Shoni Schimmel, Atlanta Dream, WNBA, expand on All-Star buzz

Atlanta Dream reserve guard Shoni Schimmel won WNBA All-Star game MVP in her rookie season.

Atlanta Dream reserve guard Shoni Schimmel won WNBA All-Star game MVP in her rookie season.

By Charles Glover, Jr.

As the WNBA enters the last few weeks of the regular season, the Atlanta Dream is trying to capitalize on the momentum from the 2014 All-Star game played this past Saturday. Dream reserve guard Shoni Schimmel set a WNBA All-Star game record with 29 points en route to earning MVP honors as the East won in overtime over the West 125 – 124. Schimmel has seen her popularity surge as her flashy style of play, combined with her Native American background has made her a fan favorite in just her rookie season.

Older sister Nneka Ogwumike (l) had to watch her younger sister Chiney Ogwumike (r) celebrate victory in only the second time the sisters have faced each other.

Older sister Nneka Ogwumike (l) had to watch her younger sister Chiney Ogwumike (r) celebrate victory in only the second time the sisters have faced each other.

The WNBA All-Star game featured many highlights, including the first pair of sisters (Nneka and Chiney Ogwumike), an in-game dunk by Brittany Griner, scoring outbursts from Schimmel and the WNBA second leading scorer, Skylar Diggins. The game winning shot for the East came from 9-time All-Star Tamika Catchings, who has missed the bulk of this season due to injury. The Phoenix crowd was treated to what is likely to be described as the best All-Star game in WNBA history.

Atlanta Dream head coach Michael Cooper guided the East to an overtime victory but received the unfortunate diagnosis of tongue cancer shortly thereafter.

Atlanta Dream head coach Michael Cooper guided the East to an overtime victory but received the unfortunate diagnosis of tongue cancer shortly thereafter.

The East was coached by Dream head coach Michael Cooper, who has been diagnosed with tongue cancer in the past few days, but has helped guide his team to a sizable lead in the Eastern Conference. Cooper is expected to make a full recovery after surgery and will take a leave of absence from the team for at least two weeks. The team will have to learn to adjust as the season nears its end. Schimmel, with her All-Star game and Atlanta Dream teammates Angel McCoughtry and Erika de Souza, have already been tested as they lost an overtime game Tuesday July 22, to last year’s champions Minnesota Lynx.

Maya Moore is hoping her excellent season can translate to continued post-season success for her Minnesota Lynx.

Maya Moore is hoping her excellent season can translate to continued post-season success for her Minnesota Lynx.

The Lynx team continues to be led by WNBA’s leading scorer, Maya Moore, as the team strives to continue its recent championship success. The Dream players made it to the Finals three times in the last four years (’10, ’11, and ’13) but have yet to win it all. Meanwhile, the Lynx  players have been to the Finals the last three seasons and have won twice (’11 and ’13) in that span, defeating the Dream on both occasions. Both teams seem to be on a collision course for the WNBA Finals again-OnPointPress.net.

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

Drake drew laughs, Stuart Scott caused tears, at 2014 ESPY Awards

Music artist Drake (c) was the host for the 2014 ESPY Awards. He was joined on stage  at this moment by the Seattle Seahawks in attendance that won the award for  Best Team.

2014 ESPY Awards host is surrounded by members of the Super Bowl Champions Seattle Seahawks, who won the for Best Team award.

By Charles Glover, Jr.

On July 16, 2014, ESPN aired the ESPYs, the network’s award show for the world of sports. Hosted by musician and former child actor Drake, the award show drew laughter and tears. The host performed numerous sketches, monologues, and presentations that are standard for current award ceremonies but Drake stood out by creating a special song for those who didn’t win an award.

Drake  had skits with a few different people including Tulsa Shock guard Skylar Diggins.

Drake had skits with a few different people including Tulsa Shock guard Skylar Diggins.

The well-dressed crowd was entertained all night by Drake and other stars like Brian McKnight, Blake Griffin, Chris Brown, and Skylar Diggins, who teamed up to perform skits.

Drake made jokes on some audience members including Richard Sherman (l) and Russell Westbrook (r). Both won awards that night as well.

Drake made jokes on some audience members including Richard Sherman (l) and Russell Westbrook (r). Both won awards that night as well.

