ESPN WNBA commentators Ryan Ruocco, Rebecca Lobo and LaChina Robinson answered questions on Wednesday via Zoom to preview the 2023 WNBA Finals Presented by YouTubeTV. Ruocco and Lobo will provide commentary for ESPN’s exclusive broadcast which tips off Sunday, Oct. 8, at 3 p.m. ET on ABC. Robinson will host WNBA Countdown Presented by Google preceding each WNBA Finals game.
In addition, Sara Gaiero, ESPN Vice President, Production, discussed the production highlights for the 2023 WNBA Finals Presented by YouTubeTV.
A TRANSCRIPT OF THE CONVERSATION IS BELOW:
Sara Gaiero: Welcome, everybody. Thanks for joining us. We are super excited to talk a little bit about our coverage of the upcoming WNBA Finals. We are thrilled with the matchup that we have ahead of us. I think we’re all really, really excited to see how this all plays out. And from an ABC, ESPN production standpoint, I’ll just walk you through a couple ways that we are looking to enhance and really elevate these broadcasts.
We will roll out a robust package of nearly 20 cameras, a whole variety of hard cameras, hand-held cameras, robotic cameras up and down the baskets. We’ll have some RF cameras circling the arena to capture some atmosphere shots and capture — really just capture the scene there.
We’ll have some shallow–depth-of-field cameras that we’ll use for some unique technology with virtual graphics, which will be a fairly new integration from a virtual graphics perspective. We’re going to try a really cool super slo-mo camera with a 4800 lens that should be really dynamic and give us some really nice intimate shots of the players.
We will have robust — with the partnership that we have with this great league and these great athletes, we’ll have a really robust access package, as well. We’ll have player mics throughout every single game that we have the ability to track live, which is great. We’ve had tremendous success with our end-of-quarter player interviews with our reporter Holly Rowe. We’ve had great success with the start-of-the-quarter live IFB coach interviews that we’ve done with our announce booths. That has been a really, unique piece of what we’ve done. And relative to other sports out there, too, something really unique to the WNBA that I’m really proud of.
So we thank all of the coaches and players for their participation in this because we can’t do it without them. And so with those elements in and of itself, that piece right there, we feel really strong about the coverage that we are going to debut and roll out. Along with having Ryan (Ruocco) and Rebecca (Lobo) and Holly (Rowe) and Andraya (Carter) as part of our game announce team, we will have our WNBA Countdown pregame team with us on-site, too, which is a really awesome piece of coverage that we’ve been able to debut now throughout the entire regular season.
Last year we were fortunate to debut WNBA Countdown during the Playoffs, and we’ve seen such tremendous success with that show throughout the regular season, as well. So we’re thrilled to have them on site with us. LaChina Robinson is going to anchor our coverage there. She’ll be paired with Carolyn Peck, Andraya Carter, and Chiney Ogwumike on the set. So we’re thrilled with pairing of voices that we will have to deliver some really high level expert breakdown analysis. They have great chemistry and a great relationship together, so it’s been a really terrific show that we’re really, really proud of. And having them on-site with us will just help really make the atmosphere and what we’re showing feel really, really big.
Then from a creative content standpoint, we will have our creative content team building some tease elements for us. The song and the partnership that we’re going to utilize for this is a Latto and Eric B. & Rakim song, “Technique,” so a little bit of a full swag that we’re bringing into our coverage this year that will give us a good vibe and a nice feel throughout the show. And on top of that, our graphics and animation package, which we debuted at the start of the season is getting a full reskin and will have a brand-new look that will be really, really slick and very high end to just complement the rest of our coverage. That’s a broad overview from a technical standpoint. We will broadcast this event in 1080P, which will be the first time that we’ve ever done that for the WNBA. So as we look to continue to innovate and advance this sport forward, we’re really proud of being able to do that.
I am really excited with the opportunity that we have with this matchup and with the terrific programming windows that we have to showcase this sport. We know that the games will be awesome. We know the pregame Countdown show will be great. We know our coverage is top-notch, right, with this amazing team that we’ve assembled.
And we’re just thrilled with the opportunity to showcase this great sport to all of our fans and hope that viewers will tune in and come watch us.
