Those hailing the return of live sports with the NFL Draft this weekend are overlooking one fact: the WNBA held its virtual draft one week earlier. And at least one of the league’s star players and coaches are speaking out about being overlooked.
On the eve of the NFL Draft Thursday, trusted league insider Adam Schefter tweeted his appreciation for the upcoming event. “For the first time in what feels like forever, a real live sporting event,” he wrote. (It’s worth noting Schefter originally criticized the NFL’s decision to proceed with the draft as scheduled, saying it was the wrong move while there is “carnage in the streets.”)
Schefter later apologized for his omission, tweeting he was “caught up in the moment” and “forgot about” the WNBA Draft. For Connecticut Sun head coach Curt Miller, the logic is backwards. While the NFL has been applauded for its flawless technical execution of the virtual draft setup — commissioner Roger Goodell delivers each pick from his basement, though he looked exhausted by the end of Friday’s proceedings — Miller says the WNBA led the way.
“While many called the WNBA guinea pigs for the virtual draft, I looked at us as the leaders and trailblazers,” he told Outsports. “We paved the way for the NFL’s recent draft days.”
The WNBA nailed the virtual draft April 17, with commissioner Cathy Engelbert announcing all 36 picks from her property in New Jersey. The WNBA worked with its technology partners to ensure participating prospects could livestream their locations — the NFL has done the same — and also sent gift boxes to some players as well.
To add the home touch, Engelbert steamed jerseys herself to get wrinkles out, so they would look crisp when she presented them on the telecast.
The affair, which also included emotional tributes to Kobe and Gigi Bryant, was the league’s most-watched draft in 16 years. The WNBA Draft averaged 387,000 viewers, up 123 percent from last year.
And yet, the WNBA struggles to get respect from some of the most prominent personalities on its own broadcast partner. Hours before the draft aired live on ESPN, “Pardon the Interruption” co-host Michael Wilbon sarcastically promoted the event.
not to beat a dead horse but why is it two hours before the wnba draft and i can't find any women's basketball on any espn affiliate while literally no other sports are happening— Natalie Weiner (@natalieweiner) April 17, 2020
omg: wilbon just said, for his very last sentence, "oh and tonight is the wnba draft right here on espn" and kornheiser replied, "tremendous promotion, wilbon, tremendous." wilbon concluded, "you like that? i'm a company guy."— Natalie Weiner (@natalieweiner) April 17, 2020
Washington Mystics guard Natasha Cloud had enough of the disrespect Friday, responding to a right-wing blogger’s attempt to troll the WNBA by challenging him to a game of one-on-one. Unsurprisingly, she hasn’t heard back.
Hey harry. Come play me. Dm me and I’ll send you the addy. Don’t be a b*tch boy either. Show up or shut that ass up.— Natasha Cloud (@T_Cloud4) April 24, 2020
Cloud, who averaged 9 points and 5.6 assists per game last season and helped lead the Mystics to their first championship over the Sun, said she is “tired of blatant sexism from ignorant people.”
Indeed, it is quite ignorant to belittle the WNBA’s popularity, considering it’s only been in existence for 25 years. Keep in mind, the NBA was still airing some of its Finals and playoff games on tape delay into the 1980s.
The WNBA is progressing just fine, with its wildly successful virtual draft serving as the latest example of its growth.