A tiny stream of sunlight filtered through the roof of the uncharacteristically cold gym.
An organic spotlight.
The basketball court was vacant that day. That’s how I prefer it. It doesn’t matter where the court is — inside or outside, high-end or low-end — it’s a spiritual, almost otherworldly place.
But a silent, inaudible gym? Paradise. It deepens the meditative daydream you’re in. Like an empty airport, there’s an unnerving sense of refuge that consumes you.
I sat in the stillness while lacing up my sneakers. Internally, my mind was already made up that I would go to the half of the court without the spotlight. The darker side. Didn’t need the distraction. Didn’t want the added obstacle. Easier that way.
To my left, the door swings open. A kid enters.
I don’t know if she saw the sunny spotlight. Irrelevant. What matters is that she went directly to it.
“Symbolic,” I thought.
It’s challenging to articulate, but there’s an indelible feeling of connectedness when you’re around someone who appreciates the game at its core. Call it a vibe. Call it energy. Whatever the label, it’s unmistakable. She walked like she played basketball. Had that swagger. To the uninformed, it comes across as arrogance. But for her, it’s instinctive.
She begins a warm-up routine. Strange, because most kids her age just mess around and shoot the basketball with no rhyme or rhythm.
She began with one-handed shots near the rim to warm up. Right-hand, then left-hand. Obviously, she’s done this before. One-handed shots from the free-throw line now. The only sound is the bounce of the ball against the hardwood followed by a swoosh of the net.
“Pretty cool,” I mumbled to myself, making my way to the other end of the gym.
I hear a faint voice.
“Do you like the Mercury?” she asked. I could tell she was shy, but also had a quiet confidence.
Kind of random, no? Why would she ask me that?
“Umm…” I confusingly replied before realizing I was wearing a Mercury cut-off shirt. “Oh! Absolutely. I actually work for the team. You a Mercury fan?”
She paused, carefully, as if she wanted to be 100 percent certain of her next words.
“Yeah,” she said, more assuredly. “I like all WNBA players. My favorite is definitely the Mercury since I’m from Lindo Park [South Phoenix]. I get to go to a couple Mercury games every year with my dad, but I’d go to all of them if I could. I am going to play in college and go pro. ”
Keep in mind – she didn’t say that she wanted to play in college or the pros; she said she was going to. All she has to do now is work to manifests her decision.
And she’s doing exactly that.
Here’s a young woman from South Phoenix in the gym (by herself) working hard with tangible, reasonable dreams of playing professional women’s basketball.
It’s easy to say you want to play in college or in the pros; it’s another thing to actively pursue it. Not only does she see a path out of a crime-laden section of Phoenix, she understands what it takes to get there.
“That’s awesome,” I replied, still in shock.
Before I could ask another question, she was already on her way back to her basket to finish her workout.
After all, for her, she didn’t come to the gym to chat. There’s time for that later.
She has work to do.
When many current WNBA players were growing up, they didn’t have the WNBA to aspire to. Still, I imagine a young Diana Taurasi, or Candice Dupree, or DeWanna Bonner, or Brittney Griner working every bit as hard as the girl I met in the gym.
Today, young women have amazing examples they can follow from high school all the way to the professional level. They see the WNBA (and Mercury) brand(s) continuing to evolve as the league enters its 19th season.
But here’s why the quick interaction I had with the young baller is hugely significant:
• She immediately recognized with the name of the team on my shirt.
• In order to do that, it means the WNBA and the Phoenix Mercury connect with girls at a young age.
• If the league has a solidified presence in the lives of young girls who have a passion for playing basketball, the Mercury and WNBA can help take that passion to another level entirely along with expanding the game’s talent pool.
• As the talent grows, so does the game.
The interaction wasn’t about me, nor should it have been. In fact, the interaction never would’ve happened if she didn’t identify the Phoenix Mercury and WNBA logo on my shirt.
On the surface, this was just a neat conversation with a cool kid who seems to have a good head on her shoulders. Going deeper, though, it shows that not only are girls paying attention to the WNBA, they understand the talent level of the players is unrivaled — it’s up to the younger generation to match or surpass it.
Supporting the Mercury locally is important because supporting women and young girls in sports matters globally.