Q: First one is for LaChina or Rebecca or either. I’m curious, away from the court, what do you guys see or what stands out about the impact or the meaning of this particular matchup with two major markets, multiple MVPs, some of the biggest names in the sport? What’s the impact beyond just on the floor of this particular matchup?
Rebecca Lobo: I’m happy to talk on that. I mean, we saw a different level of excitement in the off-season this year because of the super team narrative, starting in February with the free agent signings. There was a bigger buzz around the WNBA at any point that we’ve ever seen in the off-season. So I think that continued to build. It started in February, and it continued to build throughout the course of the off-season. And then throughout the course of the season, especially as the two teams — as it was playing out that they were having the two best records in the league, that they split their series, that they play in the Commissioner’s Cup.
I think there was a different level of interest from maybe the non-WNBA fan than we have seen in the past, so it’ll be kind of interesting to see in these Playoffs if that also translates into viewership and other things. This build started in February, and now here we are in October, and it’s the two teams that especially the non-WNBA fan has been talking about for the last eight or nine months.
LaChina Robinson: I’ll add to that. Yeah, I would agree with Rebecca. And seeing like the non-traditional WNBA fan become more invested in the league, and in particular what we’ve seen from the fans in both markets, you look court side in New York and you’ve got Alicia Keys and Swizz Beatz and Fat Joe. The city has really showed up.
When you get celebrities and mainstream music artists, et cetera, in the building, you bring in a different demographic who now becomes interested in the WNBA. And even in Vegas, there are always tons of celebrities court side. And in these two markets in particular we’ve just seen an influx of celebrities, et cetera, which has brought a different level of excitement, I think, to these events. When we’re able to showcase them on our broadcast, they feel big, like must-see events, which is bringing out people from different parts of the world and entertainment. I think that aspect of it in Vegas and New York has just elevated what we’re feeling off the court in terms of how big this Finals could be and how big the match-ups between these two teams can be.
Q: Sara, the first Finals in your new role. Can you kind of comment what that means to you?
Sara Gaiero: Yeah, listen, thank you. I appreciate that. I’m excited. I’m mostly just thrilled with the opportunity to continue using my role, my platform to elevate this sport. I’m so proud of what we’ve been able to do in the last four years that I’ve been in this position on the WNBA. And I just feel grateful and honored to have the opportunity to continue pushing and elevating this sport in the ways that we’ve been able to grow from a production standpoint.
And now I just feel — you know, I just feel excited that I can continue on that path and then — you know, not for this call, but bringing women’s college basketball underneath my umbrella, too, I feel like there’s such a great opportunity to create synergy between the two worlds that I now have the opportunity to lead and shepherd that will benefit both sports. This sport is going to inherit amazing, amazing athletes in the very, very near future that is going to make this sport and what we do over here and what we’re covering over here even more dynamic and even more interesting than what we’re seeing right now. For that, I’m excited for the opportunity to shepherd that into the future.
Q: From a legacy side, one of the original franchises in the Liberty, the defending champion with the Aces, from a production perspective, the creative juices are probably flowing. Can you talk about how that’s going to fuel the coverage on the production end?
Sara Gaiero: I think we’ll take a tempered approach to start. We will take Game 1 as an opportunity to welcome in our casual fans and bring them up to speed on what’s been happening in the WNBA this year, who are these teams, what’s at stake, what are they playing for. As we get closer to a potentially New York winning it, we’ll create some custom elements that will hone in on that. I think on the other side — listen, Las Vegas is going for back-to-back, first time since ’02 that this could happen. We’re going to lean into that, as well, and build up that piece certainly as we see that potentially coming into play, as well.
Q: Rebecca, sort of building off of those things, what do you think it means for the health of the league that there is the success in the Liberty franchise given their status as a legacy franchise of the WNBA?
Rebecca Lobo: I think it’s vitally important for kind of the excitement around the league for New York to be doing what they’re doing. LaChina was talking about it earlier in terms of the buzz at Barclays Center. It’s funny. I have a college-aged daughter who goes to school in the New York area, and she’s come to a couple of the playoff games. And when she’s come to the games, she’s brought friends, also college-aged girls, who aren’t regular sports fans. One of them even asked her, is there seating or is it general admission like a concert? Two separate girls said to her after coming to a game, like that’s the most fun I’ve ever had, and they are now following WNBA on Instagram, they’re following LeagueFits, they’re following players. There’s just an energy when you have success in a city and with kind of the excitement around the team right now, I think it certainly helps broaden the fan base and certainly brings different eyeballs to the league and especially those who have been following the league since the beginning. It’s the only original franchise who’s yet to win a championship. I know we only have three original franchises left, but it’s the one who hasn’t won a championship. So I think that certainly adds to the interest and is certainly a good thing for the league to have 10,000 plus rabid, young, diverse fans coming to New York Liberty games.
