As the WNBA’s fan base grows, players are mindful they are role models.
The Target Center was filled Wednesday, July 6, with young people who watched the Minnesota Lynx upset the No. 1 team in the WNBA: Chicago Sky.
Not so long ago, Lynx guard Rachel Banham was watching the games and finding inspiration from the players on the court. As a kid, she was hoping to be able to achieve the same feats that she saw those players accomplish in their time.
Now, she is that someone to look up to in the league. She strives to be a role model and an inspiration for other youths.
“They are seeing dreams that they want to do,” Banham said. “Especially young girls to be able to see us out there and know that it is possible.”
Since it first started in 1996, the Women’s National Basketball Association has expanded and continues to see its fan base growing, especially with teens.
Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve said publicity for the WNBA is important; the support from society, the media and even corporate businesses has helped to shine a light on the league and show the world exactly what they can do. Reeve noted the recent increase in fans, and how important it is to these players and the league. She said throughout the 12 years she’s been coaching the team, she watched how local legend Lindsay Whalen, a now-retired basketball player and coach for the University of Minnesota women’s basketball team, is able to draw fans in.
“If you do not win, (fans) are probably going to be less interested, but Lindsay and winning — that’s a magical combination for this market,” she said.
The growth in popularity has encouraged the athletes to continue up the line and have a passion for playing professionally. Although the vast majority of the fans are usually older folks, the league’s main target is young girls and teens who are interested in playing basketball, maybe one day at the professional level. The WNBA has a goal to make the narrative that basketball is for everybody; it is not just a man’s sport.
Many players in the WNBA encourage youth to continue with their goals and dreams, regardless of how difficult it is. They like to push a narrative that regardless of how people feel and what they tell you, your dreams are always attainable, as long as you believe in yourself.
Jessica Shepard, Lynx forward, underlines the importance of having one goal and the importance of always believing and pursuing that goal.
“If you have a backup plan, then you are not putting all of your energy into what you know,” Shepard said.
Star Lynx guard/forward Aerial Powers echoes the importance of pursuing what you love despite what others say. No matter what, it is all up to you to be able to achieve the goal. Do not let yourself regret losing the chance to be able to do something, even if others do not follow.
“You never want to look in the mirror and say, ‘Man I wish I would have done that, but because of what my peers said, I did not,’” she said.
Izzy Bilyev, a 16-year-old fan in the crowd Wednesday, does not play basketball, but the game meant something special. A young woman of color, Bilyev said seeing other BIPOC women on the court living their dreams and making history is inspirational.