Basketball is one of the nation’s pastimes. The fanatical support was commonplace on Temple’s campus as Women’s Basketball coach Dawn Staley led her team to a 28-4 overall record last season.
Fan following is cultivated and shared so intensely in basketball that it crosses racial, age and social boundaries. The Women’s National Basketball Association continues to grow as more teams are added to its 13-team league.
“My goal is to let people know about these girls,” Patti Blackwell said. The Baltimore native authored Inspiring Women in the WNBA, a narrative – which came out this past summer – that chronicles the lives of eight accomplished players in the WNBA.
Her motivations were to put the spotlight on a group of talent who haven’t been assigned the same level of recognition as the accomplished Lisa Leslie of the Los Angeles Sparks. Leslie was the first woman to dunk and is the all-time leading scorer, but Blackwell focused on “lesser known people.” The honors were given to WNBA players Debbie Black, Helen Darling, Anna Deforge, Jennifer Gillom, Susie McConnell-Serio, Coco Miller, Kelly Miller and Staley.
Blackwell hopes the book will present these players and the 9-year-old organization they represent in a different light. It’s not as flashy as their counterpart, which colors the opinion of some fans.
“I’m not really into girl’s basketball,” junior Aarron Dillard said. Dillard, a marketing major, said it did not hold his interest. That opinion was echoed by graduate student, Rachel Stewart. She said she admired the strong women, but her preference was elsewhere.
“I’m more into the arts. I appreciate it, but I just don’t follow it,” Stewart said.
The discrepancy in popularity between the NBA and WNBA is also reflected in salaries. According to Blackwell, even the most celebrated players in the women’s league are not receiving the equal pay of lucrative, multi-million dollar contracts. The book reports their wages to be one-tenth of those in the NBA.
Blackwell elaborated that the women often have to leave their families for extended periods of time and travel overseas for endorsements. They also take jobs behind-the-scenes in management and coaching in order to hit the six-figure salary mark. However, despite the disparity, the bottom line isn’t money. None of the interviewees were paid for their stories and proceeds will be going toward charities of their choosing.
“These women deserve a lot of respect for the sacrifices they make in order to make this league a success,” Blackwell said.
The 2004 summer Olympics in Athens placed the gold-winning U.S. women’s team in worldwide spotlight. Their victory provided a new contrast between the competing leagues as the men’s team won bronze.
“I thought that was great because I don’t think the men see it as big of a privilege. It’s more of a given. The women know what they have. They have an appreciation for the whole thing,” Blackwell said.
Dawn Staley, point guard for the Houston Comets and two-time gold medal winner, was chosen to carry the American flag during the opening ceremonies of the 2004 Athens games.
Under her leadership, the women’s basketball team has emerged as a contender in college basketball, winning the Atlantic Ten Conference Championship and advancing to the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA Tournament last year. The team has won championships and high praise, but bringing home another trophy is not a pressure Staley said she feels.
“I don’t feel any pressure because of basketball. It is my passion. You do it because you love to do it,” she said.
However, another championship for Temple wouldn’t hurt according to Staley. “We’re getting ready. That’s the plan,” Staley said.
Stephanie Guerilus can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.