Q: I’ll start with Ryan. You covered the New York-Connecticut semifinals quite closely. And it’s interesting because New York’s bench has played in limited minutes in this postseason, and that was what helped them against the Aces in the Commissioner’s Cup and all the other Vegas match-ups. I’m curious how much of a run do you think they’ll get in the Finals after seeing what you saw in the semis?
Ryan Ruocco: That’s a good question. Because I think when we were talking about advantages between New York and Vegas — and if you were looking at the New York side of things, entering the Playoffs, bench was maybe one of the top two things that was mentioned, right. Thinking about New York’s depth compared to Vegas’s after Vegas lost Candace and Riquna. But then you saw the series play out and you see all five starters play every single minute of the second half and you wonder how much of a role it will play.
Now, I think where — I think Marine Johannès still could have a moment in her at some point. She had some moments against Vegas in the regular season, and she obviously has been a reliable reserve, a reliable guard in years past. Kayla Thornton had some moments in the series against Connecticut, and Stefanie Dolson got a little run in the first half of Game 4 against Connecticut. But overall, I think that series was a great reminder that when it comes to this time of year, that aspect of things probably gets overblown when we’re projecting ahead. Because ultimately, yeah, someone could have a moment and someone probably will off the bench for each team. Alysha Clark would be the obvious one for Vegas, but it’s going to be decided with whoever your best five is on the floor.
Now, foul trouble can change that and maybe if things are called more tightly than they were in New York and Connecticut, then the bench does play a bigger role. But one thing I think helps both these teams that probably are going to keep things thin is the space between games. You have, which Sara (Gaiero) was talking about our incredible programming windows this year, part of a result of that is you have a lot of time off between the games. Us getting the Sundays on ABC and then the primetime Wednesdays means there’s a lot of time to rest and recover. I think that Johannès or Thornton or Dolson all will have a moment at some point. Certainly, for Vegas, Alysha Clark will be a central figure off their bench, and she might be in the finishing five as well if they want to go small. But I think the depth is much less of a concern as far as a difference between these teams than it was when we went into the Playoffs.
Q: If I could ask LaChina a bit about WNBA Countdown and its growth. I’m curious what you think it’s done for the way in which WNBA coverage has changed this season and how you’ve noticed the dividends that it has paid so far?
LaChina Robinson: Yeah, thanks for asking. First, just really grateful to our ESPN leadership, Dave Roberts, Sara Gaiero, for believing in making space for a Countdown show. We all know how important it is to educate the fan, to deliver storylines, to connect the fans to these amazing players and to the product in various mediums. And the games are amazing, and all of our coverage starts with the product on the floor.
But we have to keep the conversation going. We have to invite the fan in, and especially the casual fan as the WNBA is growing, and give them things to watch and players to keep their eyes on, great analysis.
We’ve got the best in the business, in my opinion, in terms of our analyst group. Having this show has, to me, just elevated the product all the way around, just giving great conversation, great debate, and again, giving fans something to look forward to.
Fans are drawn to stories, right. And so being able to story-tell and just give depth to who these amazing players are, the history of this league, having Rebecca and Sheryl Swoopes and Teresa Weatherspoon, for example, come on and talk about the players of today in retrospect and connecting them to the history of the league. And having Chiney Ogwumike, who’s a current player, come in and talk about her match-ups against the players that are actually a part of these Playoffs right now, it’s just invaluable.
It’s just something I think every one of us who’s been a fan of this league has woken up in the morning and said, okay, that game last night was crazy. Now let’s talk about it. Well, that’s what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to build conversation and dialogue around the W. And it’s just been an honor to lead this charge, and we’re just grateful for everyone that has tuned in.