Drake also poked fun at a number of athletes who were in attendance, such as Lance Stephenson, Russell Westbrook, and Richard Sherman. All those who were mentioned as part of jokes and skits seemed to take everything in stride in what was mostly a light-hearted event.

Michael Sam (r) was presented the Arthur Ashe Award for Courage by Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson (l).

Michael Sam (r) was presented the Arthur Ashe Award for Courage by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson (l).

There were serious moments in the show as well. Michael Sam was presented with the Arthur Ashe Award for Courage by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Sam expressed his appreciation for the award and shared a touching story of how he was able to make a difference in the life of a young woman who gained courage to admit that she is also gay after conversing with Sam.

Stuart Scott (l) gave an emotional speech after receiving the Jimmy V Award for  Perseverance. He is pictured with his daughter Sydni (m) and Peyton Manning (r).

Stuart Scott (l) gave an emotional speech after receiving the Jimmy V Award for Perseverance. He is pictured with his daughter Sydni (m) and Peyton Manning (r).

The emotional highlight of the night might was ESPN’s Stuart Scott’s acceptance speech for the Jimmy V[alvano] Perseverance Award. Scott was presented the award by the star of Scott’s favorite television show, Kiefer Sutherland, from “24”. Scott’s moving speech touched on all the challenges he currently faces while fighting cancer and continuing to persevere for the sake of his family, his daughters in particular. Scott was joined on stage at the end of the speech by the youngest of his daughters, Sydni, 14. Scott concluded his speech stating:

Scott (m) and his daugher Sydni (r) were congratulated on stage by the presenter for the  award, Kiefer Sutherland (l).

Scott (m) and his daugher Sydni (r) were congratulated on stage by the presenter for the award, Kiefer Sutherland (l).

“When you die, that does not mean that you lose to cancer. You beat cancer by how you lived, why you lived and in the manner in which you lived. So live. Live. Fight like hell. And when you get too tired to fight, then lay down and rest and let somebody else fight for you.”

Danica Patrick (l) and Taye Diggs (m) were the presenters for the Male Athlete  of the Year Award that was won by Kevin Durant (r).

Danica Patrick (l) and Taye Diggs (m) were the presenters for the Male Athlete of the Year Award that was won by Kevin Durant (r).

The awards presented to the different winners gave viewers an opportunity to see entertainers from numerous fields in the same setting. The most noticeable awards handed out that night include the Seattle Seahawks winning “Best Team,” Ronda Rousey winning Female Athlete of the Year, and Kevin Durant winning Male Athlete of the Year.

Blake  Griffin (l) and Chris Brown (m) were a part of one of the skits that kept the audience laughing at Drake's (r) expense.

Blake Griffin (l) and Chris Brown (m) were a part of one of the skits that kept the audience laughing at Drake’s (r) expense.

Overall, the ESPYs were entertaining from beginning to end. There was a good blend of levity and solemnity from host Drake and the other stars who graced the stage. If you were unable to catch the show, check your local listings for replays on the ESPN family of networks.–OnPointPress.net–

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

Men’s or Women’s NCAA basketball championship, which is more compelling?

UConn senior guard Shabazz Napier (l) and his head coach Kevin Ollie (r) hope to continue the school's winning tradition on Monday night.

UConn senior guard Shabazz Napier (l) and his head coach Kevin Ollie (r) hope to continue the school’s winning tradition on Monday night.

By Charles Glover, Jr.

On Monday night the Kentucky Wildcats will take on the Connecticut Huskies in the Men’s National Championship. On Tuesday night the Notre Dame Fighting Irish will challenge the Connecticut Lady Huskies in the Women’s National Championship. Both games have intriguing stories that are sure to make the matchups entertaining.

The Kentucky Wildcats freshman Julius Randle (l) and Aaron Harrison (r) will attempt to lead  the school to their second title in 3 years.

The Kentucky Wildcats freshman Julius Randle (l) and Aaron Harrison (r) will attempt to lead the school to their second title in 3 years.

The men’s championship features two schools that have been very successful over the past fifteen years, yet neither team made the NCAA tournament last year. Kentucky features five freshmen, led by forward Julius Randle and guard Aaron Harrison. Harrison has become known for his late game heroics in this tournament. When asked about his confidence late in games he expressed, “You can’t be scared to miss…you want to be the guy that makes all the big shots.”

