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WNBA MEDIA CONFERENCE
April 14, 2016
New York, New York
THE MODERATOR: Thank you for being here for our legends. We have with us Dawn Staley, Rebecca Lobo, Sheryl Swoopes. Each woman is going to make a brief opening remark and we will then open the floor to questions.
DAWN STALEY: Just want to say happy 20th anniversary to the WNBA. It's almost just a thankful time, a thankful time in that I got a chance to play in this league; I got a chance to play against one of my former players, and over the past two seasons, I get to see some of my current players be drafted in the WNBA.
It's a gift that keeps on giving to our female athletes that they can play during the peaks of their careers.
REBECCA LOBO: It's exciting for me to be a part of the beginning of this league. Sheryl and I were here from the very beginning in 1997. But to see kind of how the league has grown, it's almost like there's been two generations of players since then.
You had the crop of us that came in early, joined by the folks in 1999 from the ABL, and then 2004 was almost the next generation of players to come through. And then now you have these young women who have grown up not knowing what it's like to live in a world without a WNBA. And I think all of us are really proud to have seen it from its inception to where it is now. I'm still thrilled to be a part of it.
SHERYL SWOOPES: Yeah, I definitely want to agree with what Dawn and Rebecca said, having had an opportunity to be one of the first, along with Rebecca; and to be sitting here today celebrating our 20th anniversary, it's crazy.
When the WNBA first started and just hearing what people had to say: You know, there's no way it's going to last; won't be around that long. And to be able to sit up here and look at us now, look at the W, the success of the league, I think kind of speaks for itself.
You know, the players are very different; the talent is very different, and without a doubt, it's such an honor to still be involved with the WNBA in some capacity. Having an opportunity to play with some of the best in Dawn, and against some of the best with Rebecca, the competition in the WNBA was always great.
I definitely think all of us would agree and say it's in pretty good hands with the talent that's coming in the league right now, and I'm really excited and thrilled to have an opportunity to be here today.
Q. Statistically, Sheryl, your 2000 season seems to be the finest in league history, whether it's by win shares, which was second; player efficiency rating, which was fifth; or even defensive win shares were top three. Just wondering for all three of you whether you see it as the greatest single season in league history.
SHERYL SWOOPES: Yeah. (Laughing) You would know that. I wouldn't know that. I don't know. I honestly couldn't sit here and tell you what's the greatest single moment in league history. I know there were some great moments.
For me, having had an opportunity to be a part of a dynasty with the Comets and having an opportunity to play with some of the best players back then, it was special. It was a remarkable moment. But I could also tell you that having watched and still following and seeing the players that continue to come in the league today, I'm sure that there will be a lot more special moments that will happen. But probably none like that one in 2000, though, I don't know.
DAWN STALEY: I think the best part of the WNBA is like today, when dreams are being realized; that you can open doors for young people to walk through them, and walk through them playing women's professional basketball, something that a lot of us had to go overseas to play when we came out of college.
But now, the carrot of the WNBA being dangled in front of young girls: To know that, to get in the gym and work. Because it's hard to get to this platform, but it's at least here for dreams to be realized.
REBECCA LOBO: I was just going to quickly add, I mean, Dawn, she has this whole database of win shares and PER. You'll have just to grab her afterwards to talk to her about that (laughter).
Q. For all three of you, when you played in this league 18, 20 years ago when it was first starting, did you think it would still be around today, and are you proud that it's what you started as a foundation, has now grown and is surviving and thriving 20 years later?
DAWN STALEY: Just made my knees cringe when you said I played 18 years ago. I just run up and down, I don't do anything else (laughing).
I just think, yes, I thought it would stand the test of time because it was done the right way. The right leadership was behind it. The right leadership is behind it as we speak.
So I'm hoping that in its 40th anniversary we can come back with our wheelchairs and canes and see it's a pretty special day.
REBECCA LOBO: Can you use crutches, as bow-legged as you are? How does that work?
I think it's hard to be able to reflect on something without there being time there. You know, I don't think, at least I didn't -- I was so thankful that there was a league and I thought it would be successful because the WNBA was behind it. But I don't think you can really conceptualize, Will this be around in 20 years, when this league didn't have any history yet.
So I think all of us were hopeful that it would last at least as long as we retired. But now that we have 20 years to look back on, I think we can look ahead and say, 20 years from now, what is it going to look like, what is it going to be like, what are the athletes going to be, how popular will it be, what will the salaries be, all those kind of things.