We hope that this gets bigger. It’s our first year of having Countdown during the regular season. We’ve had Countdown for every playoff game, and to think that it will be elevated even more so with the windows that we have on ABC and ESPN just makes me happy for WNBA fans that have wanted this for a very long time.
Q: Rebecca, obviously in your professional capacity, you are objective, but you have such close personal ties to both teams, and I wanted to ask, what’s it like to see the franchise that you played for go up against one of your former teammates who’s your friend? What’s that like?
Rebecca Lobo: It’s fun. You know, it’s fun when there’s great stories, more than anything, great people to deal with. I love interactions with Sandy Brondello. I love the interactions with Becky Hammon as we get ready for games throughout the course of the season and then during the Playoffs. It’s been a joy to cover all of the women on both teams, just because it’s such high-level basketball. But Ryan and I talk about this a fair amount. It just makes it more fun for us when the people that we’re spending so much time with are delightful to work with and around, and certainly both Sandy Brondello and Becky Hammon are that.
I’ve been thrilled to follow Becky’s success since she left the Liberty, first as a player with San Antonio and then throughout the NBA and now the WNBA. And it is nice to see New York to have the energy it had back in the early days. When you look at that franchise and some of the things it went through, especially when the ownership was in limbo and they’re playing in Westchester and now it started last year with the one playoff game we did when they lost to Chicago. It felt like the old life and the old energy was back for the New York Liberty.
It’s certainly great to see that. We’ve already talked about how important that is for the league, as well.
It’s so much fun for us to just be a part of it, get to cover it, get to document it for people and players that we just enjoy covering so much.
Q: Obviously you were there when Becky came in as an undrafted player. What did you see from her as a player, as a teammate that maybe indicated that she would be a great coach?
Rebecca Lobo: Well, she certainly is a player and a person who kind of beat the odds at every turn. She joined the WNBA in a year that the ABL players joined, as well, so not only to be undrafted, but in 1999, in a year where ABL players were trying to make rosters, too, it is remarkable that she made the New York Liberty roster, and then has fought for everything that she’s ever had. She was always feisty, always a great teammate. Always a great teammate. Just fun to be around and funny and keeping things in perspective. But super hard worker, doesn’t worry about any odds that are up against her. And, again, I can’t say enough about anybody who I’ve ever been around who’s a really good teammate, and she is that.
Q: Sara, I ask this question somewhat in jest but also not because we do so much coverage around the players of this league and the women they are off the league, and specifically as mothers. What I’m wanting to know is what do we have to do to get a full-time Baby Ruby cam for this Finals series?
Sara Gaiero: Wow, it’s a really good question that we candidly have not included in our iso plan, but certainly at this point would be something that we would want to consider. I think beyond that, we need a Marta insider, too, to see how she’s progressing in these last 12 days that we have ahead of us.
Not in jest, right; certainly part of our documentation of the event which we hold so close to our hearts is documenting everything that’s happening in and around it. If we’re getting great reactions, and this is from friends and family beyond just Stewie, right. But we know A’ja’s parents are great supporters of her, as well, Chelsea Gray had family in town last year.
We’re going to document what’s happening in and around the action on the court, and our hope is that what we’ve seen of these buildings throughout the Playoffs, they have been wild. As Rebecca was saying, Barclays has been amazing. What a great setting. Vegas brings a terrific crowd. So we’re going to incorporate that sense of place in and around the game cut, as well. But we are friends of babies. Cute babies will always enhance our coverage.
Q: Sara, in terms of the schedule of the WNBA Finals, I don’t think we’ve ever seen such a spaced-out Finals before with three off days in between games. Can you speak to both how that came about and what challenges or benefits you see in terms of keeping up the momentum with marketing and promotion of the Finals?
Sara Gaiero: Our programming department works hand in hand with the league, as well, and as I suggested at the beginning, I’m pleased with the programming windows that we have received. Being on ABC presents such a great opportunity for us to share this great game with people who may be casual fans, who will come across it and see it, and our hope is they stay with us. I think from a production standpoint, time between games just benefits us and allows us to just plan and move around the country from site to site with better success, to be honest with you. So for us, it works out really well.
The benefit of ESPN and ABC and what’s going to help us is when these match-ups turn out to be as great and amazing as we anticipate they will be. We’re going to use our SportsCenter wheel and our morning talk shows. And we’ve seen terrific support internally from all those different departments, most recently in incorporating WNBA into their day-to-day conversations.
