WNBA Finals feature Chicago Sky vs. Pheonix Mercury, Sunday Sept. 7

The WNBA Finals tips off on Sunday  Sept. 7 at 3:30pm Eastern on ABC between the Phoenix Mercury and Chicago Sky.

The WNBA Finals tips off on Sunday Sept. 7 at 3:30pm Eastern on ABC between the Phoenix Mercury and Chicago Sky.

By Charles Glover, Jr.

The WNBA Conference Finals both went the distance, providing an exciting matchup for the WNBA Finals. Starting Sunday, Sept. 7, the Finals will feature the Phoenix Mercury versus the Chicago Sky. The Sky are hoping to win the franchise’s first title while the Mercury are looking to add their third championship, winning it all in 07′ and ’09.

Brittney Griner was the first WNBA player to dunk in a playoff game. She hopes to win her first professional championship this year.

Brittney Griner was the first WNBA player to dunk in a playoff game. She hopes to win her first professional championship this year.

This is a quick turnaround for both teams as the Mercury and Sky had the first and second picks, respectively, in WNBA’s 2013 draft. The Mercury’s selection of Brittney Griner was a no-brainer and is paying immediate dividends as she was awarded WNBA Defensive Player of the Year for the 2014 season.

Diana Taurasi is seeking her third championship with the Phoenix Mercury, the last coming in 2009.

Diana Taurasi is seeking her third championship with the Phoenix Mercury, the last coming in 2009.

Adding Griner to seasoned All-Star Diana Taurasi has been a boon to the team and helped Taurasi transition from the top scorer in the league to the assist leader this season. The Mercury defeated last year’s champions, the Minnesota Lynx with two convincing wins in the conference finals leading many to make them the favorites to win it all this year.

Brittney Griner (r) and Elena Della Donne (l) were picks number 1 and 2 respectively in the 2013 WNBA draft.

Brittney Griner (r) and Elena Della Donne (l) were picks number 1 and 2 respectively in the 2013 WNBA draft.

Meanwhile, the Sky are being led by their own tandem of a second year phenom and All-Star veteran. Elena Della Donne has quickly become one the WNBA’s best scorers and has had challenging match ups with two of WNBA’s best players during the first two rounds in the Atlanta Dream’s Angel McCoughtry and the Indiana Fever’s Tamika Catchings.

Sylvia Fowles (c) will have to be an overpowering interior presence in order for the Sky to get past Griner and the Mercury.

Sylvia Fowles (c) will have to be an overpowering interior presence in order for the Sky to get past Griner and the Mercury.

The veteran leadership and savvy play of last season’s WNBA Defensive Player of the Year Sylvia Fowles has enabled the Sky to keep games close and grind out tough victories. The Sky evened their series with a narrow double-overtime win in game 2 against the Fever, before closing it out with a blowout win in game 3.

If the SKy are successful and win the championship, their leading scorer  Della Donne will be the likely candidate for MVP.

If the Sky are successful and win the championship, their leading scorer Della Donne will be the likely candidate for MVP.

This best of five series should go the distance as both are evenly matched. They both have talented perimeter players and an intimidating interior defensive presence. The series will likely come down to which team can better execute down the stretch of close games.

The 6’8″ Griner will have her hands full with the 6’6″ Fowles. The deciding factor will be either the 6’0″ Taurasi’s ability to use her size to create for others or how the 6″5″ Della Donne can create mismatches with her ability to create for herself. Look for the Sky to win this series in 5 games as they take advantage of their length advantage on the front line.–OnPointPress.net–

Charles Glover, Jr. is a sports aficionado and a management training consultant. Follow me @OpenWindowMES on Twitter.com.

Chicago Sky upset Atlanta Dream; WNBA semifinal matchups set

Elena Della Donne leads the Chicago Sky to the Eastern Conference Finals  with 34 points in game 3.

Elena Della Donne leads the Chicago Sky to the Eastern Conference Finals with 34 points in game 3 on Tuesday, August 26.

By Charles Glover, Jr.

The Chicago Sky overcame a 20-plus point deficit to stun the Eastern Conference favorite Atlanta Dream and eliminate them with an 81 – 80 victory Tuesday night. The Sky will advance to the second round of the playoffs, winning the series 2 – 1, both victories occurring in Atlanta.

Elena Della Donne (l) and Angel McCoughtry (r) both had fantastic performances throughout the 3 game series.

Elena Della Donne (l) and Angel McCoughtry (r) both had fantastic performances throughout the 3 game series.

