In an interview on the Double Clutch podcast last year, Minnesota Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve shared a story about the start of her career in the early days of the WNBA when she was an assistant coach to former NBA star Bill Laimbeer on the Detroit Shock.
“Bill was a great mentor to me and showed me a more professional mindset to coaching compared to college,” Reeve said.
“But I never wanted him to be right about one aspect: He told me ‘women coaches have never coached professionally, and they need to learn from NBA guys’. There are inherent problems there… but a couple of years later, I thought ‘you know what? He’s right. I can’t get this experience unless I’m doing it.’ I was doing the job of an assistant coach, and I was being passed over for head coach jobs by former NBA players, who were not very good at it or qualified to do so. Now, we have a number of female coaches that have great professional experience.”
Reeve’s sentiment could be said about media coverage of sports, not just coaching. But, don’t get me wrong, the last thing basketball needs is more nerdy white guys writing about it. We are everywhere.
Instead, I’m focusing on the latter portions of Reeve’s quote. That is, we too have reached a stage where experienced female journalists are creating content on par, and in many cases, far superior with what has been created by us traditional basketball nerds.
Last week’s article—highlighting some of the best women covering women’s basketball—showed that the media is full of talented individuals who have raised the bar. And women’s basketball is much more welcoming of the media. It thus creates a more trusting environment in which content is more exclusive and creative than anything seen in other leagues.
The problem remains, however, that women are still not getting enough opportunities or recognition. Thankfully, Howard Megdal is among those making it his mission to change that:
“I consider it an explicit responsibility to seek out women’s voices and help mentor and promote them. I aim to make that central to my professional calling in any and all ways I can, from hiring women at High Post Hoops and The IX Newsletter to boosting women in our industry covering things that matter to me. And it never feels like enough, so I’m always looking for ways to expand that reach further.”
Megdal is one of the best women’s basketball reporters in the United States, and this passion is the reason why. He has made a great career writing for the likes of SLAM! and Forbes, and it’s unclear how he finds the time while also running his website, newsletter and being among the biggest advocates for female content creators.
Over on the other side of the Atlantic, nobody knows women’s basketball better than Paul Nilsen. While he focuses more on FIBA competition and European leagues, he has a similar mindset when it comes to encouraging everyone to cover women’s sports.
“I encourage everybody I can to cover the women’s game. I would love more women to cover women’s basketball, but mainly because they are passionate, dedicated and talented. Not because they are ‘the right gender’. If it was mostly women covering women’s basketball in these next years by the way, then I would be happy to be the exception to the rule.”
Nilsen and Megdal have been doing this since women’s basketball was firmly an afterthought. But the WNBA has become more popular in recent years as its players are speaking up about issues in the league, as well as in society and beyond.
The talent level is also reaching news levels, storylines such as Breanna Stewart returning from injury and Sabrina Ionescu entering the league make for great entertainment, and the new Collective Bargaining Agreement has made this year’s free agency the most exciting in the WNBA’s history.
Better promotion, improved play, and entertaining narratives—as well as an ever-improving League Pass app—means the W is attracting new people wanting to cover it, such as TBW’s own Myles Ehrlich.
“I don’t think there was an ‘aha‘ moment,” he said, “but WNBA League Pass was a turning point.”
While Ehrlich has memories of listening to WNBA radio broadcasts in the 1990s, the casual nature of his fandom took a step forward a few years ago.
“Women’s basketball was somewhat of a blind spot for me, due to how I consumed media: I’d see 10-second highlights of playoff games on SportsCenter. I found out League Pass was only $18 or something like that, and as soon as I knew that, I was consumed by it. I hadn’t fallen in love with a new sport in a long, long time, and that level of knowledge absorption is so unique and so engaging for me.”
But even Megdal struggled for information about the sport for a long time.
“It was hard to access,” he says. “I was lucky enough to grow up in Philadelphia, and thus to read Mel Greenberg in the Inquirer on a regular basis, the dean of all women’s basketball coverage. But even so, the gap in knowledge was enormous and pre-internet, there was no real way to seek it out on your own.”
Women’s sport is still harder to find than men’s, and it makes no sense when one ponders the chicken-or-the-egg aspects of the problem. Even as some men will make jokes about how ‘nobody watches the league’ (and then be the same ones to complain when it gets airtime), the above examples from Ehrlich and Megdal show that, even for men, exposure is key to winning fans.
And it’s not like the WNBA makes it hard to appreciate the quality of play. With just 12 teams, the number of elite women in the world far outweighs the 144 spots available in the league.
“There’s nothing across team sports that compares for me,” says Ehrlich. “I can tune into every game knowing there’s a superstar matchup unfolding.”
And it’s not just necessarily exclusive to the WNBA. While the league has a special place in the heart of many Americans, its low salary and slot in the sports calendar means that many of its players also compete in Europe, Australia or Asia between the Fall and Spring months.
During the finals of those respective leagues, the rosters look like All-Star games in the WNBA.
But for Nilsen, it’s more than just star power:
“Women’s basketball is different. The emphasis is on teamwork, shooting and, most importantly, ball movement. I prefer it to the way that men’s basketball moved largely to one-on-one battles all over the court. That is not me dissing the men’s game. It’s just like tennis: Serve and volley for men, or rallies for women. Same sport, but just different. And, I know which I prefer.”
If you need a man to say it’s OK to support women’s basketball, there you have it. People who are exposed to the game see how incredible it can be. And watching children and vulnerable people learn about the game allows you to see how important the sport is.
When you develop that love, there are also a huge number of women covering the game that are producing content to a new standard, and if last week’s article isn’t enough, feel free to follow these three male advocates who can help point you in the right direction.
Huw is a TBW staff writer who grew up in Wales and currently lives in England where he coaches a local basketball team. He loves all sorts of basketball: men’s, women’s, wheelchair, international, good and bad. He has bylines with the NBA/WNBA’s UK broadcast rights partner Sky Sports, has featured on Sporting News covering FIBA events and is a Lead Writer with UK-based basketball website and podcast Double Clutch. You can find him on Twitter and Instagram @coach_huw where he often posts about how Tim Duncan was the best player of his era.