In recent years, the WNBA has become one of the more inclusive leagues in all of pro sports – in big part because of the players. From celebrating LGBTQ+ pride to speaking out on Black Lives Matter and other important topics, many of the world's elite women's basketball players have become true leaders in giving back to the communities they serve. That leadership was seen a lot over the past week, both on and off the court.
Before I explain and get to the numbers, a quick note: voting is now open for the 2019 WNBA All-Star Game. Fans can vote using one of three methods: the player bios on WNBA.com, the WNBA mobile app, or by searching "WNBA All-Star Vote" on Google. You can vote for up to 10 players per day through July 9. More information on the voting process can be found here. This year's event will be held at the Mandalay Bay Events Center, home of the Las Vegas Aces. It will begin with what the league is calling "WNBA All Star Friday Night" on July 26, which will include a Skills Challenge and a 3-Point Contest. Coverage of the event begins that night on ESPN, while the game itself will be broadcast on ABC on July 27.
As for who you should vote for… let's see if the events of last week can help. To the numbers!
16: The number of points scored by three Connecticut Sun players in their comeback win over Minnesota.
I've mentioned balanced scoring several times in my weekly recaps of this young WNBA season. Some teams have done it; others not so much. And then there's the Connecticut Sun, who took balanced scoring to a new level this week. Three players – Shekinna Stricklen, Alyssa Thomas, and reigning Eastern Conference Player of the Week Jonquel Jones – each scored 16 points to lead the Sun to a come-from-behind win over the Minnesota Lynx on June 14. Jones leads the team in several categories, including minutes played per game (30.8), rebounds per game (12.0), and points per game (17.7). But, she's one of four Connecticut players averaging double digits in scoring. If the Sun can keep that balance up throughout the rest of the season, they should have no problem breaking their curse of early playoff exits. Rachel Banham added 10 points off the bench, including a free throw as part of Connecticut's late-game surge, in a matchup that served as a homecoming of sorts for the former Minnesota Golden Gopher.
In other Connecticut news, reserve guard Layshia Clarendon, who identifies as gender-nonconforming and uses she/her pronouns, was featured in a sweet video from Uninterrupted in honor of Pride Month. In it, she gives thanks to The Way Christian Center in Berkeley, CA, who she says helped save her life.
8: The number of points scored by Allie Quigley in a Chicago Sky game... that they won.
Veteran All-Star Allie Quigley began her week with an eight-point and six-rebound performance on June 11. That turned out to be fine for her Chicago Sky, who beat the Phoenix Mercury by seven that night. That's in part thanks to four of Quigley's teammates finishing the game in double figures, including second-year guard Diamond DeShields who had a game-high 25. The Sky are currently on a three-game winning streak and sitting in second place in the WNBA standings. This is in big part because everyone is chipping in in many different ways, not just in the points column. But for what it's worth, Quigley did go on to score 18 points in Chicago's win at Indiana on June 15.
78.57: The percentage of all-time dunks in the WNBA made by Brittney Griner.
If there's one thing that even casual sports fans know Phoenix Mercury star Brittney Griner for – besides her 6'9" frame – it's her ability to dunk. She showed that to more than 10,000 fans in attendance on June 14 during the Mercury's home game against the Los Angeles Sparks.
The dunk came with 4:26 remaining in the third quarter. It was the 11th dunk of Griner’s career, and according to the Mercury, she accounts for 11 of the 14 total dunks ever made in the WNBA. Griner led everyone with 24 points, including the aforementioned dunk, in an 85-68 loss to Los Angeles.
In addition to the dunk, the Mercury's Pride Night game was a night to remember for one lucky couple. I, for one, will take queer Jumbotron proposals any day of the week.
32:11: The amount of time Arike Ogunbowale played in Dallas' first win of the season (and her career).
And she played off the bench. The fifth overall pick also led everyone in scoring with 17 points in the Wings' 71-61 win over the Atlanta Dream on June 15. The win was a come-from-behind victory for Dallas, which only had Ogunbowale and starting guard Allisha Gray (16) in double figures compared to three players scoring more than 10 points for Atlanta. While the Dream won the first quarter by five points, the rest of the game was led by the Wings, who at one time had a 17-4 scoring run in the second half. Both teams will be impacted by players leaving for the EuroBasket Tournament, but I think the Wings have the pieces in place to continue rebuilding their identity anyway.
