It has been said that a picture is worth a thousand words. With that there is no amount of words that can be written, read, or spoken to describe the atmosphere that was the 2014 WNBA All-Star Game this weekend. The Eastern Conference prevailed in overtime after numerous runs, great plays, and individual performances that were awe inspiring.
The Phoenix Mercury hosted the event with three players in uniform, but were not able to celebrate a victory in-front of their loyal fans and WNBA audience that had over 14,600 in attendance.
It was an event.
Shoni Schimmel of the Atlanta Dream, a rookie, led the Eastern Conference down the stretch with some jaw dropping plays that had Markieff Morris, Marcus Morris, and Ish Smith out of their seats every time down the court. Play-after-play the rookie made it known that she was built for this stage. She has the perfect style for an All-Star event finishing with 29 points and eight assists taking home Most Valuable Player honors. Not a starter for her team this season, Shimmel started as an All-Star, and was the All-Star in this event scoring or assisting on 20 of the teams final 31 points.
This has been the Season of Schimmel with her jersey being No. 1, starting in the All-Star Game, and winning the MVP all during a fairly quiet season in Atlanta averaging 7.1 points per game.
Tina Charles (19 points), Tamika Catchings (14 points 13 rebounds), and Angel McCoughtry (13 points 7 rebounds) also chipped for the East in victory.
For most of the game the West was in control of the game behind Skylar Diggins (27 points 7 assists), Brittney Griner (17 points 3 blocks), and Candice Dupree (12 points 8 rebounds). When the East made their run and took the lead the ball went in Maya Moore's (24 points 8 assists 5 rebounds) more than capable hands as she made the tough plays late to sent the game to overtime.
The stars were stars.
The game was live on ESPN2 at an optimal time for viewers around the world to give the league center stage. Sports are taking a breather right now as NBA Summer League and free-agency have more or less ended, football is still in hibernation, and baseball is baseball, a marathon that matters to few in July. You can argue the time slot at 3:30pm EST was not as ideal as possible, but the game was tipped and finished before 8pm and the night starting for most. Kids were able to watch. Advertisers got their message out.
Did the league get their message out?
Before the game WNBA President Laurel J. Richie was all smiles before the game discussing the events of the week and the success of the outreach the league has had with the community. The week was a success when measured in smiles and happiness that the league was able to produce over the course of the All-Star event that spanned from Thursday to Saturday afternoon.
President Richie was excited talking about expansion into the cities of Cleveland and an opportunity with a partnership with the Golden State Warriors.
Right now the 12 team league is operating with five teams in the "black" in terms of revenue and monetary success. Three teams mentioned were the Minnesota Lynx, Indiana Fever, and the Connecticut Sun are currently the teams she was able to verbally verify at the pre-game press conference. That is not surprising considering the fact that the Lynx are tied to the NBA's Minnesota Timberwolves, the Sun are connected to NCAA juggernaut Connecticut Huskies, and the Fever are in Basketball City with the Indiana Pacers. Last year there were six teams at the end, or 50% of the league, operating in the "black."
It is alarming that those three teams are there for the mentioned affiliations, but also because of the fact that Minnesota has won a few championships recently and has the stars. Indiana won a championship and has a few stars. Those teams should be the most fruitful right now.
Authors Note -- Operating in the "black" refers to positive revenue. The article had the information written backwards.
This year they are tracking five teams, or 41.6% of the league, with a few teams "on the bubble" as President Richie alluded to in her press conference.
There is no doubt that for those in attendance this was an event that would have turned even the most despondent viewer of the WNBA into a casual fan. At least when Shimmel or Moore or another star was on TV or coming to town. That is the message that the league wants to get out to the rest of the world that has not bought into the WNBA as a form of entertainment. There are stars.
There are plenty of stars.
The current favorite for league MVP played 16 minutes and then waived a towel in the most exciting game in years. A rookie won All-Star Game MVP. Griner dunked one home to get the fans in attendance on their feet. One of the top 5 players in the world, arguably, Elena Delle Donne didn't even play in the game. There is a lot to like about this league and the All-Star Game was a shinning example of that.
Turning the event into more of an event is a next step for the league. The NBA dominates an entire weekend with skill events, rookie challenges, former stars playing caricature basketball, and more. The WNBA has to find their "dunk contest" to get the fans invested. That is what gets people in-front of their televisions for the NBA All-Star Weekend before the game itself.
What would that event be? Who knows...
Overall the feeling coming out of U.S. Airways Center on All-Star Saturday Night for the WNBA was that the league is excited, exciting, and looking to grow. The underlying theme was teams are not finding financial success, the league is not getting itself in more optimal time slots for viewership, and there is a lot of room to grow.
This is all about the marketing and investment the league is selling to the masses. Did they get their message across to the world? Maybe, they did in Phoenix as nearly 15 thousand people saw one hell of a game.