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The good, the bad and the unique from WNBA All-Star weekend

Sylvia Fowles and Sue Bird were honored for their last WNBA All-Star Game. (Jeff Haynes/NBAE via Getty Images)

CHICAGO — From Candace Parker’s banked 4-pointer to, of course, Sylvia Fowles’ dunk, there were plenty of dazzling plays in the 2022 All-Star Game on Sunday.

Here are five things that stuck out from Team Wilson’s 134-112 victory over Team Stewart and the All-Star Weekend festivities as a whole.

Allie Quigley’s 3-point dominance

After Allie Quigley won her fourth 3-point shooting contest on Saturday — becoming the first WNBA or NBA player to do so — Parker said the competition should be renamed the “Allie Quigley Invitational.” She was right.

All-Star weekend results should generally be taken with a grain of salt. The competitions are supposed to be fun, and players usually take it easy on defense so as not to risk injuries (although A’ja Wilson and Kelsey Plum did not adhere to that when doubling Aces teammate Jackie Young on Sunday), but the 3-point contest is different.

Fatigue plays a factor when going through five racks of five balls, plus two DEW ZONE balls, in just 70 seconds. Plus, the winner has to complete the feat twice. Even the best of shooters have off days, and the chances of that happening in a 3-point contest when the circumstances are unfamiliar is pretty high.

When faced with all of those factors, Quigley’s continued dominance shows just how elite her shooting skills are.

After saying she wouldn’t compete again after last season’s contest, Quigley insists she’s done for good this time. Winning one more in Chicago — where she plays for the Sky, and 35 miles from her suburban hometown of Joliet, Ill. — was the perfect way to cap her 3-point contest career.

“I’m 100 percent, 120 percent done,” she said with a smile. “This is it.”

Fans should have seen fun Skills Challenge format in person

The idea to pair Nike Nationals EYBL players with WNBA participants during Saturday’s All-Star events was genius. Not only does that level of exposure help promote the game to young athletes, but it also gives fans a glimpse of the future.

Sabrina Ionescu and NC State verbal commit Zoe Brooks put on a great show in the skills challenge, but they did so in McCormick Place, a convention center in downtown Chicago, as opposed to the Sky’s 10,387-seat home arena. So, why weren’t the contests open to the public?

WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert said Wintrust Arena was already booked when the league chose Chicago as the host city, and that security concerns were also a factor. Chance the Rapper’s free concert on Saturday was similarly closed to fans after the recent wave of mass shootings, including in Highland Park, Ill., a suburb of Chicago.

“Even having an outdoor festival at this very crazy time, as you see shootings and people driving into restaurants with outdoor diners and things like that,” Engelbert said.

The commissioner added that she thought Saturday’s events were a “great show,” and she understands the frustration expressed by fans.

“Last year, we didn’t have it. The year before, we didn’t even have an All-Star Game, so we’re kind of just trying to build what All-Star Weekend will look like,” she said.

However the league plans to build the event next season, it has to be accessible to fans. The product was great, and more people should have seen it.

Sylvia Fowles shines in last All-Star Game

Kelsey Plum deservedly won MVP, but Fowles easily had the play of the game. With 4:12 left in the second quarter, the 14-year veteran stole the ball from Jackie Young and ran it all the way down to the other end, where she threw down a one-handed dunk. She also dunked in her first All-Star Game in 2009, so doing it at 36 years old in her last was pure poetry.

When she got the steal, Fowles said the crowd’s energy gave her enough of a boost to complete the play.

“I think I just heard the momentum of the crowd,” she said. “I probably heard a couple of benches and seen a couple of faces on the other team and I was like, just go for it. It was just in the moment. I didn’t really think about it.”

Fowles, who is set to retire at the end of the season after a storied 15-year career, also scored the contest’s first points on a designed play for a 3-pointer. In her career, Fowles has only attempted one other shot from long range, which she also made.

“They had been hyping me the whole time because it was the first shot of the game,” Fowles said. “But I mean, getting out of your comfort zone a little bit, having fun, I think that’s what’s most important about this weekend.”

Kelsey Plum came to play

In her first All-Star Game, Las Vegas Aces guard Plum took home the MVP trophy after scoring 30 points, which tied Maya Moore’s 2015 record.

For fellow guard Sue Bird, Plum’s performance was unsurprising. She was on a plane when captains A’ja Wilson and Breanna Stewart drafted their teams for the All-Star Game, but said she thought Plum should have been the first pick.