37: The number of points scored by Amanda Zahui B in the New York Liberty’s win over Los Angeles.
The New York Liberty ended their week with a game similar to the Chicago Sky's aforementioned first game of the week. Liberty star Tina Charles scored just nine points on June 15, but that was more than enough, as Amanda Zahui B finished with a career-high 37 points to lead New York to a 98-92 win over the Los Angeles Sparks. The center's highest mark before Saturday’s game was just 17 points in a game against the Minnesota Lynx in 2016. New York also improved its balanced scoring this week, even with the history-making 100-65 loss they suffered in Las Vegas. The pieces are there for the Liberty, too, to improve after a lackluster 2018.
Now for a story so important in my eyes that I'm going to recap it separately. Washington Mystics guard Natasha Cloud is taking matters into her own hands to help the community her team has recently become a part of.
The Mystics started playing and practicing in the new Entertainment Sports Arena in the D.C. neighborhood of Congress Heights this year, which the Washington City Paper calls "historically underserved." Last week, Cloud visited nearby Hendley Elementary School to read to kids when she learned of three bullets hitting the campus in just the past month, including one last Wednesday that led officials to cancel the school's field day. Cloud was appalled. So, she took to Instagram to call out D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and Ward 8 representative Trayon White.
"When you're talking about changing the culture, when you’re talking about ending the cycle, when you're talking about empowering the community and giving them opportunities, it starts with their education," she said. "And our kids can't even feel safe in our school(s) right now."
After the event, Cloud started planning a media blackout, vowing not to talk to reporters about anything but gun violence in their district if she hadn't heard back from either elected official before last Friday's Mystics home game. As she told ThinkProgress, Washington head coach Mike Thibault, teammate Elena Delle Donne, and the entire squad supported her.
Friday's game was probably one of the most anticipated games all season, as the Mystics hosted the Seattle Storm in a 2018 WNBA Finals rematch. The Storm won 74-71 in a game that was close the entire way. But, as Cloud told reporters after the contest, that wasn't important.
Mayor Bowser has not yet reached out to Cloud about her concerns; White invited Cloud to an "anti-violence block party"... that took place during Friday's game. There's no word on whether the media blackout will continue when the team returns home on June 29, but no matter what happens, I give Natasha Cloud and the Mystics major props for using their platform to try and change the community they serve. More teams should follow suit.
And by the way, the Hendley kids got to have their field day after all.
Coming Up Next
Tuesday, June 18
- Washington Mystics (4-3) at Los Angeles Sparks (4-3): 10:30 PM Eastern [CBS Sports Network]
Wednesday, June 19
- Indiana Fever (4-4) at Atlanta Dream (1-5): 11:00 AM Eastern [Twitter]
- Chicago Sky (4-2) at New York Liberty (3-5): 7:00 PM Eastern
Thursday, June 20
- Phoenix Mercury (2-4) at Dallas Wings (1-5): 8:00 PM Eastern [CBS Sports Network]
- Washington Mystics at Las Vegas Aces (4-3): 10:00 PM Eastern [CBS Sports Network]
Friday, June 21
- Atlanta Dream at Connecticut Sun (8-1): 7:30 PM Eastern
- Indiana Fever at Chicago Sky: 8:00 PM Eastern
- Los Angeles Sparks at Seattle Storm (5-4): 10:30 PM Eastern [CBS Sports Network]
Saturday, June 22
- New York Liberty at Minnesota Lynx (4-5): 8:00 PM Eastern [NBA TV]
- Dallas Wings at Las Vegas Aces: 10:30 PM Eastern
Sunday, June 23
- Washington Mystics at Atlanta Dream: 1:00 PM Eastern [ESPN]
- Connecticut Sun at Chicago Sky: 6:00 PM Eastern [NBA TV]
- Los Angeles Sparks at Phoenix Mercury: 6:00 PM Eastern
- Indiana Fever at Seattle Storm: 7:00 PM Eastern
(Photo: @KelynSoong / Twitter + Washington City Paper)