Ever since I was little, l knew that I loved the game. From eighth grade all the way through graduation from my NCAA Division III college, I pretty much obsessed over rankings, new prospects and players of the week, desperately trying to mold my role somewhere in the middle of it.
I remember when the WNBA started in 1997. I was 12 years old. It was a really exciting time for women’s sports. I read books written by big names like Pat Summit and Nancy Lieberman, attended basketball camps regularly, and was a subscribed reader to Sports Illustrated for Women. I knew deep down that I wanted to be a part of the future of the game. So I worked very, very hard as a player.
As I entered my senior year of college and was named team captain, I thought maybe my team could make it to the NCAA National Championships. We certainly had the talent. I thought that maybe I could finally feel that fulfillment that I sought after for my entire life.
Then, a snowball. I came down with mono, and was out of commission for at least a month. This terribly set me back, and I found myself sitting on the bench game after game. I knew my career was over.
For a very long time, I blamed things. I blamed my coach for sitting me, I blamed myself for getting sick. I blamed my fellow teammates for taking my spot, and I even started to hate basketball for getting my hopes up and breaking my heart.
I’ve been done with basketball for over two years. However, it seemed basketball is not done with me.
In an effort to understand online communities, I started writing a blog. I decided to make it about sports, since that’s the only thing that I could speak to with some authority. Little did I know that my blog was unconsciously serving as a medium for me to fall back in love with the sport that I grew up with, and to share that experience with the world.
When the WNBA invited me to attend the 2009 Draft this week, my feelings about basketball started to change. I was brought back stage and met with open arms by players, sportscasters, and even the President of the league. Instead of feeling the pain that I had previously associated with basketball, I felt excitement and a feeling of belonging.
I realized a lot in just two days.
Not only did I see the rich history of the sport (and how little I actually knew about women’s basketball) but I also saw the overwhelming importance of fans to the industry.
Much like many other industries trying to thrive in today’s economy, I saw some subtle yet present fear. Fear that a league, which was built upon an idea that women should have a chance at professional ball, could possible die.
I finally started to see that I have a role in the big picture. Only this time around, I didn’t need sneakers and a jump shot.
Armed with a laptop, a cell phone, a flip camera and an invitation, I found myself falling back in love with the sport that taught me so much about myself.
While I realize that there is much more research to be done, I know that the most important thing we need to do as ex-players, moms and female athletes is to get people to the games and start taking control of conversations.
We need to create one of the biggest word of mouth campaigns that has ever been created – one that will save WNBA and create opportunities for years to come.
With the economy shaving away at the future of the league, the time is now for us to step up to the plate. The WNBA is open to feedback and willing to engage transparently with the public, I believe we can help turn this thing around.
This week, it started to happen. Even though there weren’t many people in that studio, there were hundreds of thousands watching online and tuned in on ESPN2. Reporters, teams, owners and players were active on Twitter, creating conversations and casting opinions. It was so cool that my 14 year old basketball team was sitting on Facebook watching my tweets come through their news feeds. I started to see that conversations could actually happen, among a wide range of people, and it can be exciting and fun.
We just need to rally the troops, get out to the stadiums, and start sharing the incredible stores that are hidden behind the jump shots and the microphones.
This year (and last year) the WNBA chose the slogan of “Expect Great” for its Draft t-shirts. Over the course of this year, I believe that the league should live up to that statement by continuing to engage the public, and they should also “expect great” from us as bloggers and fans.
Because this was such a moving experience, I have more to say, and I can’t fit it all in one post. There is more to come, but for now, I ask that you enjoy my videos and check out my pictures. Notables include video interviews with Nancy Lieberman, Pat Lowry, Carol Stiff and Donna Orender (president of the WNBA). You’ll notice the questions are geared more toward my audience – readers interested in social media and the future of the league. I hope you find as much value as I did.
Please join me in sending a loud “thank you” to the WNBA for inviting me to take part in a special day for such a great league.