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Tuesday, August 26th, 2008 at 11:56 am  |  34 responses

The Unredeemables

The unheralded existence of a forgotten generation of female ballers.

by Emma Carmichael


Photo credit: Zak Ivkovic

Last week I played in a pickup game with Teresa Edwards, the most decorated basketball player in Olympic history, and Swin Cash, a player with the WNBA’s Seattle Storm who narrowly missed participating in her second Games this year.

As a researcher for NBC Olympics at the New York headquarters, I’d listened to Teresa and Swin call basketball games for the past three weeks or so. Teresa spent a lot of time in the research room at our 30 Rock headquarters, talking hoop and telling stories from her playing days. She played her college ball at the University of Georgia, and went on to compete in five Olympics, earning four gold medals and a single pesky bronze—more medals than any other player in Olympic history.

But few typical sports fans have heard of her.

She was over the hill by the time the WNBA formed, and played just two seasons with the Minnesota Lynx. The bulk of her playing has been international. Over the course of nine years, she played professionally in Italy, Japan, Spain, and France, but never benefited from the comparatively exorbitant salaries and celebrity status that current stars Sue Bird, Diana Taurasi, Becky Hammon and others can find playing in Europe today. Following the Atlanta Games, Teresa helped found the American Basketball League, where she served as a player-coach for three years before the league disbanded.

In short, Teresa never made it. But neither has any female U.S. basketball player.

Not like the star-studded squad that just finished wading its way through throngs of adoring fans in Beijing and cruising its way through the competition and to the gold medal.

For the Dream Team Reincarnated, so-called “redemption” came quite easily. But nothing came easily (and no one seemed to notice if it did) for Teresa Edwards and the other women of her generation. There’s no such thing as redemption if you never got yours in the first place.

The morning of the pickup game, fresh off of a twelve-hour overnight shift at 30 Rock, I went uptown to the Harlem House of Hoop to buy some shoes.

Manhattan’s sneaker temple holds the personal shoe of just about every U.S. men’s basketball player, along with a series of platinum silver-painted figures decked out in Team USA jerseys. I watched some younger boys stare up at the silver ‘Bron and his sculpted triceps. His elevated position made him look like some kind of demigod, soaring above the consumer-mortals in his red white and blue Soldier IIs.

The salesmen laughed when I asked about Taurasi’s new Nikes.

“Nah, no women’s shoes here, not really. But we got LeBrons, Kidd’s Air Zooms, CPs, Kobes, Melos, Wade 3s, and, of course, the brand new Jordans.”

I wandered into a side showroom and cautiously approached the far wall, where a soft, incandescent light glowed from behind the shelves. As I glanced over the selection, already intimidated by the price tags, the new Nike Hyperdunk caught my eye. The company calls it the “lightest and strongest basketball shoe” ever made. One-hundred-and-ten dollars of Vectran fibers and NASA-engineered Lunar Foam that, according to the company, all comes together to “represent the future.”

I remembered that about half of the U.S. women’s team was wearing the same synthetic material in Beijing. But I guess it wasn’t a women’s shoe. The House of Hoop doesn’t carry women’s shoes.

I looked a few rows over and spotted the Air Zooms BB model. I picked it up and stroked the soft perforated black felt and thought about Jason Kidd and Steve Nash, two NBA players who both wear those shoes for a whole mess of money. Neither J-Kidd or Kid Canada were in the store, but the their personal plastic was there to represent both their exceptional talents, and the respect we fans have for them.

The honor was stitched into the lining and etched into the thick rubber grip. Jason Kidd has shoes, so Jason Kidd has made it. You can put down seventy bucks and change for Jason Kidd’s shoes and illustrate that paid admiration for Jason Kidd as you hoop.

Jason Kidd is, indeed, redeemable.

Three hours later I was wearing those Jason Kidd shoes at the John Jay College gymnasium on 59th and 10th, taking a break between games to 16 with two of the best lady ballers to ever play the game. My feet hurt, and three straight 84-hour workweeks meant I was in terrible shape. I was just dogging it.

Plus, my too-big toes were cramping up and the new cloth was boring some nasty blisters into my ankles. F*ck these shoes, I thought, realizing that it was too late to return them. And for a second, sucking air in that no-name gym with that no-name Teresa Edwards leisurely draining threes in my eye every other trip up the court, I also thought, F*ck Jason Kidd.

Of course, that anger is misdirected. I know this. I know that none of them—Jason Kidd or the Redeem Team or the House of Hoop or Nike—none of them owe me, or Teresa Edwards or Swin Cash, a single thing. That team’s Road to Redemption has little to do with what we owe to the forgotten generation of female ballers.

The Redeem Team got theirs. They got their gold medals and that is the story, even if the Other Team won its fourth straight gold a day earlier. It’s true that there’s no such thing as redemption if you never got yours in the first place, but there’s also no such thing as redemption if nobody cared in the first place.

Taurasi may have her own shoes, but I don’t think the House of Hoop, or any of us really, care about her sneaks. Not enough to break them in.

I’m working on breaking-in those Kidd shoes, with the help of some pre-wrap and some athletic tape, but I’ve still got these scabs hanging around. I hope they turn into scars eventually. A few battle wounds to remind me of that game with Teresa Edwards, and the games we’ll never get with the others—our long-lost, Lunar Foam-less, still ballin’ lady ballers.

The Unredeemables.

Emma Carmichael is a member of the women’s basketball team at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York. She can be reached here.

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  • http://www.shawn-kemps-offspring.blogspot.com Eboy

    Emma seems like a cool-ass lady.

    “F*ck these shoes, I thought, realizing that it was too late to return them. And for a second, sucking air in that no-name gym with that no-name Teresa Edwards leisurely draining threes in my eye every other trip up the court, I also thought, F*ck Jason Kidd.”

    That sh*t is pricless!!!

    Really good piece. Thanks for the story Emma.

  • BWB

    First! Great stuff.

  • Connie

    Excellent. Thanks Emma!

  • http://www.ravingblacklunatic.blogspot.com Allenp

    I respect this piece. I was a little miffed that Slam didn’t do more coverage of the ladies team because they were balling hard. Being a female athlete is a tough deal, particularly being a female basketball player. They have to walk a fine line with the feminity expected of all women and the masculinity expected of all athletes. I can relate to that.

  • http://slamonline.com/ Ryne Nelson

    @Allenp: I agree the SLAM women’s Olympic coverage was nearly non-existent. It’s rather fitting for this piece to run on SLAMonline…

  • Stout

    Rad article. How ironic that of all things, the shoe industry is leaving women in the dust.

  • http://www.ravingblacklunatic.blogspot.com Allenp

    When I said Slam, I meant Slamonline. Sorry if that wasn’t clear. I don’t get the mag anymore so I don’t know what was in the actual magazine. I really enjoyed watching the women’s team play and I wondered why the men’s team didn’t have some of the same offensive cohesiveness as the women’s team. Sure, some of it came from playing together longer, but also the women’s team just had better offensive sets with high/low options, back screens and lots of other sets based on movement. Plus, Seimone Augustus is fantastic.

  • http://slamonline.com Khalid Salaam

    excellent work, emma. welcome…

  • http://slamonline.com Lang Whitaker

    Good stuff, Emma. (And I actually have a pair of Diana Taurasi signature shoes in my size somewhere here under my desk.)

  • lane

    As a father to 3 daughters – I find myself in a conflicting state — I think title IX is a joke – but I also want my daughters to be able to play. Problem is women’s sports doesn’t generate any money – and because it doesn’t generate any money how can you support its’ existence? Granted most college sports don’t generate income – from baseball to basketball and even football at some smaller schools — but virtually all men’s sports generate higher revenues than female sports ( save Tenn. , Uconn and some gymnastic programs )… I can understand the feeling — but it is hard to agree with it.

  • http://www.shawn-kemps-offspring.blogspot.com H to the Izzo

    F*ck Jason Kidd indeed.This was really great stuff.I have to say that I enjoyed watching the US womens team a lot more than the men’s team until it got to the semi finals.

  • http://www.alllooksame.com Tarzan Cooper

    great piece emma! maybe you should really try-on shoes before you buy them

  • http://www.alllooksame.com Tarzan Cooper

    emma, did you know swin’s back was f%cked up and she needs surgery?

  • http://dyalekt.com d.Y.

    Dope stuff. I liked the ABL so much better than the WNBA…

  • Diesel

    Slam does NOT need to do coverage of Olympic womens basketball or basketball in general. Why dedicate a media to a sport that no one’s watching? Hasn’t the WNBA lost money for like 12 years straight now? The whole point of watching professional sports is watching players compete on anothe rlevel that most of us will never accomplish. Its no fun for me watching women play knowing that me and 3 guys form my rec league could put togetehr a team to take gold next week. I’d be happy the NBA is even willing to still lose money on the league, let alone pushing for shoe deals.

  • Diesel

    I did, however, like your writting style Emma

  • http://www.ravingblacklunatic.blogspot.com Allenp

    Diesel, you would get a new @sshole from Seimone Augustus. And any team featuring Seimone, Cappie, Diana and Big Syl would stomp you and your friends without breaking a sweat. The WNBA is not on the same level as the NBA but this idea that any semi-competent man could dominate in that league is ludicrous. Seriously, Candace Parker, Taurasi and Seimone or better players than anyone that comments on SLAM’s website. If you disagree with this statement you should die.

  • Diesel

    Allenp you’re an idiot. There is no way in hell I would lose to any of those girls. I can actually touch the rim when I jump. Any team of male players that played at a high Varsity level in high school could beat this team. I’d post candice parkers 125 pound @ss right off the court. You’re a dumb @ss for thinking anything else.

  • http://www.shawn-kemps-offspring.blogspot.com Eboy

    Allen, you realy should be sure of yourself before you wish death on someone. Tisk, tisk. We expect better from you. Seriously.

  • http://www.shawn-kemps-offspring.blogspot.com Eboy

    *really

  • http://www.ravingblacklunatic.blogspot.com Allenp

    Have you watched Candace Parker play? Or Fowles? Did you watch Tina Thompson when the game got rough against the Russians? Yo, you are a fool if you think that you would dominate these female players. I’m willing to bet you don’t dominate old guys at the YMCA. Do you even run on the big court at Run ‘N’ Shoot?….. Eboy, I hope you don’t expect better from me ’cause I’m not holding myself to some higher standard.

  • Diesel

    Yeah Allen I watch them dominate other girls all the time. Actually I do play with the big boys. I’m currently playing basketball at Bradley University. And most of my team mates post on SlamOnline too. So I’m pretty sure your stupid comment about us needing to die if we thought slam posters couldn’t beat a team of WNBA’ers isn’t really valid. You keep being tough in your parents basement on your moms computer though…

  • http://hibachi20.blogspot.com Hursty

    with respect to everything that has been said I would like to add that Lisa Leslie is an arrogant bitch.

  • http://shawn-kemps-offspring.blogspot.com Eboy

    Allen, I do hold you to a higher standard only because I know you’re smarter and more secure in your place in life than that. Diesel, I side with you on this argument, though.

  • DeMarco

    Hey, Emma. Great piece. The kids needed to know about Teresa. I fondly remember her during her UGA days. She was a beast!

  • David

    I always felt like Slam (and Slamonline, to prevent any further controversy) was about covering pure basketball – it’s all about the game from the grassroots to the outdoor courts to national leagues and FIBA. If someone can play well and if they have an interesting story to tell, then I think there’s a place for them in the magazine. That’s what I love about the mag and why I’ve been reading since Larry Johnson could jump. In the last few years I’ve been increasingly interested in the women’s game and I really really enjoyed watching them in the Olympics. It was more coverage than I’ve ever seen of professional female players.

  • B_Easy24

    I Could beat a couple of them chick.

  • http://hibachi20.blogspot.com Hursty

    Larry Johnson was the man. I finally got round to reading the piece and it was niiice. E- Im willing to bet that this year Oak Hill Academy team could beat a WNBA team or St. Patricks or Lincoln or something. We played the North Sydney womens team ( were under 18′s) that plays in a f*cking national league and beat them so theres a big difference. But Tina Thompson looks like stupid with her lippy on though.

  • lane

    When I was at the University of Utah we would scrimmage the now San Antonio Silver Stars all the time and we used to beat them every time. It would be just 5 of us ex-college dudes and we never lost.

  • Katharine Sinderson

    I have heard of Teresa Edwards and I am a British cricket lover! I read about her in Sports Illustrated twenty years ago. The idea that she ‘never made it’ is simply ridiculous. How can four Olympic Gold medals mean anything other than a spectacular success?

  • http://www.ravingblacklunatic.blogspot.com Allenp

    Diesel, my mom’s basement? Lol. It’s funny how cats posting on the internet always fall back on the same trite stereotypes about other folks posting on the internet. If the people who visit message boards are so wack, then what are YOU doing here? Anyway, I’m quite positive that the Women’s USA team would whip the Bradley University men’s basketball team’s butts. I’m not a huge fan of women’s basketball, but I respect their skill level and the skill level of Team USA was high. Now, could your average men’s college basketball team beat your average women’s college basketball team? Of course. But, were not talking about an average team. We’re talking about a collection of players who have all been stars in college and in the WNBA.

  • Blackberry

    Diesel in case you don’t know MOST of the WNBA teams practice against men so don’t be so sure of your game!Oh yeah and being from IL Bradley hasn’t had a great team in some years, and only a couple of NBA players…Candace Parker’s brother being one of them. Ask him about her game LOL.

  • Cold Drank

    Emma is the future of sports writing! I liked the move from talking
    about Teresa Edwards to being in the store looking for gear to playing and getting that ass roasted and finally back to the question of whether our women’s basketball team could ever be cared enough about in the first place to be redeemed if they ever lost. Lots of movement for a relatively short piece. Is Candace Parker doing anything unprecedented for women’s basketball? Do we care more about women’s ball now than we did 4 years ago?

  • Anon

    I know this post is extemely old, but I watched something about a month ago that seems relevant to this discussion.

    The Chicago Sky, which regularly fights for the last place in the WNBA’s Eastern Conference and has yet to make the playoffs since its inception (their only legitimate star being Sylvia Fowles), dominated a group of celebrity “rec league players”. And trust, it was a genuine game where both teams were trying to win. I even recall a few hard fouls by the men’s team. The result?? The women won by like 50+ points.

    I gotta agree with AllenP on this one. The idea that any old group of rec league men can beat, let alone dominate a professional women’s team seems unrealistic. That being said, I do think a really good varsity high school program or D1 college program would take them.

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