just a fact. People are watching their games more than they’re paying attention to the politics in their area.”

Tianna Hawkins of the Washington Mystics was emotional as her team took the court wearing shirts with seven holes painted in the back. Accompanying her was her 5-year-old son Emmanuel, who has been with the team all season. This is who she is fighting for.

Emmanuel became a part of the WNBA’s protest, kneeling in the center of players to “represent an entire generation of Black and Brown children for whom the teams are trying to effect change.”

The Mystics team, along with the rest of us, are inspired by Emmanuel.

“We got this little guy [Emanuel] right here that we see every day,” Ariel Atkins said. “His life matters. He needs to know that he can do what he wants to do whenever he leaves his house when he grows up, within reason … He matters.”

The Connecticut Sun, who were not part of the protests on Wednesday because it was not a game day, wished that they had been there. During their two-day stretch without games, players took time to recuperate, heal, and look ahead.

“It would have been great to be a part of that, but at the same time I’m proud of how the communication spread because we always want to be a very unified group, and you know the way we felt included in those conversations, even though we weren’t there,” Jasmine Thomas said.

Earlier this year, the Connecticut Sun launched the “Change Can’t Wait,” initiative, and players have been advocating in ways that are important to them. Thomas and her teammates have been highlighting Black-owned businesses in the bubble, as well as raising awareness about voting.

Social justice remained at the forefront in Atlanta as well, wherein the postgame interviews, the Dream focused entirely on social justice. Coach Nicki Collen, as well as Betnijah Laney and Blake Dietrick, made sure to keep the energy on social justice initiatives, even after playing 40 minutes of basketball. Seattle Storm players also spoke out, with Natasha Howard and Breanna Stewart leading the way.

Natalie Achonwa, Indiana Fever forward and WNBPA treasurer, continued to use her platform to speak out against injustice. Earlier this season, Achonwa focused on mental health. This weekend, she focused entirely on the killing of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin. She feels empowered by the women around her.

“A lot of my fight and courage comes from like, that moment of being that room and seeing everyone around me and really looking at people and remembering like, ‘she has her kid in this bubble, in the middle of a pandemic. She owns a business. Imani [McGee-Stafford]’s in Law School,’” said Achonwa. “We’re some dope-ass women. Yes, the schedule might be a little hectic but it’s like, ain’t nothing new. We just gotta do a little bit more, but it’s nothing new.”

On the court, the Indiana Fever dropped their third straight game, failing to ride momentum from their win over Seattle (which now feels like years ago). The Minnesota Lynx have emphasized communication since returning and improved to 10-4 over the weekend as they look to grab one of the league’s top seeds.

The Dallas Wings, while having flashes of brilliance this season, have three areas they most focus on if they wish to make the playoffs. The Chicago Sky, meanwhile, have thrived this season but will have to deal with the crushing losses of Azurá Stevens and Diamond DeShields, who are both essential to the team’s title chances. The New York Liberty incredibly won another game this season, and hope to build some momentum as they head into the back half of the season.

The MVP race is extremely tight in the WNBA, with the Sky’s Courtney Vandersloot, the Storm’s Breanna Stewart, and the Aces A’ja Wilson all in the mix for the league’s top honors. To the chagrin of The Next’s Domenic Allegra, it looks like Elena Delle Donne is probably out of the running… since she’s missed the entire season.

Sunday’s Games

The Los Angeles Sparks continued their brilliant brand of basketball, taking their 12th straight game despite a valiant effort from Chennedy Carter in an 84-79 win over the Atlanta Dream.

The Phoenix Mercury held off a comeback from the Minnesota Lynx, winning 83-79 as Skylar Diggins-Smith and Diana Taurasi combined for 48 points.

The Connecticut Sun took one more step toward .500 basketball, as DeWanna Bonner, Alyssa Thomas, and Kaila Charles led a 76-63 win against the Washington Mystics.

Play of the Day

The Los Angeles Sparks refuse to lose.

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