So I think that, again, once these games play out, it will become part of the next-day rundown. We’re going to talk about the Monday Night Football game, we’re going to talk about baseball, and then we’re going to talk about the WNBA game. So, I have great confidence that our company will support us in that because the play on the court is going to deserve it.
Q: I want to go back to the game. We often talk about the game within the game, between certain player match-ups. I’m curious to know which player match-ups you’re focusing on or going to keep an eye on the most in this matchup that we’ve seen before? I know Sabrina and Kelsey have been fun to watch, but what other ones are you looking forward to seeing?
LaChina Robinson: Boy, it’s hard to pick. And with the chess match that I expect to happen between these two coaches, we don’t know who will be guarding who between any stretches, but I have loved the chippiness between Sabrina and Kelsey in stretches for sure. Brings me back to maybe some old dust that hadn’t settled from their Pac-12 match-ups. But being the post player that I am, I’m always interested in what the bigs are doing. I think the way that Jonquel has played as of late has meant a lot to the New York Liberty, and Kiah Stokes on the other side of that has been thrusted into the starting lineup with the loss of Candace Parker and expected to do a lot. So whether those two are guarding each other or not, I do believe that shot blocking and defensive rebounding that gets your team into transition, offensive rebounding that allows for second-chance points, like those are going to be really important statistics that Kiah Stokes and Jonquel Jones will be highly responsible for.
As we’re talking about the star power in this matchup between these two teams, Jonquel often gets lost. She’s a former MVP, and how she shows up to me will be huge for the Liberty and on the other hand of that, whoever is responsible for keeping her at bay or defending her will be, I think, a conversation that will be important to this Finals matchup.
Q: For LaChina and Rebecca, I was curious to know as former players, how do you balance getting into more granular basketball analysis during the broadcast and keeping it more digestible for the casual viewers that are checking in?
Rebecca Lobo: Yeah, that’s going to be interesting, especially, I think, in these Finals because there’s going to be a lot of interesting defensive plans I think that both coaches are going to use that are a little bit more in depth than what we’ve even seen through the regular season in their match-ups.
But I think it’s our job to explain what’s happening in the most digestible form possible. I think we’ve been able to do that pretty well, especially with the use of replays. And Andraya joining us as a sideline analyst, she’ll have the Libero technology which can help explain things a little bit better, as well. But certainly, especially with games on ABC, we need to document what’s happening, explain what’s happening, but do it in a way, that is, as you put it, very digestible.
Q: Ryan, you’ve been doing the WNBA Finals now, I think, for about a decade. This is a role that has in the past been one that’s ping-ponged from announcer to announcer, but you’ve stayed in a role that a lot of other announcers have kind of moved on from. This season you’re going to be the No. 2 guy on the NBA. That’s an enormous role, obviously. Does that in any way affect how you see this role going on in the future, or are you going to be planning to stay in the WNBA and covering the Finals for years to come?
Ryan Ruocco: Doesn’t affect if at all as far as I’m concerned. I’ll stay in this role as long as they’ll have me. I absolutely love this league. I think of primary importance to me with this role is who I work with next to me. To me, Rebecca Lobo is as good as any analyst in the country and brings out the best in me. When I work with Rebecca, I feel a level of comfort that I don’t feel maybe with anybody else. She brings out the absolute best in me, and everybody else kind of jokes about trying — J.J. and R.J. joke about, we know we’ll always be No. 2 to Rebecca because that’s how much I love working with her. I love working with them, too.
But Rebecca and I have a lot of reps together, and there’s a comfort and a joy in that that I think, first and foremost, when you’re going to work every day, you want to love your colleagues, and you want to feel like you’re at your best when you work with them. And I feel that way with Rebecca and I felt that way really from the beginning. I feel that way with Holly and now I feel that way with ‘Draya, as well, as she’s joined us over the last few years.
That to me — first of all, just loving the craft, that makes me always want to stay because I love who I do it with. And then on top of that, I love this league, and I love seeing the growth of the league. And I take pride in being along for the ride while the league has grown and hopefully helping to bring the energy and amplify these women’s stories and help moments come to life that make them feel like highlights you want to hear forever.
