Sights and sounds: Cultural relevance of women’s basketball on display all weekend

Lynx players Natalie Achonwa and Layshia Clarendon joined WNBA legend Candace Parker and WNBPA President Nneka Ogwumike to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Title IX in an Adidas-sponsored panel Sunday. It was one of several events this weekend that focused on the law that gave equal opportunities to women in the educational system.

On a sterile mock living room set inside the Hyatt Regency in downtown Minneapolis, the four speakers spread across two white sofas with host Ari Chambers as the group explained what it hoped to see in the next 50 years of Title IX.

“I wish it was a reality that, culturally, we viewed men’s and women’s basketball the same,” Clarendon said. “We should have the same 2K game, which took so long. It used to be like, ‘I wish I could play as Candace or LeBron. I could bet on WNBA games the same as I could bet on any men’s sporting event.’ Because of that cultural relevance, we could see them as equal. “

As for the status of women’s basketball in Minneapolis, Achonwa has loved the fan support this weekend.

“Just talk about the sold-out crowd,” Achonwa said. “When I sat in the gym, there wasn’t an empty seat, and I think that’s setting the standard for how many people should be supporting women’s basketball.”

With heightened cultural relevance, Clarendon said, the financial investment in the game can only grow. Bright orange WNBA sweatshirts becoming a fashion statement, the panel agreed, is an early sign of that growth.

Gallery: Young fans gather at Convention Center for Final Four festivities

Those orange hoodies dotted the lower bowl with color at Sunday’s championship game. Chris Wilson and his 15-year-old daughter Julia made the trip from San Diego sporting matching WNBA sweatshirts. Julia, who dreams of playing in the WNBA, got it for her dad for Christmas after he had seen Kobe Bryant with one.

“Having a woman on the front sets it apart [from other American sports leagues]”I’m supporting my daughter’s dream.”

Can’t wait to get in

Roughly 90 minutes before tipoff Sunday night, it felt like every fan that would eventually be inside Target Center was either in the skyway near the entrance gates or in the lobby.

The mass of humanity eventually unclogged, as it always does, but it was clear that thousands of fans wanted to get into the building as soon as possible.

Fans greet teams on the red carpet

Piled three rows of standing room deep, not to mention on the balconies and escalators, fans climbed over each other for a sight line of the red carpet into Target Center for the teams’ arrivals. They jockeyed for video positioning – one woman handed her phone to a boy a foot taller than her to shoot over the top.

Aside from wanting to catch a glimpse of UConn guard Paige Bueckers, Ella Paulsrud, 16, from Climax, Minn., Came for the love of basketball.

“I just want to see how tall they are in person,” Paulsrud said.

Guard this with your life

South Carolina and UConn played for the championship Sunday. But as they did, in the bowels of Target Center, the trophy was housed in a rather inconspicuous – but very sturdy and large – case.

Dominance on multiple fronts

South Carolina dominated the first quarter Sunday, outscoring the Huskies 22-8 and seemingly grabbing every available rebound.

A more subjective victory came at the quarter break when South Carolina’s mascot, Cocky, showed off even more impressive moves in the mascot dance-off against Jonathan the Husky.

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