When Coinbase became the official crypto platform of the WNBA last October, most teams and athletes had a lot to learn about the company’s products and services. Coinbase partnered with the WNBA Players Association to provide draft invitees with financial training and open accounts for all 144 players in an effort to bring crypto to the fingertips of women and fans across the country.

For Jewell Loyd, the landscape wasn’t new. The Seattle Storm guard and four-time WNBA All-Star has been active in the crypto economy for years.

“Investments in other things like real estate along with crypto is something I’ve been doing since around 2013 with my brother,” Loyd said.

Loyd is not your typical 28-year-old investor. While growing up in Illinois, Loyd learned about the stock market from her grandfather and other mentors, and she received a crash course on the economy through a program at her middle school.

“They taught us how to apply for jobs, how to pay taxes, what taxes are. You even had to pay for your desk. Everything you would have to pay for in real life, you had to pay for in school,” she recalled.

“They were teaching us how to save money. You could pick up two or three jobs, just to see how real-life works. At the end of the year, you would say ‘How come I only have 20 bucks? How come this person had a dollar? How come this person has $500?’ They basically broke things down, what it means to make a dollar and how to invest.”

At Niles West High School, where Loyd scored over 3,000 points as a four-year starter on the basketball team, she also took investment classes. She and a partner would be tasked with checking the market online, trading stocks and explaining their investment choices to the class.

“It was engraved in us in school,” she said.

So, when Coinbase signed on as a partner of the WNBA in 2021, Loyd jumped at the opportunity to be an ambassador and take part of her salary in crypto.

While Loyd is at the forefront of using her platform to set an example in crypto investing, fans may be yearning to learn more about the service from more of their favorite WNBA superstars.

A peer-to-peer financial system, crypto allows individuals to exchange funds directly through the internet, loosening many of the restrictions of traditional finance and banking systems. Now you can buy, sell, trade and stake your assets with just a few clicks.

Loyd, who plays both overseas and in the U.S. like many WNBA players, is a fan of the financial freedom crypto offers her.

“If I go into a bank, I want to open an account, and there’s all this paperwork and stuff to do. And then if you take this specific money out, you get fined. What? It’s my money,” Loyd said. “Now, I go on Coinbase, I get my money out. It shouldn’t be that complicated to get your money. You have so many loopholes with certain banks. In my mind, that doesn’t make sense.

“It’s freedom, understanding and probably a little bit of love. I feel I get all three of those things using crypto.”

Loyd feels fortunate that she had a background in investing when she entered the WNBA in 2015 as Seattle’s first overall draft pick. She remembers sitting through a meeting on draft day, when a league rep walked the players through their retirement funds but didn’t spend much time teaching them how to invest.

She’s sensed a different mentality in the year since the WNBA partnered with Coinbase, as more players take initiative with their long-term financial strategy. Loyd’s former Storm teammate, Sue Bird, has been one of the leading voices of other products and services crypto has to offer. Through Coinbase, investors can not only buy and sell cryptocurrencies, but they can also exchange NFTs and store crypto in their own personal wallets, among other things.

“I think with this last year,” Loyd said, “people are trying to learn and understand this since this is the way things are going and people don’t want to be passed by.”

“We think the future of money is here with crypto,” said Jessica Williams, Coinbase’s Director of Brand Partnerships & Experiential. “Coinbase will continue to focus on our suite of products and platform, which are all tools that currently over 100M people use daily to buy, sell and manage crypto.”

Loyd has found confidence in crypto through experience. She’s hopeful that even more WNBA players will get there, too, now that the league and teams like Seattle are offering educational programs and tools to participate.

“As you’re investing, you’re also learning,” she said. “Being educated in what you’re investing in helps a lot and I want to see more, whether it’s the rookies coming in and getting a quick Coinbase lesson from the start. As rookies, we only learned about the investments of retirement.”

In recent months, the rapid rise of cryptocurrency has led to economic volatility and skepticism among the public. Loyd doesn’t see this as an issue, but rather a chance for her to help usher in a new financial tool and leave a permanent mark on the global market.