We were just so wrapped up in the moment and being so thankful that we had this league for the first time. For us, I think it was more just embracing, at least for me, it was embracing the moment and not really thinking that far ahead. Plus, in your early 20s, you're not thinking ahead anyway. But being so thankful that we had the right timing to have this opportunity.
SHERYL SWOOPES: I don't think, as Rebecca said, any of us could even look that far and say, will this league succeed, will it be successful, how long will it be around. I think we all were just so thrilled and excited to have an opportunity to play professional basketball here.
But I think one thing we all took as a challenge was we heard what people were saying: It's not going to last; it's going to fail. I think we all took it as a personal challenge to not allow that to happen. And the things we could control as far as competing and playing hard and being in the community and doing our part to market the league, we were all willing to do those things.
To be sitting here today, I could probably answer that question better and say, oh, yeah, 20 years from now, we'll still be around. I don't know if I'm coming in a wheelchair and a cane, I don't know. But I can sit here today and say I definitely see the league being around for another 20 years and beyond that.
Q. Dawn, back in the early days when there was a lot of movement going on, you kind of reflected and worried that the one thing that was happening was the sport was becoming more of a business and less love of the game. In all that's happened since, do you think it's kind of leveled out and maybe there's a little of both, or where do you see the two philosophies measuring up?
DAWN STALEY: I think it's a little of both. I think it's probably a trickle-down effect from collegiate basketball where there's a big movement on student-athletes' welfare; that those players are now infiltrating the WNBA. So they have a way of thinking about what should be taking place.
Whereas my viewpoint is: We need to be thankful that we have a league, because it wasn't here. I was 29 as a rookie. So I felt like I just want to play this out, because I never dreamt of being able to play professionally.
So I think we have to make sure that this league is around forever. We've got to approach it that way. The people here sitting up in front and behind the microphones have to lend our experience of what this league has come from.
Because nowadays, athletes that are being drafted, they have short memories. They only think about how the league affects them, not what's taken place 20 years ago, or even 10 years ago, or what's going to take place 10 years from now.
Q. Going off of that, I wanted to speak each of you to speak about the role that you play now in the sport and what it will take to continue that, as coaches and then as commentators, as well, to continue the history of the WNBA?
SHERYL SWOOPES: Well, I'll speak from my perspective. Having an opportunity to coach now and impact the game on a completely different level, I can definitely agree with that Dawn is saying. A lot of the players, at least the ones I coach, don't really know the history of the WNBA.
So I feel it's my job, not only as a coach, but a former player and a woman, to educate them as much as I possibly can; not on just the current players and where the WNBA is now, but where we came from; the opportunity that lies in front of them, and that's not just in the WNBA, but things beyond that, as far as endorsements and marketing opportunities and commentating and things like that.
You know, every single day, when I go to work, it's not just about the now and the moment, but it is about the future. And the only way we can make sure that this league survives is for us to do our part and educate these young ladies and say, this is why it's important that we do what we do, and we do it the right way, so that the league is around for another 20, 30, 40 years.
Q. I was wondering how your job day experience -- and I know you were a little older when you got drafted, compared to Tiffany's [South Carolina's Tiffany Mitchell] this year and Aleighsa's [Aleighsa Welch] last year; but the expectations and getting ready for the draft.
DAWN STALEY: Well, they both one-upped me. I didn't get invited to the draft.
I think the biggest difference is they have someone that understands what this league is all about, in me as their coach. For me, basketball is my passion, and it's not about even protecting the WNBA. It's protecting the game itself, because if you protect that -- you know, we can have the WNBA forever. But if you don't give our players the right mind-set and approach in the game and working hard for the things that you want to accomplish and everything is not going to be given to you, when you can protect it in that way, I feel real good about our chances of having this league stick around for years to come.
Q. I'm just wondering, when you look at a player like Breanna Stewart, what does she do for the game? Ratings are up, people want to see her, strategically and as a player, what does she do for the weapon's sport?
DAWN STALEY: Well, it makes me want to recruit harder to find one.
You know, but what she's given to the game: You can see from year one to year four how she just progressed, how she approached the game, just from her interviews as a freshman to her interviews as a mature senior. That is what you want, and not even just on the court. You could see her play on the court.
But when that growth takes place both on and off the court, that is what you want your student-athletes to experience on and off the court. So she brings that example of what it should be like if you approach things the right way.
Q. Yesterday you guys recreated the classic "We Got Next" photo. Have you seen the new photo? And any emotions that you guys had when you guys were shooting that photo or seeing it for the first time?