I know that as much as we’ve seen incredible growth in the last 10 years and even more so in the last five years, it’s still such a green pasture. It really is. When you look at some of the ratings we do for women’s college, and you know that there’s a chunk of those fans that still haven’t gotten invested in the W and we can get them, I’m excited to be a part of that growth, as well. I think one of the things that I love about this sport, and I know I’m going on a little bit — but one of the things that I love is the people who work on the project care about it so much. LaChina mentioned before, the impactful internal advocates we have now on the sport with Dave Roberts, who’s one of the biggest executives at our company and who’s done an incredible job elevating this, and now Sara Gaiero in her third year overseeing WNBA — or maybe it’s her fourth Finals — yeah. But you also have the talent pushing.
Part of the reason we’re at where we’re at now with our coverage is because of LaChina, Holly, and Rebecca, and what they do internally to try and push the sport. I don’t know if every sport has that, where you have them literally emailing the biggest people at the company to say, hey, we need to do this for our league. To me, that’s the kind of project you want to work on. I love it. I love this time of year. I love the championship moments. I love seeing the growth. For me, it’s a destination that I want to be a part of as long as I can.
Q: Question for LaChina and Rebecca. As was mentioned by John, you guys have been covering the W pretty much as long as I’ve been alive. When you look at these two teams that play with pace and space, both have set records this year especially offensively, everything’s highlighted by versatility throughout the roster, what teams do you go back to throughout maybe like the middle era of the W that stand out in terms of kind of setting the blueprint for where these teams are at? Obviously nobody played this exact same way, but maybe teams that were similar or set things on this kind of course?
LaChina Robinson: First of all, can I just laugh that you’re telling us we’ve been covering the W as long as you’ve been alive. Rebecca is a little bit more tenured than I am. But no, that’s a really good question.
I’m trying to think stylistically, without having a lot of time to think about this. I would say that the New York Liberty do remind me of some of the Seattle Storm teams. The way that they can move the ball and shoot and share it is really impressive to watch. Obviously any team that Courtney Vandersloot is on is going to be a high assist team. And I know she wasn’t a part of those teams, but Sue Bird was, and their two point guard leaders in particular on the offensive end that have a lot of similarities in how they move in pick-and-roll situations and how they kind of keep the offense flowing. So stylistically on the offensive end, that’s a team that comes to mind for me.
As far as Las Vegas, they actually remind me a lot of the Minnesota Lynx. I was actually thinking about this matchup between New York and Vegas and how highly anticipated it is, and it reminds me of how we just could not look forward to the Sparks and Lynx back in 2016, 2017, I believe, just having superstars all over the floor. But Minnesota does remind me a lot of the Aces in that you don’t often think about their defense as much as you should, in particular looking at what they have been able to do in these Playoffs, holding teams to under 40 percent shooting. Minnesota may not blow you away personnel-wise in terms of what they could do defensively, but they were incredibly in tune with the scout and were really good at taking away what you liked to do offensively between the lines. I would say just having a couple moments to think about it, those are some comparisons that I would make in thinking about this stylistically.
Rebecca Lobo: I’ll just add super quickly, you talk about pace and space, I think pace you have to go back to Paul Westhead and the Phoenix Mercury teams. When he came to the WNBA and brought that sort of .5 mentality and the scoring quickly in the shot clock, really focusing on getting shots up early, I think that I believe that was the first time we had seen that kind of pace philosophy on the WNBA side.
Q: LaChina and Rebecca, in your perspectives, do you think that Chelsea Gray is in that conversation of being a potential Hall of Famer?
Rebecca Lobo: She’s in my conversation. Chelsea Gray is phenomenal. We saw a season ago in the Playoffs something we had never seen before in terms of her productivity and her efficiency and the incredible shot making that we saw. This is what she’s done throughout the course of her career. She’s probably hit as many game-winning shots as any player that we’ve ever seen. Just has come alive in the biggest moments, one of the, if not the best, point guards in the world right now.
Chelsea Gray, I think, certainly right now we’re watching a future Hall of Famer, and who knows if this is the prime of her career, but what she did last year was certainly incredible.
