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.
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]," Chris said. "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 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 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.
Staley sports $5,000 letterman's jacket
South Carolina coach Dawn Staley arrived to the championship in style, rocking a green Louis Vuitton varsity jacket listed on the company website for $4,850. She also wore black Louis Vuitton high-top sneakers valued online at $1,170.
Staley, long noted for her courtside fashion choices, has shown out in the NCAA tournament. For Friday's semifinal game at Target Center, she steered the Gamecocks past Louisville in a Balenciaga T-shirt and washed jeans patterned with a repeated diagonal of the brand in script font.
"Her fit is always on point every single game," Gamecocks guard Destanni Henderson said. "If she comes in the locker room, she sits down really fast because she knows we're going to say something. And it's like as soon as we say something she's like — she acts so nonchalant about it, but yeah, she can definitely dress."
Signs throughout Target Center informed fans and ushers on credentials and court access with a mock credential that includes all levels of security and a mock photo of the credential holder. That holder pictured: Prince.
Gamecocks fans revel in win
Steve Davis, donning a garnet fedora and black pants decorated with the South Carolina logo, danced with his wife at the top of their section as confetti rained down on the victorious Gamecocks after their 64-49 win.
Davis traveled to Minneapolis from Charleston, S.C., and also made the trip to Dallas in 2017 when South Carolina won its first women's basketball national championship.
"It's a beautiful feeling," Davis said. "We're not a wealthy state, we had to sacrifice a lot. I'm so happy for the state of South Carolina."
Celebrating with the band
Staley brought the championship trophy over to the South Carolina pep band in the postgame celebration.
"I've got a fascination with the band," she said. "Like the band, they just seem like they have so much fun. That's one. Two, they didn't get to experience the NCAA Tournament last year, and every time we've won something big, a championship, they've played. They've enjoyed it just as much as we have, and they don't get a whole lot of exposure."
Getting a new dog?
Staley has a 4-year-old dog, a Havanese, who is named Champ after South Carolina's 2017 national title.
She was asked Sunday night if she planned to get another dog with her second championship. She said Champ would have to approve, but she had already chosen a name: Natty.