The WNBA playoffs are off and running with a quartet of teams still in the hunt for the only thing that matters now – a WNBA championship.
The defending champion Las Vegas Aces, led by Defensive Player of the Year A’ja Wilson, began the season with an unprecedented start and have remained at the front of the pack all season. You can’t count out the New York Liberty or the Connecticut Sun, each having shown the kind of promise and proven body of work that speaks to their title-worthy rosters and aspirations. New York’s Breanna Stewart was named the league’s MVP this season, with Connecticut’s Alyssa Thomas finishing second.
And don’t forget about the Dallas Wings, led by high-scoring guard Arike Ogunbowale and the league’s most improved player, Satou Sabally.
Breaking it all down is ESPN analyst LaChina Robinson, host of the “WNBA Countdown” show who is now in her 16th season covering the ‘W. She spoke to BET.com about where the league is going this playoff season.
BET.com: The viewership numbers for the WNBA, particularly in the playoffs, are trending in the right direction. What do you think is driving this increased attention being paid to the league?”
LaChina Robinson: I feel like the momentum has been building year after year after year for the WNBA. We’re seeing it play out in the numbers, ratings, merchandise sales, social media impressions … in so many different ways. The level of play continues to rise.
These are 144 of the best women athletes in the world. And somehow, year after year, they raise the bar in terms of the level of play on the court. This year, we had 13, 40-point games which is a record; 13 triple-doubles which is a record. So I always point to the product; you always have to have something to sell, you have to have something that brings people to the arena, that makes them want to buy jerseys. And I’m lucky to sit courtside and watch these women play night after night. Also, when it comes to the overall growth, media exposure has increased so much since I first started covering the league 16 years ago. And the last thing I would say has been important to this explosion of WNBA popularity, is investment by brands and companies.
The money that goes into these commercials and the billboards and all of that has to do with some of these companies going into their boardrooms and say, "This year we’re going to bet on women.” We’re seeing more of that. The needle is finally starting to move.”
BET.com: As you mentioned earlier, you have been part of the WNBA in some capacity for 16 years. What was your motivation to be a part of the WNBA media?
Robinson: “Part of the reason why I wanted to start covering the WNBA was I love the game of basketball. It has meant so much to me and my career. But I also saw an opportunity to give Black women more visibility. I wanted to invest my career in this platform. A majority of the women in this league are Black which oftentimes, in my opinion, means that they are not going to get the same dollars, they’re not going to get the same media exposure and I wanted to help change that.”
BET.com: OK, now it’s the moment of truth. Who’s going to be the last team standing?
Robinson: “You know what? My heart tells me it’s going to be either New York or Vegas. Those two teams are so well matched. They do have different playing styles; their strengths are different. But if you were to put all that down on an excel spread sheet, the total would be the same on each side. Yeah, I just think it’s a clash of the Titans in a finals series we’ll never forget. Now the regular season was not what we expected. There were some blowouts. It took New York a while to get going. So, when there’s a trophy in the waiting, a championship crown, we’re going to get some of the best basketball that we have seen in a WNBA Finals in a very long time.