The recent history of women’s college basketball includes a handful of ‘phenoms.’ Players who went above and beyond in their collegiate careers, creating waves of fans wherever they went.
While she never got the opportunity to win an NCAA tournament title like some of the others on that list, she did so much more in her time as a college athlete. She became the first player in NCAA history to have 2,000 career points, 1,000 career rebounds, and 1,000 career assists, the second player in NCAA history with 2,000+ points and 1,000+ assists, and the NCAA all-time triple-double leader with 26.
I personally loved watching her play. The way that she was able to effortlessly maneuver around the court and play in a way that allowed her to produce, but also a good teammate was truly unique. Ionescu’s legendary career at Oregon led me to almost attend school there. She put Oregon basketball back on the map for me, along with so many others. So, watching her play and create such success, I didn’t understand why I’d see people online or on television criticizing her alongside women’s basketball as a whole.
Sabrina and The Women’s Game
As I have gotten older, the reason has become more and more apparent. Women’s sports are just better.
I’m kidding —maybe, but the reality is women’s sports are just different. There are different levels of intensity, dedication, and skill. Watching women’s college basketball growing up made this all very apparent, but watching the WNBA today has heightened that.
When it was time for the 2023 WNBA All-Star Game, I was pretty excited as some of my favorite players were set to compete in the 3-point competition. When Ionescu took her place center stage in the final round of competition, the energy within the arena immediately shifted. Something was different.
We all know what happened next.
Ionescu’s historic performance in the three-point competition sparked more than just praise, reigniting an already potent flame beneath the WNBA vs. NBA discourse. Social media platforms like ‘X’ erupted. The flames only grew, and posts like this were everywhere.
relax lil bro, shooting a kids ball from nba free throw range don’t count
— atake (@atakee6) July 15, 2023
This discourse, one that Ionescu had an advantage or simply was cheating, is rooted in sexism and is part of a larger phenomenon that fights to prove superiority inside an issue that is beckoning to prove equality. Because this conversation is so deeply rooted in sexism, I don’t think it’s fair to compare the ‘W’ to the NBA.
That’s why when it was announced Sabrina would be facing Stephen Curry at the upcoming NBA All-Star game, I was not excited.
Ionescu vs. Curry
Curry is nothing short of a basketball legend. He has a name that holds such a large status that it exceeds the basketball world. People all around the world know his name. Little kids pick up basketballs and start playing the game due to aspirations of being somewhat like him. ‘Him.’ The name, the life, the legend. No disrespect to him, but this is exactly why I don’t think this upcoming battle is a good idea. This competition holds the weight of so much more than ‘Sabrina v Steph’ but rather the weight of the whole WNBA. Ionescu, in her current position, is representing the whole league.
Now, I recognize that Ionescu is more than able to hold her ground. In just 2023, she had the best 3-point shooting season in WNBA history, held a 3-point percentage of 44.8 percent, and led the league in total 3-pointers made.
However, she’s only been in the league for 3 years and is up against Currys’ 15-year-long resume. Not only is this a huge risk, but even if she wins, it feels like the NBA is doing the ‘W’ a favor as this is the first competition of its kind and directly favors the NBA. In April, the league announced a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) that allowed NBA players to now invest in NBA and WNBA organizations.
What Are The Outcomes?
This is, on the surface, great as it promotes investment in Women’s sports. However, that’s about it for WNBA benefits. Within this CBA, NBA players are potentially able to gain immense financial power and money into their bank accounts. However, WNBA players are pieces on this chess board.
The ‘W’ has always been valued less than the league, even though the women’s game (college and professional) has broken viewership records within the last few decades. NBA players are constantly highlighting the league, but only in post or pregame outfits, interviews, and the occasional quote tweet.
While Ionescu’s shoes have become immensely popular within on-court play amongst NBA players, there needs to be more conversation about why Ionescu earned those shoes in the first place or who she even is. This brings me back to what I said earlier: is this competition too big of a risk for not just Ionescu but the WNBA?
We’ll see on Saturday, Feb. 17 at 8 p.m. Eastern.
These newsletters will run bi-weekly and will hold conversations on different information surrounding the world of basketball.
Trinity Rea is a second-year student studying sports journalism along with women and gender studies at Ball State University. She works at the Ball State Daily News as an associate news editor. In this role, she focuses on storytelling within the community. Along with this, Trinity also writes for the sports section and showcases stories behind the athletes. Outside of her love for sports and writing, she likes to listen to music, read, and hang out with her friends.
Contact Trinity Rea with questions at firstname.lastname@example.org or on X @thetrinityrea
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