LaChina Robinson: Yeah, Chelsea Gray is definitely a future Hall of Famer in my mind. She does things with the basketball that we’ve never seen in the history of this league in terms of how consistent she is in clutch moments. The highlights that she brings us, you could compare to Ticha Penicheiro. She’s bringing just that level of excitement back to the W when it comes to the passing of the basketball.
What I love most about Chelsea Gray is her evolution as a leader. I just keep thinking back, and I’m sure Ryan and Rebecca remember when she was that lead guard for LA when they won their championship, she was absorbing so much information. Candace Parker was in her ear and Alana Beard was in her ear. There were so many veteran players that she was trying to learn from on the fly — Nneka Ogwumike.
And she was just a sponge, and she was willing to learn the game from those that were ahead of her at that time, and now you see her voice.
She was in the huddle with the clipboard leading the team. Becky allows her to do some coaching. I’ve just enjoyed the evolution of who she is as a leader. She was willing to learn and take in, and now it’s her time. There’s just not another player — and also what she’s done in terms of her body. This is a player that had just incredible knee injuries and various injuries throughout her basketball career, and she got in the best shape of her life. I don’t even recognize her sometimes when she’s dressed in her clothes. It’s just like — I think that added to the longevity of her career and what we are seeing and hopefully continue to see from Chelsea.
Q: This one is for Ryan. I just wanted to ask if you thought that perhaps all of the hype and all of the attention around this Finals could potentially spark a conversation about if in the future it’ll be an expansion of the Finals out to seven games.
Ryan Ruocco: You know what? I hadn’t thought of that, but now that you say it, maybe it will, especially if these five games hopefully are as great as we think they’re going to be. So that’s a really good question. I haven’t thought of it, but I think one thing we’ve seen is this league is growing. I know the league is teasing more formal announcements about that tomorrow, and we’ve seen this league also be willing to get creative when it comes to how it grows.
Just think about the way the format and the Playoffs has changed, first to the single-game eliminations, which I think worked for a while, and now over the last couple of years to that opening series and no longer having that bye to the semifinals. I’m all for it. I would love to call a seven-game championship series. I think five has felt great, but I definitely would be open-minded to seven if that’s the way the league wants to go at some point.
Q: LaChina, as you watch the Liberty and the Aces play on the ESPN family of networks throughout the season, what are your impressions about the type of engagement these teams managed to accumulate?
LaChina Robinson: It’s been impressive. You have to give credit to the creativity of their social media teams and their marketing groups and everyone working behind the scenes to create this level of engagement from what we’re seeing in an arena with fans. Rebecca spoke to how the Barclays Center has just been incredible, the energy there. Las Vegas’s side of things, I just think both organizations do such a fantastic job of giving their social media fans what they want, in-arena fans, the level of entertainment is incredible.
Just shout-out to those folks for keeping everyone engaged in different ways to help drive attention to these women, to these products and to this game. I know specifically thinking about a couple of people behind the scenes in Vegas, Deandra Duggans I know does a lot on the marketing side for them. Keia Clarke has done an outstanding job along with Shana Stephenson, some folks that you don’t see when you’re watching the games or see the teams, but behind the marketing and the branding of both of these organizations in these markets, those folks have done a fantastic job.
Q: This is a question for Rebecca, but Ryan and LaChina, feel free to chime in. Rebecca, you were a part of one of the best rivalries in college sports with UConn and Tennessee women’s basketball. With all of the headlines and star powers surrounding the Aces and the Liberty in this year’s Playoffs, do you think this has the potential to be a great rivalry, as well?
Rebecca Lobo: I hope so. I hope so. Part of that might be predicated on what each team’s roster looks like next year. Vegas, we kind of know, but New York has some big-time players who will be unrestricted free agents again. But certainly this really could become one of those great rivalries, and I think that’s one of the things that’s been so wonderful about the conversation around A’ja Wilson and Breanna Stewart, these two young players who are two of the best players in the league and have been since they came into the league, and they’ve been an incredible foil for one another and for their fan bases.
Ryan and I talked about this a couple of years ago. It’s reminiscent of Larry Bird and Magic Johnson back in the day in the NBA helping to grow the attention around the league, not only their fan bases but the great Celtics-Lakers rivalries. It would absolutely be great for the league to have a rivalry, especially a bi-coastal one, and depending on what happens with the Liberty’s roster, you would certainly expect these two teams to be two of the top teams in the league again next year.