“I think a lot of people, especially women, are nervous about it. They don’t know what it is,” Loyd said. “For me, I’ve gone into meetings and people ask, ‘Oh, you know about crypto?’ Yeah, I’m a woman and an athlete and I know about crypto. It’s a cool thing for women to understand what it is, to sit in these seats in sports leagues and have another edge to them. Not just, ‘I’m here because they put me here,’ but ‘I can talk the language and know what’s going on.’”

For Loyd, whose own financial background is rooted in family and community, crypto is about more than monetary gains. It’s also a source of equality and other values she believes in at her core.

“Coinbase is meant for everybody. It’s hard to find something in the world that’s for everybody,” Loyd said. “Having the ability to teach this, to help people understand this, you are educating them, but also giving them something they can use for the rest of their lives. That’s impactful to me. This world isn’t equal, but this allows money, understanding and finances to be equal.”

Daniel Newton is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports.

As one of the few leagues that saw a significant increase in viewership following the COVID-19 pandemic, the WNBA has displayed massive growth potential in recent years. People are starting to take notice, and not just individuals but industries.

In May, crypto platform Coinbase announced new partnerships within the WNBA ecosystem to foster more participation in the cryptoeconomy and web3 through fan and player education, NFTs, and IRL activations.

“The WNBA was always an important part of our sports strategy when signing the league deal,” Jessica Williams, Director of Brand Partnerships & Experiential at Coinbase, told Just Women’s Sports. “It was integral to the core of the deal, and we were inspired by the league’s commitment to innovation and excellence.”

The goal of the partnership is to inspire the next generations of fans to get more involved in the crypto economy. WNBA legend Sue Bird, even as she heads into retirement, is 100 percent on board with the relationship for the future of the league.

“Women’s sports is a wonderful investment for a variety of reasons. One of the main ones is we haven’t been invested in historically,” she said. “When you see other leagues teaming up like the WNBA has teamed up with Coinbase, it’s a really good sign of things to come for both sides.”

One way Coinbase is looking to provide strategic partnership and resources to the WNBA ecosystem is through NFTs, one of the blockchain-based products that boomed in sports and beyond in the past year.

NFTs, short for non-fungible tokens, represent a unique asset like a piece of art, digital content or media. As with a trading card, their value isn’t as simple as a price tag on a shelf but rather determined by different attributes such as rarity, edition, design, etc. Unlike traditional trading cards, NFTs are cryptographically protected, allowing for the easy tracing of origin and ownership in the matter of seconds.

Think of NFTS like a baseball card, music file or Picasso painting that can’t be replicated, shared or altered. With the rise of NFTs, expert validation requirements, fake (imposter) replicas, illegal streaming or sharing, and storage requirements to maintain physical condition are eliminated.

NFTs also have utility in a digital ecosystem, with NFT holders able to unlock exclusive perks and upgrade the ticketing system for events, among other actions. These benefits give NFTs an edge compared to many of their counterparts in the traditional collectibles market.

“Coinbase NFT, Coinbase’s web3 social marketplace, is focused on meeting the gap between commerce (marketplaces that focus on buy, sell and trade volume) and social apps. We learned that people don’t just want better tools to buy and sell NFTs: They want better ways to discover them, better ways to find the right communities, and better spaces in which they can feel connected with each other,” Williams said. “That’s why we’re building a product that’s much more than a transaction. We’re looking to empower people to create, collect and connect.”

According to investment bank Jefferies, the value of the NFT market is expected to increase by around 30 percent to $35 billion in 2022, and reach $80 billion by 2025. With those numbers in mind, Bird is happy to be one of the WNBA pioneers in the NFT space, first as a player and now as a business professional and mentor in retirement.

“I think sports memorabilia is a huge business. We have an opportunity as athletes to actually build the product instead of just signing it. That’s where Coinbase NFT is exciting, because it gives fans that user-friendly marketplace to acquire and display your favorite NFTs,” Bird said. “Post retirement is going to allow me to dive deeper into all of this and maybe help some other current players navigate it. Sports memorabilia has proven it’s legit, and this is another element to that.”

