August 21, 2016
The United States Women’s National Basketball team won their 6th consecutive olympic basketball gold medal last night in Rio de Janeiro. Capping off a dominating performance where no team was able to give the women a real challenge. In the eight games played during the olympic tournament, the average margin of victory for the American women was an astounding 37.2 points! A true testament to the elite level that women’s basketball is played in United States. When questioned by the media concerning America’s dominance and the lack of mainstream coverage of such talent, four-time olympic gold medalist Diana Taurasi didn’t feed into that narrative, instead, she expressed her excitement and appreciation for the game and what the women have accomplished.
“I mean you guys are here now,” Taurasi, who moved into second place all-time in total Olympic points for the U.S. Women’s National Team, said to a mass of media. “We’re doing something, and basketball is really important to a lot of people in the U.S., and no one takes it more serious than women. We play year round. We sacrifice a lot of things to make sure that we bring this home. And you know what? It’s ok. We’re happy.”
But how big is the sacrifice the women make for the National Team to their WNBA teams? During an olympic year the WNBA goes on a month long hiatus as its top stars join together to compete for gold on the world stage. This leaves several teams without their star player or players as was the case for the Minnesota Lynx this summer as four of their five starters were on the olympic team, or the Phoenix Mercury who had five players playing on four different national teams. Teams are left with the challenge of finding ways to keep team chemistry, to keep players conditioned, and to not lose the momentum they may have had heading into the olympic break.
Olympians have a grueling schedule where practices are challenging and games are physical. And for the many veteran players on the team this summer, the amount of work they put into this commitment has to be grueling, something that could affect their play down the stretch of the WNBA season. Teams also risk losing their star players to injury during the tournament which was almost the case for Seattle Storm’s point guard Sue Bird, who went down during the second quarter of their game vs. Japan because of a knee injury. Bird missed their semifinal game against France and her absence was felt.
“You could see something’s missing,” Angel McCoughtry said. “Sue makes such a big difference. The way the flow of the game was going was different.”
Her presence was definitely recognized by college teammate Diana Taurasi who has won four gold medals alongside Bird. “It took us a while to get used to it,” Taurasi said. “I had to change my mindset. When Sue’s out, you forget how much she does for this team. We have so many scorers that she finds a way to get everyone in their spots, to get everyone touches and she sacrifices for that.”
Bird came back to play in the final against Spain but what if her injury were more serious? What would that have meant for the Seattle Storm who currently hold onto the last playoff spot if they were to start today. With teams having between 9 and 11 games remaining on the schedule, every game will have great significance. The only two teams to have clinched a playoff spot before the start of the olympics are the Sparks and the Lynx who have only lost 7 games between the two of them this season.
So what if Bird was just playing off of adrenaline? What if she needs to take time off when she returns to the U.S.? What would that mean for the Storm? What does the wear and tear on the bodies of players like Seimone Augustus and Lindsey Whalen, who both struggled with injuries last season before leading their team to its third WNBA title, mean for the Lynx? How will it effect 34 year old Diana Taurasi and 35 year old Penny Taylor, who missed several games already this season? The offensive and defensive load that Tina Charles takes on nightly for the New York Liberty; will she have the energy to jump right back into the mix? What about Tamika Catchings?
Taurasi was more than right when she said that female players sacrifice a lot for the game of basketball and Seattle Storm’s head coach Jenny Boucek understands this more than anyone. After hearing the news of her starting point guard going down, in a phone interview with Excelle Sports, Boucek expressed the intricacies of women’s basketball.
“I care about [my players] holistically, not just for what they can do for the Storm,” Boucek said. “If something were to happen, of course it would be a big blow for the Storm, but it’s selfish just to expect them to make decisions just based on the Storm. They oftentimes have overseas teams, they’ve got national teams, and we’re just a piece of their puzzle. It’s not all about just the WNBA for women’s basketball players. I really want to support their professional career, even the parts that don’t have anything to do with the Storm or could affect the Storm in a negative way. I want what’s best for them as a player, and that includes playing on the national team.”
It is an honor and a privilege to play for any National Team and the reward is far greater than any sacrifice one would ever make but it will interesting to see, if at all, this run for the gold has any negative effects on the play or even the chemistry of teams when players return to their respective cities to finish out the season. Luckily for the Lynx, having clinched a playoff spot early on, they have the option to give those national team players more rest. However, if they want to move into first place in the standings (they are currently in 2nd), they may have to put their best on the floor more than they would like. The Mercury face a more urgent situation as they are currently in 7th place in the standings and face being in one of the single elimination playoff games which was implemented prior to the beginning of the season. We are looking forward to the restart of the WNBA season! Although we’ve had basketball to watch during the olympics, the WNBA is the best league in the world with the best players in the world and we are ready to see who will become the world champions this season.