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Dawn Staley brings her voice to new podcast NETLIFE

(Elsa/Getty Images)

Recently, every time the upper echelon of women’s basketball comes into focus, Dawn Staley is a part of the picture. In the span of two months in 2021, Staley led Team USA to its seventh Olympic gold medal in Tokyo and signed a record contract with South Carolina for $22 million over seven years, making her one of the highest-paid coaches in women’s basketball. Now, her Gamecocks are the No. 1 team in the nation and the favorites to win the 2022 national championship.

In today’s world, the only thing missing from this level of success is her own podcast. No longer. This week, Staley is launching NETLIFE with Just Women’s Sports, which will feature weekly in-depth conversations with some of the most influential people across sports and other professional industries. WNBA legend Lisa Leslie joins Staley as her first guest Wednesday.

The name of the podcast represents Staley’s own twist on the phrase “ball is life.”

“I’ve given basically all of my life to the game,” she says.

Basketball has been Staley’s north star since she was a kid growing up in the projects in North Philadelphia. She always brought her own ball to the local blacktop courts so that the older guys had to let her join if they wanted to play, since there often wasn’t another decent ball to be found. Staley’s tenacity and love for the game eventually resulted in an athletic scholarship to the University of Virginia, an opportunity she says her family would not have been able to afford otherwise.

Since those early years, Staley has never wavered in her commitment to the game, and it has paid dividends. Her resume includes two Naismith College Player of the Year awards, six WNBA All-Star honors, AP National Coach of the Year (2020), Naismith Coach of the Year (2020) and an NCAA championship as head coach of South Carolina (2017). She’s also a Naismith Hall of Fame inductee and the only person to ever be both USA Basketball’s Player of the Year (1994, 2000) and Coach of the Year (2018, 2021). Remarkably, Staley has been either a player, assistant coach or head coach during six of USA women’s basketball’s seven gold-medal runs. (Yeah, Sue and DT, she’s got six.)

Though she never gave much thought to coaching during her playing days, she couldn’t resist the challenge Temple University’s Athletic Director gave her in 2000. During the Final Four that year, Dave O’Brien asked Staley if she thought she could completely turn around a low-performing program. From 2000-08, Staley did just that, ultimately leaving Temple for South Carolina with a 172-80 record, six NCAA tournament appearances and four conference titles in eight seasons.

Initially tempted by the rags-to-riches challenge, Staley ended up finding deep fulfillment in coaching.

“I’m forever indebted to basketball. It’s given me so much, that every day I try to repay it in some form or fashion,” she says. “Coaching allows me to do that, just working with young people every day.”

Repeating the rebuilding process at South Carolina, she accomplished her life-long goal in 2017 when the Gamecocks won their first NCAA championship in program history behind star player A’ja Wilson.

“The national championship eluded me for, like, 27 years, and once I got it, I felt whole,” she says. “That’s strange because I’ve accomplished a lot in the sport, but that was one of the things that I wanted to check off.”

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Staley was so elated after reaching the pinnacle that she wore the championship net around her neck for many days afterward, calling it her “net-lace.” She also promptly adopted a dog and named him “Champ.” The Havanese is now the most prized creature in her life, making regular appearances on his dedicated Instagram account and at postgame press conferences. Staley is not too modest to admit she muses about names for her next pup if she wins another NCAA title.

Over the years, the 51-year-old basketball legend has found another way to pay forward what the game has given her: by speaking up and using her growing platform for awareness of off-court causes. Staley is very active on social media and shares her views openly with reporters, always advocating for the advancement of women and people of color in her sport and in our country.

Now, with the launch of NETLIFE, Staley will sit down with guests across a spectrum of industries and have long-form discussions about the things that matter to her and her listeners. Staley says her dream guests include President Clinton, Sue Bird and Megan Rapinoe, Reggie Love, and Michael Jordan. Wednesday’s debut episode features Leslie, and with her widespread connections, Staley will no doubt deliver on more of those aspirations.

“We’re looking for people who have a voice, who have something to share that’s not your average answer,” Staley says. “I want to get to the depth of people. I want to figure out what makes them go, what makes them blossom, what makes them hurt, what makes them who they are. Leaders, politicians, change-makers.”

As a leader and a change-maker herself, Staley is always aware of what her individual accomplishments represent in the larger context. When she and Arizona head coach Adia Barnes became the first two Black head coaches to ever cross paths at the Final Four last year, Staley told reporters, “Our history here in women’s basketball is so filled with so many Black bodies, that for this to be happening in 2021, to me, is long overdue, but we’re proud.”

When she led Team USA to Olympic gold in Tokyo last summer as the first Black head coach of the program, she recognized the impact it held for the future: “I know some people are like, if you can coach, you can coach. That’s true, but when it’s a first, and when it’s history-making, I think it’s something to be proud of. It also allows other doors to be opened and opportunities for Black coaches to hold these positions.”

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Staley and A'ja Wilson won a gold medal together with Team USA four years after South Carolina's NCAA title run. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

So it’s not surprising that when Staley was negotiating her new contract with South Carolina, she pushed past her comfort level because she knew it would set the new standard for women’s coaches and gender equity nationwide. “I made a lot of money before the [new] contract,” she told Julie Foudy last month. “It wasn’t for me, and it really wasn’t about the money. But the money is the thing that moves people … the money is the common denominator in it all because it talks, it walks, it shatters glass.”

With a deep, raspy voice that always sounds like she’s just left the sideline of an intensely coached game, and a spunky no-BS communication style, Staley seems to have found a perfect match in podcasting. But contrary to what her Twitter account portrays, Staley says she’s a naturally quiet person.

“All of my life, I’ve been a shy person. I’m OK not talking,” she says. “But I think now is the time in which people are listening. Sometimes people talk and there’s no listening involved, and people shy away from using their voice because they’re not being heard. I think I’m at a place in my career where the things I’m saying, people need to hear.”

Always tactful in her timing and her choices, Staley explains why Just Women’s Sports was a fitting partner for her in tackling this new endeavor.

“It’s time now for us to create our own space because there’s a demand for it. There’s a need for it. There are people out there who want to hear from us,” she says. “When there’s a need for it, we’ve got to give the people what they want.”

Tessa Nichols is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports.

USWNT to face Costa Rica in final Olympic send-off

uswnt sophia smith and tierna davidson celebrate at shebeilves cup 2024
The USWNT will play their final pre-Olympic friendly against Costa Rica on July 16th. (Photo by Greg Bartram/ISI Photos/USSF/Getty Images for USSF)

U.S. Soccer announced Tuesday that the USWNT will play their last home game on July 16th in the lead-up to the 2024 Summer Olympic Games in Paris.

The 2024 Send-Off Match against Costa Rica will take place at Washington, DC’s Audi Field — home to both the Washington Spirit and DC United — at 7:30 p.m. ET on Tuesday, July 16th. The friendly rounds out a four-game Olympic run-up campaign under incoming head coach Emma Hayes’ side, with the last two set to feature the finalized 2024 U.S. Olympic Women’s Soccer Team roster.

Hayes will appear on the USWNT sideline for the first time this June, helming the team as they embark on a two-game series against Korea Republic hosted by Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, Colorado on June 1st followed by Allianz Stadium in St. Paul, Minnesota on June 4th. 

The team is then scheduled to meet a talented Mexico squad on July 13th at Gotham FC’s Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey, where the Olympic-bound lineup will attempt to rewrite February’s shocking 2-0 loss to El Tri Femenil in the group stages of this year’s Concacaf W Gold Cup. And while clear roster favorites have emerged from both of this year’s Gold Cup and SheBelives Cup rosters, a spate of recent and recurring injuries means making it to the Olympics is still largely anyone’s game.

Broadcast and streaming channels for the USWNT's final July 16th friendly at Audi Field include TNT, truTV, Universo, Max, and Peacock.

Caitlin Clark’s WNBA start to serve as 2024 Olympic tryout

Clark of the Indiana Fever poses for a photo with Lin Dunn and Christie Sides during her introductory press conference on April 17, 2024
The talented Fever rookie is still in the running for a ticket to this summer's Paris Olympics. (Photo by Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images)

The USA Basketball Women's National Team is still considering Caitlin Clark for a spot on the Paris Olympics squad, says selection committee chair Jennifer Rizzotti. 

On Monday, Rizzotti told the AP that the committee will be evaluating the college phenom’s Olympic prospects by keeping a close eye on her first few weeks of WNBA play with Indiana.

The move is somewhat unconventional. While Clark was invited to participate in the 14-player national team training camp held earlier this month — the last camp before Team USA’s roster drops — she was unable to attend due to it coinciding with Iowa’s trip to the NCAA Women’s Final Four.

Judging by the immense talent spread throughout the league in what might be their most hyped season to date, competition for a piece of the Olympic pie could be fiercer than ever before.

"You always want to introduce new players into the pool whether it's for now or the future," said Rizzotti. "We stick to our principles of talent, obviously, positional fit, loyalty and experience. It's got to be a combination of an entire body of work. It's still not going to be fair to some people."

Of course, Clark isn’t the first rookie the committee has made exceptions for. Coming off an exceptional college season that saw her averaging 19.4 points, 8.7 rebounds, and 4 assists per game for UConn, Breanna Stewart was tapped to represent the U.S. at the 2016 Olympics in Brazil less than two weeks after being drafted No. 1 overall by the Seattle Storm. Eight years prior, fellow No. 1 pick Candace Parker punched her ticket to the 2008 Games in Beijing just two weeks after making her first appearance for the L.A. Sparks.

In the lead-up to Paris’ Opening Ceremony on July 26th, USA Basketball Women’s National Team is scheduled to play a pair of exhibition games. They'll first go up against the WNBA's finest at the July 20th WNBA All-Star Game in Phoenix before facing Germany in London on July 23rd.

While an official roster announcement date hasn’t yet been issued, players won’t find out if they’ve made this year’s Olympic cut until at least June 1st.

WNBA teams make history with 2024 season ticket sell-outs

Arike Ogunbowale on the wnba court for the dallas wings
The Dallas Wings are now the third team to sell out their entire season ticket allotment in WNBA history. (Michael Gonzales/NBAE via Getty Images)

For the first time in history, three different WNBA teams have completely sold out of season ticket plans well before the league's May 14th kick-off.

Call it the Caitlin Clark effect, attribute it to this year’s tenacious rookie class, or look to the skyrocketing visibility of veteran players across the board. But no matter the cause, facts are facts: Tickets to the 2024 WNBA season are selling like never before. 

On Monday, the Dallas Wings became the third team to sell out of season ticket memberships in the league’s 27-year history. The announcement from Arlington came shortly after the Atlanta Dream issued their own season ticket sell-out statement, also on Monday, and almost seven weeks after the back-to-back WNBA Champion Las Vegas Aces made headlines by becoming the first-ever WNBA team to sell out their season ticket allotment.   

According to the Wings, season ticket memberships will fill nearly 40% of the 6,251 seats inside their home arena, College Park Center. The club also said that their overall ticket revenue has ballooned to the tune of 220% this year, spanning not just season tickets but also a 1,200% increase in single ticket sales. There’s currently a waitlist to become a Dallas season ticket holder, a status that comes with extra incentives like playoff presale access and discounts on additional single-game tickets. 

In Atlanta, season tickets aren't the only thing flying off the shelves. The Dream also announced that they broke their own record for single-game ticket sales during a recent limited presale campaign. Sunday was reportedly their most lucrative day, with five different games totally selling out Gateway Center Arena. Individual tickets for all upcoming matchups will hit the market this Thursday at 8 a.m., while a waitlist for season ticket memberships will open up next Tuesday at 10 a.m.

"Excitement around women's sports, particularly basketball, is at an all-time high and nowhere is that felt more than here in Atlanta," Dream president and COO Morgan Shaw Parker said in the team’s statement. "We’ve continued a record-setting growth trajectory over the past three years under new ownership — both on and off the court — and 2024 is shaping up to be our best season yet."

As of Tuesday, season ticket sales revenue for Caitlin Clark’s hotly anticipated Indiana Fever debut haven’t yet been announced by the club. But if these numbers are any indication — not to mention the explosive demand for Fever away games felt by teams around the country — it won’t be long before we see some scale-tipping figures coming out of Indianapolis.

Nelly Korda ties LPGA record with fifth-straight tournament win

Nelly Korda of the United States celebrates with the trophy after winning The Chevron Championship
Nelly Korda poses with her trophy after acing her fifth-straight tour title at The Chevron Championship on Sunday. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

25-year-old American pro golfer Nelly Korda secured her spot in LPGA history on Sunday, notching her fifth-straight title at this weekend's Chevron Championship in The Woodlands, Texas.

Ranked No. 1 in the world by Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings, Korda joins Nancy Lopez (1978) and Annika Sörenstam (2005) as just the third LPGA player to rack up five consecutive tour wins. She is also the third No. 1-ranked player to capture The Chevron Championship victory since the rankings debuted in 2006, accompanied by Lorena Ochoa and Lydia Ko.

The Florida native shot three-under 69 in Sunday's final, besting Sweden's Maja Stark despite Stark's valiant come-from-behind attempt in the 18th. Korda finished with a four-day total of 13-under 275, celebrating her two-stroke win by cannonballing into Poppie's Pond, much to the crowd's delight. She left The Club at Carlton Woods with $1.2 million from an overall purse of $7.9 million.

It wasn't long ago that the two-time major champion's current winning streak seemed unimaginable. After maintaining her No. 1 position for 29 weeks, Korda underwent surgery to remove a blood clot from her left arm in 2022. She returned to the course not long after, but failed to win a single tournament in 2023 before seeing a surge in form during the first four months of 2024. As of today, she hasn't lost a tournament since January.

Korda will attempt a record sixth-straight win at next week's JM Eagle LA Championship at Wilshire Country Club in Los Angeles, where she'll vie for a cut of the $3.75 million purse.

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