WNBA rides the wave and takes center stage as it welcomes star players in 2024 draft 

OPINION: Can’t wait to see Kamilla Cardoso and Angel Reese team up against Caitlin Clark – among others – beginning in May.

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

“Who got next?”

That’s your inquiry when arriving at a pickup game in progress. Then you ask if spots remain on the upcoming team(s). If not, it’s your moment to make the game’s most declarative off-court statement:

“I got next.”

The words hit harder in basketball because just five players make a team. With the right sensational baller and three solid role players, y’all might run the court for a while. All you have to do, personally, is not suck. 

Players selected Monday in the WNBA draft didn’t worry about inhibiting their college team. They helped drive interest and raised excitement over the last two seasons, leading to record TV ratings for the NCAA tournament. This year, the women’s title game drew more viewers than the men’s title game, an unprecedented feat. The women’s tournament also set an all-time total attendance record for the second consecutive season.

I’ve been right there, too, extending my viewership to Monday night’s TV production. Aside from learning the next stop for familiar players like South Carolina’s Kamilla Cardoso and LSU’s Angel Reese (both headed to Chicago), I don’t find draft shows particularly interesting. But I’m a sucker for the emotion on display when young adults achieve a childhood dream, surrounded by family and friends.

The ‘fits weren’t bad looking, either.

Women ballers are having their moment in college and it’s expected to continue in the pros. The Indiana Fever, which selected Iowa’s Caitlin Clark with the No. 1 pick, will play 36 of its 40 regular-season games on national TV, ensuring maximum exposure for the sport’s Pied Piper. An ESPN analyst predicted record ratings for Clark’s debut on May 14 and her first games against powerhouses Las Vegas and New York. 

Viewership for the Indiana-Chicago on June 1 should be off the charts as well, as Clark squares off against Reese. WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert has compared the upcoming season to 1979 when the NBA swelled in popularity after adding Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. 

Clark and Reese have the potential to create a similar surge for the WNBA, which last year enjoyed its most-watched season in 21 years. “This is our Magic-Bird moment,” Engelbert told USA Today.

I recently wrote that Reese should return to school and work on her game, but clearly, I’m an idiot. She was picked seventh overall and immediately cloaked herself in humility, acknowledging the challenges ahead in facing grown-ass women. Dominating another year in college would’ve been easy, but …

“I wanted to start over,” she said Monday. “I feel like I had been at a high since the national championship, and I want to hit rock bottom. I want to be a rookie again. I want to be knocked down by vets, and I want to be able to get up and grow and be a sponge.”

Unfortunately for most college stars, including some drafted this year, there aren’t enough opportunities to go around. The WNBA has just 12 squads and a total of 144 roster spots; many teams carry just 11 players due to salary cap rules. Only seven players from the 2021 draft remained on WNBA rosters shortly before last season tipped off.

The No. 1 pick in 2021 (Charli Collier) was among the draftees without a job in 2023. Engelbert said the WNBA is “pretty confident” it will expand to 16 teams by 2028, creating opportunities for more players. In the meantime, we can expect a flood of marketing and promotion, with Clark at the fore.

Judging by the media’s incessant drooling over Clark, some folks think women’s basketball barely existed before she came along. Her shooting and playmaking ability are exceptional, indeed, and the main draw for hordes of new fans. But she’s doing her part to educate those whose knowledge of the sport dates to Iowa’s games against South Carolina and LSU the last two years. 

“We really have to look back at the women before us, and I know people keep saying this is a historic draft class, but there were many, many talented draft classes before us,” Clark said Monday. “I just want to give my props to the Dawn Staleys, Sheryl Swoopes, Lisa Leslies because they are why I’m here because I watched them growing up. I just hope that I can continue that legacy for younger girls.”

The women “got next.”  

Can’t wait to see what they do on the court.

Deron Snyder, from Brooklyn, is an award-winning columnist who lives near D.C. and pledged Alpha at HU-You Know! He’s reaching high, lying low, moving on, pushing off, keeping up, and throwing down. Got it? Get more at blackdoorventures.com/deron.


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