The star of the game was the Sky’s Elena Della Donne who went off for a playoff career high 34 points, 17 in the fourth quarter, including the game winning shot with 8.2 seconds left in the game. The Sky outscored the Dream 30 – 13 in the final quarter to seal the upset victory. Della Donne shared the credit after the thrilling win stating, “When we were in huddles and I was looking at my teammates, everyone had that look in their eyes like we’re not ready to leave, we’re not ready to go home.”

McCoughtry was able to lead her Dream past the Sky in game 2 but fell just short in game 3.

McCoughtry was able to lead her Dream past the Sky in game 2 but fell just short in game 3.

The Dream’s Angel McCoughtry, who led her team to a game 2 win with 39 points, was only able to muster 17 points in the series finale. McCoughtry’s game winning attempt bounced several times on the rim before eventually clanking off in the end. Dream head coach Michael Cooper characterized game 3 like boxing saying the game was Like a Muhammed Ali – Joe Frazier fight…sometimes your great players can will you to win. Just like in game 2 where Angel [McCoughtry] brought [the victory] to us, Della Donne came in tonight and brought [the victory] to them.”

The loss brings to a close what was a promising beginning for a Dream team that has been close to winning a championship the past few seasons. The emergence of rookie Shoni Schimmel in the WNBA All-Star game seemed to be the peak for the team this season as they look to regroup and build on this season’s progress.

WNBA superstar Tamika Catchings is hoping to lead the Indiana Fever back to the WNBA Finals.

WNBA superstar Tamika Catchings is hoping to lead the Indiana Fever back to the WNBA Finals.

Meanwhile, the Sky advance to the Eastern Conference Finals to take on the Indiana Fever, led by former league MVP Tamika Catchings. The Fever dealt with injuries all season long but finally seem to be healthy. While the Della Donne versus Catchings matchup will be key in the series, the impact the Sky’s Sylvia Fowles on the interior and the Fever’s Briann January on the perimeter will play pivotal roles in the outcome of this best of 3 series.

Diana Taurasi (l) and Brittany Griner (r) hope to lead the Mercury to an upset over the defending champion Minnesota Lynx.

Diana Taurasi (l) and Brittany Griner (r) hope to lead the Mercury to an upset over the defending champion Minnesota Lynx.

The Western conference finals will feature the defending champion Minnesota Lynx and the star-studded Phoenix Mercury. Brittany Griner and Diana Taurasi look to lead the Mercury into Minnesota and upset Maya Moore, Seimone Augustus, and company as their best of 3 series begins Friday night.

Maya Moore (l) and Siemone Augustus aim to defend their championship and make a 4th consecutive WNBA Finals.

Maya Moore (l) and Siemone Augustus aim to defend their championship and make a 4th consecutive WNBA Finals.

Of the four teams remaining, the Sky is the only team that has not yet played in the WNBA Finals. The Fever are looking to capture their franchise’s 2nd title (’12). The Mercury are seeking their franchise’s 3rd title (07′ and ’09). The Lynx are also looking to add a 3rd franchise title (’11 and ’13) and make their fourth consecutive Finals appearance. Any WNBA Finals matchup should make for more exciting playoff action.–OnPointPress.net–

Charles Glover, Jr. is a sports aficionado and a management training consultant. Follow me @OpenWindowMES on Twitter.com.

WNBA struggles for ratings, fans, attention and clout

The 2013 WNBA Finals features two of the best players in the league in the Dream's Angel McCoughtry (l) and the Lynx's Seimone Augustus (r).

The 2013 WNBA Finals features two of the best players in the league: The Dream’s Angel McCoughtry (l) and the Lynx’s Seimone Augustus (r).

By Charles Glover, Jr.

The finals for the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) began Sunday night and continues tonight on ESPN2 for a best of five series. This year’s WNBA Finals features two teams that have gone the distance multiple times over the past few seasons in exciting games. The familiarity of the Minnesota Lynx and Atlanta Dream among WNBA fans, barring any distraction, should generate more interest than previous playoff games. This rematch of the 2011 WNBA Finals has the intrigue of two teams with something to prove because the Lynx lost year’s championship and the Dream lost in 2011.

The inaugural WNBA season featured Sheryl Swoopes (l), Rebecca Lobo (c), and Lisa Leslie (r) who emerged as stars after the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.

The inaugural WNBA season featured Sheryl Swoopes (l), Rebecca Lobo (c), and Lisa Leslie (r) who emerged as stars after the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.

But good ratings, fan interest and clout are not guaranteed for the WNBA Finals. The WNBA has struggled to grow beyond a niche sport in America despite the international appeal of women’s basketball. America’s female Team USA basketball exploded on the national landscape with a dominating performance in the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. The excellence that team displayed, along with the charisma of such stars as Lisa Leslie, Sheryl Swoopes, Rebecca Lobo and countless others helped create the momentum to start the American Basketball League (ABL) in 1996 and the WNBA in 1997. By 2000, the ABL folded and of the combination of the two leagues’ best players helped the WNBA continue to grow. The WNBA was considered unique because it was the only women’s basketball league to have the backing of the National Basketball Association (NBA). Early WNBA franchises had an NBA team equivalent. However, the WNBA has since grown to have several individually-owned teams.

The WNBA hopes the sport can continue to grow with the influx of notable college stars like this past season's rookie class featuring Brittany Griner (l), Skylar Diggins (c), and 2013 Rookie of the Year Elena Della Donne (r).

The WNBA hopes the sport can continue to grow with the influx of notable college stars like this past season’s rookie class featuring Brittany Griner (l), Skylar Diggins (c), and 2013 Rookie of the Year Elena Della Donne (r).

The WNBA has players that have continued to grow their popularity that began in college. But the league faces numerous challenges, starting with the low salaries paid to the players. WNBA salaries range from $37,950 per year for players in their first three years, to the maximum amount of $107,000 per year for players with more than six years’ experience. The brevity of the WNBA season, roughly 5 months, gives players opportunities to improve their game and grow their brand by playing in international leagues. Of the many players who take advantage of this opportunity, the most well-known is 2013 WNBA MVP Candace Parker who has played since 2009 for a professional team in Russia. These extra chances to earn are sometimes necessary since most WNBA players do not have large endorsement deals or alternative revenue streams from cross-branding  ventures.

Women’s basketball has been dominant in the World Games and Olympics since the 1990’s and women’s college basketball has continuously generated stars that eventually graduate to the WNBA. However, these developments have not translated into continuous popularity growth for the WNBA. This year’s finals features a Minnesota Lynx team that has made the finals in three consecutive years. Their opponents, the Atlanta Dream, have made it to the finals for the third time in the past four years, which is significant for a franchise that began in 2008.

Angel McCoughtry (l) and Maya Moore (r) were summertime teammates for the 2012 Olympics, now they're adversaries in the 2013 WNBA Finals

Angel McCoughtry (l) and Maya Moore (r) were summertime teammates for the 2012 Olympics, now they’re adversaries in the 2013 WNBA Finals

The highlights of this 2011 Finals rematch are expected to be given by the stars of both teams that recently led Team USA to another gold medal in the Olympics. Lynx teammates Seimone Augustus and Maya Moore are both former Women’s College Basketball Players of the Year. Augustus, Moore, and the Dream’s star Angel McCoughtry have won the WNBA Rookie of the Year award (in 06’, ’11, and 09’, respectively) and Augustus was 2011 WNBA MVP. It will be interesting to see if the Dream can reverse their fortunes from 2011 and capture the franchise’s first title or if the Lynx will rebound from last year’s Finals loss and regain status as the WNBA’s best team.

Serena and Venus Williams are two of the most accomplished female athletes of all time and most marketable as well.

Serena and Venus Williams are two of the most accomplished female athletes of all time and most marketable as well.

Like most women’s sports, the WNBA is aiming for excellence among the players to translate into increased interest in the game. Most women’s sports realize that it takes more than outstanding play to spark the kind of interest that generates large monetary rewards such as more advertisements, endorsements and branding opportunities that will increase revenues for the players and the franchises. Few female athletes have become as marketable or successful as the Williams sisters, who have been able to translate their on-court success to arenas outside of their sport.

The WNBA would be wise to implement many of the cross-branding measures that the Williams sisters continue to use. This would require a change in mindset, approach and an overhaul of the WNBA’s business model. The early era of the WNBA benefited from the players having cameo appearances in movies and television. TV Sitcom Martin and sports movie “Love And Basketball” were great chances for women’s basketball to be portrayed favorably in mainstream media. If aggressive actions are not taken to address the way the WNBA product is delivered, the game could continue to struggle for ratings, fans, attention and clout, despite the excellence of the product itself..-OnPointPress.net

Charles Glover, Jr. is a sports aficionado and management training consultant.