The collectibles market, which includes NFTs and sport memorabilia, was valued at $372 billion in 2020, according to Market Decipher. The lists of the top-selling pieces of sports memorabilia are constantly changing, with the Mickey Mantle 1952 Topps baseball card becoming the most expensive ever when it sold for $12.6 million at Heritage Auctions on Aug. 28.

Bird understands just how big the business is and how the WNBA can take advantage of its growth, giving athletes more ownership of their assets and the opportunity to speak directly to their fans.

“NFTs are allowing athletes to take more ownership and monetization of their likeness. Where we first saw it was our voices and our platform on social media, and obviously this goes hand in hand, but that’s where we as female athletes now have a little bit of a say,” she said. “We can control what’s being put into the immediate universe on our behalf. What happens is, you get more eyeballs on you in that way, and then you start to see more interests. And then I would say in the last three to five years, you’ve seen it take a turn. NFTs are definitely one vehicle that allows women to create.”

Through their partnership with the WNBA Players Association, Coinbase is also providing new financial options to players. During the league’s 2022 Rookie Orientation, Coinbase hosted an education session covering crypto for the top rookies invited to the draft. They also set up all 144 WNBA players with Coinbase accounts and crypto funds to help them further familiarize themselves with the space.

The partnership is opening doors to players who did not traditionally have access to this type of financial training. Bird was one of the many players encouraged by the financial freedom and possibilities that crypto and NFTs can offer.

“I think back when I entered the WNBA, you talked about your 401k and your different investments, but it just wasn’t on the scale it is now,” she said. “NFTs allow us to market and auction our own products. More than anything, it’s refreshing for companies like Coinbase to invest in the WNBA, the Storm, in Jewell (Loyd) and myself. That’s really where we’ve seen a big change.”

While the momentum is building, there’s still much information a person needs to educate themselves on to become an NFT master. Many can be timid to jump into the waters of NFT trading and collecting, but Bird grows more confident by the day.

“It is an ongoing education process. Just when you think you think you have a handle on it, there’s going to be a curveball, and that’s very normal,” she said. “It’s OK to feel every now and again like, ‘Wait, what?’ Everybody feels that way. The more you learn about it, the less that feeling will be there, so you just have to stick with it. … I know I didn’t know what an NFT was until 2 years ago. We are all still learning, figuring it out on the fly, finding out what best practices are with creating collectibles that also have that tangible value or hold that experience.”

Sue Bird officially retired Tuesday night after 21 years in the WNBA. (Joshua Huston/NBAE via Getty Images)

Getting acquainted with NFTs can seem like a daunting venture. Bird followed time-trusted methods of listening to the experts.

“I was lucky to have a friend who was into it early. She just kind of broke it down to me and explained some things. What she did was she gave me some people to follow on social media. She pointed me to the right people,” she said. “This is not dissimilar to other things in life. How do you learn about anything? You have to find the experts, you have to read what they have to say, listen to podcasts or follow them on social media, and then you can stay up on all the trends via their knowledge and advice.”

For those who don’t have direct connections and want to learn about the crypto market, aside from creating their own Coinbase account and trying crypto in their free time, educational platforms such as Udemy, Skillshare and LinkedIn provide courses for all skill levels.

With a strong partnership and a bright future, the WNBA and Coinbase are looking to lead the charge in the expansion of the cryptoeconomy, bringing more eyes, publicity and influence to the league and its players.

As for Bird, 2022 was her final year of professional basketball. After a nearly two-decade career with the Seattle Storm and USA Basketball that included four championships, 12 All-Star selections, five Olympic gold medals and the WNBA career record for assists, games played and minutes played, she hung up her sneakers after Seattle’s Game 4 semifinal loss to Las Vegas on Tuesday night.

Beyond basketball, however, Bird feels she is just getting started in her NFT journey.

“There are no limits. There are no boundaries that are going to prevent Sue from being successful in whatever endeavor she chooses, Bird’s coach at UConn, Geno Auriemma, told ESPN’s MA Voepel recently. “Whether that’s within sports or outside the sports world.”

Daniel Newton is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports.