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Team USA Women’s Basketball: the biggest global dynasty we take for granted

ATHENS – AUGUST 28: Diana Taurasi #1 of the United States and teammates celebrate from the bench as their team goes on to win the gold in the women’s basketball gold medal match 74 -63 over Australia on August 28, 2004 during the Athens 2004 Summer Olympic Games at the Indoor Hall of the Olympic Sports Complex in Athens, Greece. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

During the Olympics, U.S. teams in women’s soccer, gymnastics and beach volleyball enjoy a substantial boost in viewership and public support. By comparison, the U.S. women’s national basketball team gets little fanfare. You could say the same for such sports like indoor volleyball and water polo, etc., but none of these teams have been more victorious than USA Women’s Basketball. Not by a mile.

The women’s national team has won eight out of 10 gold medals since the sport debuted in 1976 for women (not counting the 1980 boycott). This summer they are competing for a seventh gold medal in a row. The only other U.S. team to have accomplished this feat is the men’s national basketball team, which had a forty-year head start and won the first seven Olympic golds from 1936 to 1968. Besides the men’s squad, no other U.S. team even comes close to the women’s 80 percent gold-medal winning percentage. 

One could argue that this is the crux of the problem. That the U.S. women are too dominant in basketball to the point that it’s not captivating, that there’s not enough parity to make it exciting. It’s the same argument that was applied to UConn when they won four NCAA titles in a row behind Breanna Stewart. It’s safe to say, looking back, that UConn’s dominance was not, in fact, bad for the sport. And neither is Team USA’s.

Team USA celebrates winning gold in Rio (Tim Clayton/Getty Images)

Granted, international basketball isn’t on the same footing as international soccer or other sports given a global footprint by the former British Empire. For women’s soccer, the World Cup and the Olympics represent the pinnacle of competition. For basketball, on the contrary, the highest level of competition is found in the WNBA. The result for USA Women’s Basketball is that making the national team is arguably harder than winning the gold medal.

As hoops legend Simone Augustus recently told LaChina Robinson on the Around the Rim pod, “You’re talking about the top players in the world, there’s only 12 spots … if you wanted to be on that team, you had to be at the tip, tip, tip top in order to make that team. That was by far the hardest team to make.”

Competition to make Team USA is so fierce that often the biggest Olympic storyline is who didn’t make the team, as was the case in 2016 when Candace Parker was inexplicably left off the roster and deprived of a gold.

Skylar Diggins-Smith (Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

This year represents another opportunity to shift the narrative around USA Women’s Basketball, which is easily the greatest global dynasty we take for granted as fans.

Yes, there was the usual bit of drama when the roster came out, as fans (rightfully) questioned how Nneka Ogwumike could be left off. But that can’t be where the story ends for Team USA, not when the quality of the product on the court is this phenomenal and the cultural influence of the players off the court is this palpable. 

The popularity of the WNBA is soaring, and there are good reasons for it. The national team is a highly distilled version of the same ingredients which make the W great, which is why Team USA’s latest gold medal bid has the potential to capture the heart of the nation.

On the court, the talent has never been better

With only 144 roster spots in the WNBA, all 12 teams in the league are stacked with big names (thus the vocal calls for #WNBAexpansion), but none more so than the Seattle Storm and Phoenix Mercury. Both teams have an intimidating “Big Three” and all six of those players are now teammates on Team USA. For Phoenix, it’s Skylar Diggins-Smith, Brittney Griner and (GOAT No. 1) Diana Taurasi. For Seattle, it’s Jewell Loyd, Breanna Stewart and (GOAT No. 2) Sue Bird. 

For Taurasi and Bird, there could never be enough print about what they’ve accomplished in their parallel careers. The all-time leading scorer (DT) and all-time leading dime dealer (Bird) are each playing in their fifth consecutive Olympic games and hunting down a fifth consecutive gold medal at 39 and 40 years old, respectively. Tokyo could be the last time we see the two GOATS together on the court wearing the same jersey. Savor it.

On the opposite end, this will be the first Olympics for reigning league MVP A’ja Wilson, who is only in her fourth pro season but has quickly become a face of the league. During the Olympics she’ll be sharing the court with Seattle’s “Big Three,” who bested her Las Vegas Aces in the WNBA Finals last season 3-0. Seattle and Vegas currently sit first and second in league standings. 

In addition to teaming up with her biggest competition, Wilson will get to play alongside her good friend and fellow Olympic newbie Napheesa Collier. There might not be a traditional Olympics village this year, but that doesn’t mean A’ja and Napheesa won’t have some serious tea to spill on their JWS podcast, Tea with A & Phee. 

You’ve also got Tina Charles, who has stepped up massively in Elena Della Donne’s absence for the Washington Mystics. Charles is currently leading all scorers in the W this season and is in the top five in rebounding. On any given night, she’s liable to post an eye-popping double-double.

An let’s not forget future Hall of Famer Sylvia Fowles (the WNBA’s all-time leading rebounder), the “Point Gawd” Chelsea Gray and defensive specialist Ariel Atkins. It goes without saying that Team USA is overloaded with talent, and that on paper, this could be one of the best women’s basketball teams ever. 

Off the court, the impact has never been bigger

During the 2020 Wubble season, the WNBA received widespread acknowledgement for being a leading voice in social justice matters. Given that the league is majority Black, with a large number of LGTBQ+ athletes, these professional women’s basketball players are living at the heart of these struggles.

As Nneka Ogwumike, president of the WNBA’s Players Association, put it, “We’re 70 percent Black women. It’s just that simple really. Naturally, we are unfortunately inherently political. We don’t choose to be, it just is. That authenticity drives our action.”

The political actions taken by the WNBA last summer — from tributes to Breonna Taylor, to supporting Rev. Raphael Warnock in his U.S. Senate bid against then-WNBA owner Kelly Loeffler — were organized, unified, and powerful. Players responded in real time to events happening across the country with poise and profound thoughtfulness. Their deeply-rooted support of social justice campaigns drew in many new fans. Now, a consolidated group of these women will be taking both their skills and social beliefs to Tokyo as they represent the United States on the global stage.

With Dawn Staley at the helm, a three-time Olympic gold medalist herself and the first Black head coach for the women’s national team, there are inherent political implications even without an explicit demonstration or targeted campaign. But just as these players did in the bubble last year, expect them to lead the conversation both on and off the court.

The games themselves might not come down to the wire, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t a thousand and one other reasons to watch what these women do in Tokyo this summer. Greatness shouldn’t be taken for granted, and in the history of the Olympics, there simply is no greater team.

New Washington Spirit Head Coach Jonatan Giráldez Arrivin DC

head coach Jonatan Giráldez
Jonatan Giráldez joins the NWSL from FC Barcelona Femení. (Ramsey Cardy/UEFA via Getty Images)

Five months after announcing that the Washington Spirit had hired Barcelona Femení coach Jonatan Giráldez as the team's new head coach, Giráldez has joined the club in Washington, DC.

Giráldez is coming off of a successful season with the Spanish side, having won UEFA Women's Champions League, Copa de la Reina, Supercopa, and Liga F in his final season to complete a lauded Quadruple.

While Giráldez was finishing out his tenure in Europe, Adrián González filled in as Spirit interim head coach. González has also seen success, leading the team to its third-place standing with a 9-3-1 record through 13 games.

“I’m thrilled to join the Spirit and begin this next chapter with the club,” Giráldez said in an official team statement. “To be part of the vision Michele Kang has for the Spirit and women’s soccer globally is an exciting opportunity.”

Giráldez has worked at Barcelona since 2019, initially coming on as an assistant coach before moving up to head coach in 2021. The team went 30-0-0 on the season under Giráldez during his first year as manager.

He brings along with him Andrés González and Toni Gordo, who will serve as the Spirit's Fitness Coach and Club Analyst, respectively.

US Track & Field Olympic Trials Touch Down in Oregon

Sha’Carri Richardson competes in the women’s 200-meter preliminary round during the USATF Outdoor Championships
Sha’Carri Richardson will have some competition this week as athletes vie for an Olympic berth. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

The US Olympic Track & Field Trials begin on June 21st, kicking off a 10-day quest to determine who will represent the US in Paris this summer.

The crucial meet will take place in Eugene, Oregon, where the top three finishers in each event will punch their ticket to the 2024 Olympics. As with this past week's US Swimming Trials, even the most decorated athletes must work to earn their spot — and one bad performance could undermine four years of preparation.

Reigning 100-meter World Champion Sha'Carri Richardson headlines this year's field, as the 24-year-old looks to qualify for her second Olympic Games and compete in her first. Richardson is a world champion in both the 100-meter and 200-meter sprint, but missed the Tokyo Olympics due to testing positive for THC shortly after the last US Olympic Trials.