SHERYL SWOOPES: Yeah, we saw it yesterday. It's a lot different doing it yesterday than it was doing it 20 years ago.
Yeah, for me, it was taking me back, and not only being able to do that with Rebecca and Lisa, I was actually pregnant in that shoot. So to be sitting here today --
REBECCA LOBO: Not yesterday's.
SHERYL SWOOPES: -- not yesterday's. Let me clarify that (laughter). Thank you, Rebecca.
So to sit here today and have to recreate that yesterday, and now my son's 18, he's in college; it's just there were a lot of different emotions that went through my mind. And to know that we've come so far from doing that shoot and the uniforms and the jerseys and the hair styles, and we've come so far.
The league has grown so much, and it was just such a great feeling to be able to come back and recreate that, the beginning.
Q. Back when the ABL went under and all those tremendous players joined the league, to me that's when the league really started to stabilize, because two leagues were not going to make it in my opinion. Can you just talk for a second what it was like when Dawn, from your perspective, of when that league failed, and Sheryl and Rebecca, about adding all that talent and what it did to the league.
DAWN STALEY: Well, I played in the ABL for two years, and then I decided that the rigors of playing that traditional basketball season, my body couldn't take, and I wanted to play basketball for as long as I could.
So I decided the year before the ABL went under, to go to the WNBA. I got the best of both worlds. I know Sheryl and Rebecca only got a chance to play in the WNBA, but with he had some barnburners playing in the ABL.
But I guess they can give you their perspective on when the leagues, players merged.
REBECCA LOBO: It definitely got better, that's for sure. Night-in and night-out, the competition was better. I remember that draft, the influx of talent. Many players who we had not played against in college or never had experienced playing against, I didn't know anything about Pee Wee Johnson and then she got in the WNBA and you're like, wow, she can really play. Same with Yo [Yolanda Griffith].
It needed to happen for us to be at a place where 20 years later there could be a league that could boast honestly that it's the best basketball in the world; that includes the best basketball players in the world. So yeah, there was a dramatic difference from the season before the ABL players joined to the year that they came in.
Q. How does it feel knowing that you have inspired young players, especially those from the Caribbean islands to pursue their dreams, not to give up on professional basketball?
SHERYL SWOOPES: It's a great feeling. I think for all of us, that's one thing we always think about is being a role model and giving all these young ladies someone they can look up to, and knowing and understanding that this is possible.
I know for me, unfortunately growing up, I didn't have that female role model that I could look up to, an opportunity to watch them play basketball in a professional league here in the States. But I know you're saying -- you're from the Bahamas, but Bahamas, Virgin Islands, doesn't really matter where you come from. Basketball is basketball.
So to give them an opportunity to look to any of us and say, I want to be just like her or I want an opportunity to play in the WNBA; again, it goes back to the things we were saying earlier.
I think we all feel it's part of our job, it's part of our role to do what we can to make sure that this league is around for many years to come so that those young ladies will have an opportunity, and more opportunities than we had growing up.
So it is, it's a great feeling to be able to be a part of that.
Q. I was wondering with the recent comments that Elena Delle Donne had with lowering the rim possibly for basketball, do you feel there's a need or a pressure for the WNBA to differentiate itself as far as the NBA is concerned, or do you feel that there's importance for the WNBA to maintain?
REBECCA LOBO: I think the WNBA has done a great job in being a leader in women's basketball while at the same time kind of protecting the sport. You look even at what women's college basketball is doing, the game is getting a little closer to what we have in the WNBA in terms of the four quarters, the two shots on the five fouls.
When you look at rules, which we do a lot covering both leagues, WNBA has the best rules. And so I think the WNBA has been a leader in so many ways. Whether coaches like it or not, in terms of television, end of first and third quarter, we get the coach interviews. We were the test group for that. It worked well, so now you see it on the NBA side.
So I think the WNBA is willing to take risks and try new things while at the same time really protecting the integrity of the game and I think that's something the league should be really proud about.
Q. As a neutral UConn observer, I'm hoping you can weigh in on which of the draft classes you think is better: The 2002 or the 2016 team?
REBECCA LOBO: Well, 2002 would be deeper because they had four players going in, what, the top seven, top six. But if Connecticut, UConn gets one, two and three, that would be pretty spectacular. So that would be something that's never been done before.
The other one was deeper. We'll see after the draft today if this one can be considered better, at least at the top of it.
Q. Would you commit to one or the other?
REBECCA LOBO: No.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports