The WNBA’s Immeasurable Impact
For Jenny, 10, it’s her entire world.
In spite of her best efforts to suppress it, a tear slowly began streaming down her face.
“Shit,” I thought, feeling like an ass. “I didn’t mean to make her cry…”
Sensing my feeling of despair, Jenny’s mom, Gloria, cracked a smile.
“It’s alright,” Gloria said, beginning to chuckle. “Thank you for saying something. Most people don’t.”
Phoenix, AZ – A few minutes before the visiting Charlotte Bobcats tipped off against the Phoenix Suns at US Airways Center last Saturday, I suddenly felt it was vitally important that I have some cookie dough ice cream.
I was there covering the game for an upcoming article in the next issue of SLAM. I dropped my laptop off at the press box and made a beeline for Cold Stone Creamery. Yes, there is one inside the arena and it’s a delicious gift from heaven.
Something you should know about me to put this story in context: Aside from my career, I tend to avoid human contact and/or interaction whenever possible. I’m kind of like Sheldon from “The Big Bang Theory.” Whether I’m exceedingly shy or just downright lazy doesn’t really matter anymore.
While in line, I glanced over to my left and noticed a young girl, maybe ten-years-old, with a Los Angeles Sparks WNBA jersey on.
“Odd,” I thought. “Don’t really see many WNBA jerseys at NBA games, much less a Sparks one in Phoenix.”
I brushed it off, not thinking anything more of it.
I had been in line for Cold Stone for what seemed like 52 minutes. Rather than make an attempt to converse with someone (again, I’d rather stab myself in the eye with a rusty fork), I continued to refresh my Twitter account on my BlackBerry.
“I think I’m going to get cookie dough,” said a random voice next to me.
“Yeah, me too,” I responded internally with a sarcastic tone. “That is, if the line ever starts moving.”
That’s when I saw it was the same little girl with the Candace Parker Sparks jersey on. She didn’t have any hair and was having a noticeably hard time keeping her balance without help from her mom.
My heart sank. Cancer. Has to be. Damn. And I’m complaining about standing in line for ice cream. I suck.
I mustered up some courage and glanced her way.
“Yes!” she responded, without hesitation. “She is my favorite player.”
I introduced myself to her (Jenny) and her mom, Gloria. I mentioned that I cover the WNBA for a living and made sure that they knew how cool of a person Candace is.
The look of joy and appreciation on Jenny’s face is still impossible for me to articulate.
“It has been a rough year,” Gloria began, trying to sound upbeat. “Jenny just turned ten a couple months ago and was diagnosed with Leukemia shortly after. She just finished up lengthy round of chemo and radiation. But she’s doing well and we are so proud of her!”
Gloria’s eyes began to well up. She had to bite her lip to keep from showing any further emotion. I didn’t pry, but it certainly didn’t seem like the battle was over for Jenny.
“Well, you look fantastic,” I said to Jenny. “Candace is amazing. Have you seen her dunk?”
“Yeah, but I don’t really care about that,” Jenny said, effectively shutting me up. “Dunking is fine but that’s not why I like her. She is just so much fun to watch. I like how happy she seems when she plays. She’s also a good mom.”
Wow. Just…wow. How do you respond to that?
“Candace Parker and really the entire WNBA has helped Jenny during some tough times,” Gloria relayed. “She identifies with the underdog and fighting spirit.”
“You’re absolutely right,” I said. “And, you know what? I had cancer when I was 14 and I’m doing just fine. Stay positive and keep fighting, alright?”
Jenny smiled but Gloria couldn’t fight the tears any longer. As quickly as it began, it was over. The entire conversation couldn’t have lasted more than 45 seconds but it’s something I’ll never forget.
I’m not naïve; I get that pretty much everything in our lives is governed by the almighty dollar. I know the WNBA doesn’t rake in a ton of money and it’s not near the level of the NBA in terms of popularity. But it gets increasingly hard for me to understand why people relish in the thought of seeing it fold or fail.
After it was tragically announced that Women’s Professional Soccer would suspend its 2012 season, I received over a dozen emails from individuals expressing their hope that the WNBA would soon do the same.
Here’s one of the more colorful emails I received:
“Hope you saw that WPS folded today. Serves them right those b—–s. You watch the WNBA is next and I don’t want to ever see them on my TV again. F—k them. I hope you get fired and that people see the WNBA is just takeing [sic] money from the NBA.”
Would the dissolution of the WNBA really make people happy? Why?
Like Women’s Professional Soccer, the obvious goal for the WNBA is to be profitable – and it’s slowly getting there. Still, the WNBA isn’t and shouldn’t be a charity case. Of the 12 teams in the league, seven are now independently owned. In spite of what many people in the media lead others to believe, there are influential people who not only believe in the product, but also its potential.
I suppose until the day comes when each of the WNBA’s teams are self-sustainable, the way the league and its players inspire millions of young girls like Jenny will just have to suffice.