Can the '3 to See' Galvanize the New WNBA?
The WNBA began its 17th season of play over Memorial Day weekend. That's about 16 seasons longer than early skeptics gave the league. But lo and behold, women's basketball is alive and kicking. And with the infusion of fresh talent, namely phenom Brittney Griner, the league holds tantalizing promise this year,
Sadly, we're winding down daily sports coverage on this site, just as the most exciting WNBA season ever begins play . Already, dramatic storylines are emerging, amplified by the social media presence of the new class of players who naturally engage their demographic. If you don't already follow Twitter queen @SkyeDigg4 (400K followers), you really should. And Griner, who used to keep her Twitter and Instagram profiles private, has hordes of loyal followers who publically defend her against haters and cyber bullies.
3 to See: What makes this basketball season so special? The aforementioned Brittney Griner, along with Elena Delle Donne and Skylar Diggins, numbers 1, 2 and 3 of the 2013 WNBA Draft. These players are the celebrated "3 to See," Even before the regular season began, the media buzz surrounding this talented trio was electric. Each brings something different to a league that embraces their unique talents and eclecticism.
Griner is the 6-8 center from Baylor (check out her new website here) who is extensively profiled in this month's ESPN The Magazine. Buzzfeed lists the '13 Moments Brittney Griner Stole Our Hearts' in that profile and it's easy to see why she is such a media magnet.
Griner is joined by Delle Donne, the 6-5 forward out of Delaware and Notre Dame grad Diggins, who boasts extraordinary on and off-court savvy, to headline the most anticipated rookie class in the history of the league. Other stars such as Candace Parker, Diana Taurasi,Tamika Catchings and Maya Moore came into the league with similar fanfare, but this year's group is grabbing the spotlight and helping to raise the marketing bar in unprecedented ways.
When Griner (BG to friends and teammates) was drafted No. 1 overall by the Mercury Phoenix, observers likened her arrival to that of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar hitting the NBA back in 1969. Like Jabbar, she's one of a kind who dominated college play. Height: 6-8, Shoe size: 17 (men's), Wingspan: 86-inches, NCAA record 736 blocked shots, undefeated 40-0 National Championship season her junior year at Baylor, three-time First Team All-American, and 18 career collegiate dunks. The women's game simply hasn't seen a player who can run the court like a guard and employ a back-to-the-basket, spin-move, two-handed slam dunk. To the delight of fans, Griner slammed a couple of dunks in her WNBA debut. The basketball star, who publically came out during the draft, is also an outspoken advocate for LGBT issues. And she's such a dominant player, there's even been discussion of her playing in the NBA.
"Griner's arrival coincides with intriguing new research about WNBA fans...People who support the WNBA have progressive views on gender. "They share the ultimate goal of living in a world where gender equality exists in all its forms," says league president Laurel Richie. The WNBA has been building toward the emergence of a player who can embody this philosophy, and now here she is..." - ESPN The Magazine
Griner, however, is not the only shining star. Delle Donne's talents have never been in doubt but her road to the WNBA (drafted #2 by the Chicago Sky) was a bit rocky. A McDonald's All-American coming out of high school, UConn landed the highly-coveted recruit. After just a few days in Connecticut, however, Delle Donne left UConn (and an almost guaranteed national championship) to be closer to her older sister, Lizzie, who suffers from cerebral palsy and is also blind and deaf. Delle Donne eventually made her way back to the court at the University of Delaware where she led the the Blue Hens to their first-ever NCAA tournament wins. At 6-foot-5, Delle Donne's ball-handling skill, three-point range and post-up moves put defenders on notice and she had the best debut of any of the "Three to See" with 22 points, 8 rebounds and the victory over Griner and Phoenix.
Diggins, drafted No. 3 overall by the Tulsa Shock, broke ground when she became the first WNBA or NBA player to sign with Jay-Z's Roc Nation, which is working in conjunction with powerhouse talent-rep firm Creative Artists Agency. When Diggins graduated earlier this month, Roc Nation rewarded her with a Mercedes Benz and the promise of mega-marketing deals to come. Diggins followed up her first WNBA stat line (15 points, 3 assists) with 9 points and 11 assists in her home debut - an overtime loss to the Mystics.
The WNBA also introduced a new brand identity this year. Highlighted by a new, more modern "Logowoman" the new branding feels more contemporary and the league is revitalized as we head into the 2013 season. ESPN2 aired both Griner's and Diggins' first games nationally on Memorial Day, a sign of things to come on the TV scheduling
Will the momentum and exposure of the '3 to See' pay off in terms of viewership and attendance? Has the WNBA finally gone mainstream? Will YOU tune-in to see the new WNBA season and dunks like this?