Connecticut is led by senior guard Shabazz Napier, a member of the 2011 National Championship team which was led by current Bobcat Kemba Walker. Napier displayed confidence in his team as he proclaimed, “We believe in each other and continue to believe…we are going to win. That is what we do.” On the sidelines, Kentucky’s coach John Calipari will be seeking his second national title in three attempts. Meanwhile, Kevin Ollie is in only his second season as a head coach and is already demonstrating his ability to lead the Huskies through difficult situations.

Notre Dame's senior guard Kayla McBride (c) attempts to lead her school to their second ever national title on Tuesday night.

Notre Dame’s senior guard Kayla McBride (c) attempts to lead her school to their second ever national title on Tuesday night.

The women’s championship features two schools that have been among the best over the past several years. Notre Dame gained national exposure when it was led over previous years by Skylar Diggins. However, this year’s team was led by recently injured senior forward Natalie Achonwa and senior guard Kayla McBride. Both players have been members of Notre Dame teams that have defeated UConn several times over the past few season but not in the NCAA tournament. UConn is looking to repeat as champions and win a record ninth national title. Led by junior forward Breanna Stewart, the Lady Huskies are likely to be favored to win as they have championship experience and their main contributors are healthy.

Breanna Stewart will be leaned heavily upon to lead UConn to their record ninth national championship.

Breanna Stewart will be leaned heavily upon to lead UConn to their record ninth national championship.

The University of Connecticut is looking to make history as they can achieve a feat only once completed before (in 2004) in having both the men’s and women’s team win the national title in the same year. Both teams are aware of their unique opportunity. As Lady Huskies guard Bria Hartley describes, “Our men are excited for us and we’re doing the same for them…both teams worked hard this year.” Interestingly, the University of Louisville had a chance to accomplish this feat last year but was unsuccessful. Yet another intriguing reason to watch both national championship games.–OnPointPress.net

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

Women’s team sports still face popularity and financial challenges in the U.S.

The 2013 Women's UConn Huskies got a chance to meet President Obama after winning the NCAA championship last year.

The 2013 Women’s UConn Huskies got a chance to meet President Obama after winning the NCAA championship last year.

By Charles Glover, Jr.

On Monday, March 31, 2014, the women’s University of Connecticut Huskies and Notre Dame Fighting Irish will continue their individual pursuit for perfection this basketball season. With the women’s NCAA tournament underway, both UConn and Notre Dame need two more victories to setup an unprecedented showdown between two unbeaten teams for the national championship. UConn is hoping to repeat as national champions while Notre Dame is hoping to finally reach the zenith in their sport. As phenomenal an event this would be to watch, this potential outcome has generated very little buzz.

Lusia Harris was a groundbreaker in women's sports as college basketball player, Olympian, and NBA draft pick..

Lusia Harris was a groundbreaker in women’s sports as college basketball player, Olympian, and NBA draft pick..

Women’s collegiate sports has seen tremendous advances since the passing of Title IX in 1972 – the federal civil rights law that prohibits sex discrimination in education programs or activities that receive federal assistance. In the wake of the recent ruling that allows for Northwestern football players to unionize, it is helpful to remember the struggles that female college athletes have faced when trying to earn fair opportunities.

In women’s team sports, there have been fewer stars with sustaining power when compared to male team sports. There was momentum building in the mid 1970’s with interest in women’s basketball due to Lusia Harris from Delta State University in Mississippi. She helped bring the sport to the forefront with a silver medal finish in the first ever women’s basketball tournament in the Olympics in 1976. The president at Delta State would later decree a Lusia Harris Day by describing Harris as a “basketball star, world traveler, Olympic medalist, and All-American.” Harris would continue to make history as being the first and only woman officially selected in the National Basketball Association (NBA) Draft by the New Orleans Jazz in 1977. She never played in the NBA but her Olympic exploits helped propel women’s basketball into the next decade.

Nancy Lieberman had exceptional success as a college player, a professional player in multiple leagues, and as a coach.

Nancy Lieberman had exceptional success as a college player, a professional player in multiple leagues, and as a coach.