“You just knew Plum was going to come in this game and be super hungry,” Bird said. “That’s just who she is. I think she’s in a great place physically, mentally and things are starting to click for her.

“I got to see this firsthand at the University of Washington. When she has her confidence, it’s really tough to stop her and that’s what you’re seeing right now — just a really confident player.”

Brittney Griner continues to be the focus of WNBA players

It’s been 140 long days since Brittney Griner was detained in Russia, and the WNBA continues to push for her return home as she stands trial on drug charges.

Skylar Diggins-Smith dedicated her pregame outfit to Griner, wearing a sweatshirt with her friend and teammate’s face printed on the front. Griner’s wife, Cherelle Griner, was courtside, and the players all wore Griner’s name on their jerseys.

Griner, who was named an honorary All-Star, remained on everyone’s mind all weekend.

“We are all in this fight together to bring her home,” Stewart said. “And I think that when you have, like Sue (Bird) said earlier, those strength in numbers, it makes a bigger splash and we get attention and we are getting people’s attention and we need to continue to ask President Biden and the White House to bring her home.”

Eden Laase is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @eden_laase.

Portland Thorns reassign head coach after winless NWSL start

Head coach Mike Norris of Portland Thorns FC watches practice before a 2023 match against Orlando Pride
Mike Norris' tenure as Thorns head coach has come to an end. (Photo by Soobum Im/Getty Images)

The Portland Thorns are looking for a new head coach after a winless start to the NWSL season. 

The organization has reassigned head coach Mike Norris to a newly created technical director position. Assistant coach Rob Gale is set to take over as interim head coach while the club conducts a "global search" for its next head coach. 

Norris began his time at the club as an assistant coach before taking the reigns after former head coach Rhian Wilkinson abruptly resigned in 2022. Under Norris, the Thorns finished second in 2023's regular season standings, but suffered three losses in their last five games in a spell that saw them knocked out of the running for the NWSL Shield. They went on to lose their first playoff game in postseason play. 

At the start of the 2024 season, the Thorns went winless through four games for the first time in club history. 

"The results have not gone our way, and in a head coach position, the results do matter," Thorns GM Karina LeBlanc told The Athletic's Meg Linehan shortly after the Tuesday afternoon announcement. “But the results that we have, you can’t just pinpoint it on one position.”

Norris' reassignment marks the first major personnel decision made under the club’s new ownership. RAJ Sports' Lisa Bhathal Merage and Alex Bhathal, who also own the NBA's Sacramento Kings, bought the club in January from Merritt Paulson, who sold the Thorns amidst the fallout stemming from reports of misconduct within the NWSL.

Both the Bhathal family and the Thorns front office have been looking to make changes, and establishing a technical director topped the list. According to LeBlanc, Norris has what it takes to assume the position. 

"Where can we grow? Where are the gaps? How do we move forward with being the standard that people are used to with the Thorns?" LeBlanc continued. "One of [Norris’] strengths is to analyze and process, then come down to communicate what needs to happen."

Despite the dismal start, a quick turnaround could certainly be in the cards for Portland. The club currently leads the league in shots and shots on goal, as does star forward and USWNT standout Sophia Smith

"These changes will help us maximize our strengths as we continuously pursue championship-level success," LeBlanc said, voicing full support for the staffing shakeup.

Serena Williams is ‘super interested’ in owning a WNBA team

Serena Williams speaks on stage during keynote conversation at 2019 conference in San Jose, California
The tennis icon is all in on women's sports — and the WNBA is right on her heels. (Photo by Marla Aufmuth/WireImage via Getty Images)

Could Serena Williams co-own a WNBA team in the near future? 

Speaking with CNN on Monday, Williams expressed her interest in that potential — as well as the mounting enthusiasm for women’s sports around the world. 

"I think women’s sport is having a moment that it should have always had," Williams said. "I feel like tennis has had its moment. It’s international, and it’s huge, and it’s always gonna be there.

"Now it’s time to lift up other sports — women’s soccer, women’s basketball — there’s so many other sports that women do so great, let’s put it on that platform. Women’s basketball is getting there, and it’s arrived."

When asked if she had any interest in adding a WNBA team to her roster of ownership stakes, the tennis great welcomed the idea. "I absolutely would be," Williams said. "With the right market, I would definitely be super interested in that."

"There is no risk — women’s sport is exciting," Williams added, citing the 2024 NCAA women's tournament's record-breaking viewership as evidence. "People are realizing that it is exciting to watch, so it's an overly safe bet."