Other standouts include 400-meter Olympic gold medal-winning hurdler Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone, who's currently the most decorated athlete in the active women's US Track & Field pool. McLaughlin-Levrone qualified to run in the 200-meter and 400-meter flat races alongside the 400-meter hurdles at the Olympic Trials, but opted to focus solely on her signature event.

800-meter specialist Athing Mu will also be a huge draw this week, as the Olympic gold medalist looks to shake off a lingering hamstring injury while pursuing her second Summer Games. Gold medal-winning pole vaulter Katie Moon will also attempt to qualify for her second-straight Olympic Games.

Ole Miss star McKenzie Long could be Richardson's greatest competition in the 100-meter and 200-meter events, as well as Richardson's Worlds teammate Gabby Thomas in the 200-meter. In field events, watch for Oregon senior Jaida Ross going head-to-head with reigning world champion Chase Jackson in the shot put, as both push for their first Olympic team berth.

Regardless of why you tune in, the US Olympic Trials are a perpetually thrilling and sometimes brutal qualification process. If you're able to make your way to the head of the pack, a shot at Olympic glory might just be waiting at the finish line.

Fans can catch live coverage throughout the Trials via NBC, USA, and Peacock.

Top Teams Square Off in NWSL Weekend Slate

NWSL Orlando Pride forward Barbra Banda
Orlando Pride, led by forward Barbra Banda, will take on Utah in this weekend's NWSL action. (Nicholas Faulkner/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

As the NWSL season continues, a few top-performing clubs will have a chance to boost their standings this weekend.

First-place Kansas City will travel to Providence Park to take on fifth-place Portland, as the Current look to keep their unbeaten streak intact. And in New Jersey, third-place Washington will take on fourth-place Gotham FC, with both teams attempting to extend multi-game unbeaten streaks.

A six-point gap has opened between the fifth and sixth spot on the NWSL table — with just six points also separating the league's top five. Kansas City, Orlando, Washington, Gotham, and Portland have recently proven themselves to be a cut above the rest of the competition. With eight postseason spots up for grabs and half the season behind us, a pattern is forming that indicates the playoff race could come down to spots six through eight on the NWSL table.

Of those top five teams, only Orlando faces an opponent in the bottom half of the league this weekend: The Pride will take on 14th-place Utah, who nonetheless are coming off a win — just their second of the season — over Bay FC last weekend.

But despite Kansas City and Orlando having yet to lose a game, Gotham might be the squad coming into the weekend with the most momentum.

Clutch goals from Rose Lavelle and rookie Maycee Bell gave the Bats a 2-0 midweek win over San Diego on Wednesday, in a rematch of the 2024 Challenge Cup. Gotham's unbeaten streak dates all the way back to April, as rising availability and sharpened form have honed this year's superteam into a contender.

Bottom line? As the NWSL season passes the halfway mark, some matches might begin to feel more like playoff previews than mere regular season battles.

Chelsea Gray Returns From Injury in Aces Win Over Seattle

las vegas aces chelsea gray and kelsey plum celebrate a win over the seattle storm
Gray has been sidelined with a foot injury since the 2023 WNBA Finals. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Chelsea Gray made her return to the basketball court on Wednesday, helping the Aces to a 94-83 win over the Seattle Storm. 

The lauded point guard missed the first 12 games of the season, having been injured in last year’s WNBA Finals. The left foot injury caused her to miss Game 4 of the championship series, and she’s continued to rehab it through the beginning of the 2024 season. 

Her return on Wednesday was capitalized by the fact that she needed just 20 seconds to make an impact and record her first assist. While she finished with just one point, she had seven assists, four rebounds, and two blocks to go alongside it in 15:30 minutes. Gray's contributions on the night brought her career assist record up to 1,500.

"I probably went through every emotion leading up to today," Gray said after the game. "I was a little anxious all day. It's been a long time since I've been out on that court. But the fans were amazing from the time I came out to warm up to the time I checked in the game. It was a rush and a feeling I missed a lot."

It’s been a roller coaster of a season so far for Las Vegas, who have lost five of their last seven games. Gray, who averaged 15.3 points, 7.3 assists, and 4.0 rebounds in 2023, has proven herself a much-needed addition to the team’s lineup.

"Felt like my heart," Aces coach Becky Hammon said when asked how she felt hearing the crowd erupt for Gray's return. "She's the leader of our team. I thought she did a wonderful job too."

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