In the years following Harris there were two women’s college basketball players who gained major interest and excitement, Nancy Lieberman and Cheryl Miller. Lieberman earned the nickname “Lady Magic” as a reference to playing like Earvin “Magic” Johnson. She led her Old Dominion Monarchs to the national championship in 1979 and 1980. Miller, older sister of NBA Hall of Famer Reggie Miller, was the first to make the family name famous while dominating at the University of Southern California.

Hall of Fame player Cheryl Miller was a transcendent player in the 1980's.

Hall of Famer Cheryl Miller was a transcendent basketball player in the 1980’s, who is described in admiring tones by current players.

“That’s something you’d remember forever,” remarked her high school basketball coach, Floyd Evans, as he reflected on the night she scored 105 points in a single game in her senior year.

The NCAA decided to sponsor the women’s basketball tournament in 1982. Miller led the Trojans to the NCAA championship in 1983 and 1984 while being named tournament MVP in both years. Miller also led the U.S. women’s team to the gold medal in the 1984 Olympics. Miller was so dominant in her run at USC that the school retired her #31 jersey in 1986, becoming the first basketball player, male or female, to receive such an honor from USC at that time.

Sheryl Swoopes (l), Lisa Leslie (c), and Rebecca Lobo (r) were part of the inaugural class of the WNBA.

Sheryl Swoopes (l), Lisa Leslie (c), and Rebecca Lobo (r) were part of the inaugural class of the WNBA.

The struggle women’s team sports has had in sustaining popularity for their players who became popular in college is that there were few professional women’s league that had long time sustainability. Things changed in 1996 when the NBA financially supported the Women’s National Basketball League (WNBA). Since its inception, the WNBA has had several women transition from college basketball recognition to WNBA stardom. Lisa Leslie, Candace Parker, Cynthia Cooper, Sheryl Swoopes, Diana Taurasi, and Skylar Diggins represent some of the biggest names to enter the WNBA since 1996.

Julie Foudy (l), Mia Hamm (c), and Kristine Lilly (r) were part of a dominant stretch in women's soccer that included 2 World Cup titles and multiple Olympic gold medals.

Julie Foudy (l), Mia Hamm (c), and Kristine Lilly (r) were part of a dominant stretch in women’s soccer that included 2 World Cup titles and multiple Olympic gold medals.

While women’s basketball continues to have a professional league, it is not the only team sport women have excelled in. The U.S. women’s soccer team has been a powerful force in team sports, gaining immense success since the early 1990’s. They won the inaugural FIFA Women’s World Cup in 1991 and won again in 1999. Also, they won the Olympic gold medal at all but one of the summer games since 1996. Those teams were led by Julie Foudy, Kristine Lilly, and Mia Hamm. Hamm would become one of the biggest soccer stars in the sport. Donna de Varona, chair of the 1999 Women’s World Cup Organization Committee described the period:

“You saw 90,000 people packed in the Rose Bowl Stadium in Pasadena, California…fathers, daughters, families…cheering on these great players.”

Hope Solo's status as one of the most popular soccer players earns her a higher salary than her average contemporaries.

Hope Solo’s status as one of the most popular soccer players earns her a higher salary than her average contemporaries.

While the achievement gap between men and women has closed when it comes to performance in team sports, the gap between financial reward remains far apart. Women’s team sports still struggles to attract the fan base that can bring advertising dollars to their sports. It is clear that the distinction between individual and team sports for women changes the earning potential. For example, the average salary for the U.S. National Women’s Team (Soccer) is $25,000 a year whereas MLS salaries start at $32,000 per year for the men and often rises to the millions.

2013 WNBA MVP Candace Parker is one of the highest earning players in her sport, but her salary pales in comparison to her male counterparts.

2013 WNBA MVP Candace Parker is one of the highest earning players in her sport, but her salary pales in comparison to her male counterparts.

A more extreme example comes in recognizing that the maximum paid salary in the WNBA is $107,000 per year compared to the $30 million Kobe Bryant earned this season in the NBA. There is no doubt that these women are as exceptional in their profession as their male counterparts are in theirs. Hopefully, in the near future, women’s team sports will receive the proper recognition and see their revenue grow to a level that allows for most female athletes to live comfortably in team sports.–OnPointPress.net–

Charles Glover, Jr. is a sports aficionado and 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.