Williams may not need to wait long to act on that bet. On Monday, WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert said that she is "pretty confident" the league will expand to 16 teams — up from its current 12 — by 2028. 

The goal, she said, is to reach 14 by 2026. Oakland's Golden State is already on track to launch the league's 13th team in 2025. The move will mark the WNBA's first new franchise since the Atlanta Dream debuted in 2008.

"It's complex because you need the arena and practice facility and player housing and all the things," Engelbert said at a press conference before Monday's WNBA draft. "You need committed long-term ownership groups, and so the nice thing is we're getting a lot of calls."

Engelbert went on to name a few of the cities behind those calls, saying that the league continues to engage in discussions with Philadelphia, Toronto, Portland, Denver, and Nashville, as well as South Florida.

"These can either take a very long time to negotiate or it can happen pretty quickly if you find the right ownership group with the right arena situation," Engelbert added.

The Commissioner's 16 team goal is not only good news for WNBA fans, it's great news for current and future WNBA players. At 12 teams with just 12 roster spots each, the league is held to a total of 144 players for any given season. An abundance of fresh talent coming up through the NCAA ranks has put pressure on the organization to make room for more worthy competitors, and four additional teams might be just the ticket.

Hellen Obiri claims back-to-back Boston Marathon wins

Hellen Obiri, winner of the women's division of the Boston Marathon, poses with the Boston Marathon trophy
Hellen Obiri, winner of the 2024 Boston Marathon's women's division, poses with her trophy. (Photo by Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

Kenyan runner Hellen Obiri won the 128th Boston Marathon on Monday, becoming the first woman to claim back-to-back titles since 2005.

She clocked a total time of 2 hours, 27 minutes, and 37 seconds in a women's division that race organizers described as "historically fast."

"Defending the title was not easy," Obiri said. "Since Boston started, it's only six women [that have repeated]. If you want to be one of them, you have to work extra hard. And I'm so happy because I'm now one of them — I'm now in the history books."

A two-time Olympic silver medalist and two-time 5000m world champion, Obiri is a clear favorite in this summer’s Paris Olympics.

“Last year I was pretty familiar to the marathon, but this year my training was perfect — we trusted everything we were doing,” Obiri said. “When we won last year, of course I was saying I’m going to win this one. Winning is like love. It’s something precious to me.”

Though, she wasn’t without a challenge. Fellow Kenyan Sharon Lokedi finished a mere eight seconds behind Obiri. Edna Kiplagat, who won the 2017 Boston Marathon, completed the podium sweep for Kenya with a third place finish.

Emma Bates, the race's top American finisher, came in 12th.

Obiri wasn't alone in making Boston Marathon history this year. The repeat champ walked away with $150,000 in total prize money allocated from a purse that topped $1 million for the first time ever. 

College rivals Angel Reese, Kamilla Cardoso drafted to the Chicago Sky

Angel Reese and Kamilla Cardoso competing at the NCAA SEC Conference Tournament Championship
Once rivals, Angel Reese and Kamilla Cardoso are now teammates. (Jim Dedmon/USA TODAY Sports)

The Chicago Sky made a splash in Monday night’s WNBA draft, taking Kamilla Cardoso and Angel Reese in the first round. 

South Carolina’s Cardoso, who was the 2024 Final Four Most Outstanding Player, went third to the Sky. The day before, the team had swapped picks with the Minnesota Lynx to land the No. 7 pick as well, which they used on Reese, the 2023 Final Four MOP.

Now, the two will team up in Chicago after battling each other in both college and high school

"She’s a great player, and I’m a great player. Nobody's going to get no rebounds on us," Cardoso joked afterwards, while Reese expressed excitement about playing under new Sky head coach Teresa Weatherspoon.

"Being able to be a Black woman and as a head coach, and everything she's done at the NBA level, I just knew everything they were bringing to the table," Reese said of the Sky. "Player development is something that I was looking for and they looked for in me. I'm super excited for this move."

Former NBA star and Chicago Sky co-owner Dwayne Wade welcomed the pair to Chicago.

“The foundation is set,” he wrote.

The Sky have entered re-building mode after winning a WNBA title in 2021. This offseason, they traded franchise cornerstone Kahleah Copper to the Phoenix Mercury for a package that included the No. 3 picked used on Cardoso.

Now, Cardoso and Reese will be looking to jump-start the team's return to contention.

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