Life in the WNBA: The Washington Mystics

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One on One with the women's professional basketball team on their contribution to a male-dominated sport.

MICHEL MARTIN, host:

I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

Just ahead: What's playing in Macy Gray's ear?

But first, if you think the NBA Conference Finals are the only basketball action in town, think again. The Women's Professional Basketball season started this week. It's the 10th year of the league's existence. To celebrate and to take stock of women's basketball today, we caught up with our local team, the Washington Mystics, just before they headed off for a road trip yesterday.

(Soundbite of ball bouncing, clapping)

MARTIN: Of course, you know I can't just stay on the sidelines, so I jumped in with veterans Coco Miller and Alana Beard and rookie Bernice Mosby. They didn't spank me too badly.

All right, show me something (unintelligible). Show me something.

Ms. BERNICE MOSBY (Professional Basketball Player, Washington Mystics): Hey, use the good ball.

MARTIN: Huh?

Ms. MOSBY: It makes your shot accurate.

(Soundbite of ball bouncing, laughter)

MARTIN: Oh.

Ms. MOSBY: You got to put, like, in perfectly.

MARTIN: Oh, now I'm nervous. Actually, why am I nervous? Nobody could see me. All right.

Ms. MOSBY: Oh, one more.

MARTIN: Oh, God. I have babies. I'm like old.

Ms. MOSBY: It doesn't matter. She's (unintelligible).

MARTIN: All right, show me something. Come on, (unintelligible) my situation. Come on.

Ms. MOSBY: See, you go to - let me see. Well, I got to go get it from the back. Let me see. Let me see what this (unintelligible) looking like.

MARTIN: It looks good. You know, I had something but…

Ms. MOSBY: Yeah, adjust from here. Put some on your arms.

MARTIN: All right. I'm going to quit now.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. MOSBY: Quit while you're good.

MARTIN: Uh-uh, uh-uh. No, thank you.

Ms. MOSBY: Let me see your lay up, Michel.

MARTIN: No, no, no.

Ms. MOSBY: Come on, lay up.

MARTIN: Why you trying to (unintelligible)?

Ms. MOSBY: Lay up. Give it a lay up.

MARTIN: Oh Lord, let's see this. All right.

When we finished shooting around, I took the conversation with the ladies off the court and spoke with Coco Miller, Alana Beard and Bernice Mosby. I started with the veteran, Coco Miller.

The league started 10 years - I'm still out of breath. That's a shame.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: I swim. Did I mention I swim? Does that count? The league started 10 years ago, June of 1997, and that wasn't long enough for - Coco, you've been in the league seven years, and you're the Mystic's…

Ms. COCO MILLER (Professional Basketball Player, Washington Mystics): Long time. (unintelligible)

MARTIN: That would not have been long enough for you to have grown up thinking about playing pro-ball. So what did you want to do when you grew up?

Ms. MILLER: Oh, you know, I wanted to play some sport kind of for a living. That was always my dream, either soccer or basketball. And then in high school, when the WNBA came around, that's when I finally realized I could actually do it. So it's like a dream come true.

MARTIN: I mean, what about you? You're four years in the league, right? So did you grow up thinking - was that enough time for you to think about this as a career or not?

Ms. ALANA BEARD (Professional Basketball Player, Washington Mystics): Yeah, because when you grow up, you find a passion for something, and basketball was my passion. And I would always play with my brother and his friends. I was always the only girl. And once, like Coco said, once the league started, you set your mind to making that league. But before the WNBA started, you always said you're going to be the first woman in the NBA, you know? Either way, it went, you were going to make to some league. So it was always a dream of mine, too.

MARTIN: Now that's - what about you, Bernice? What did you grow up thinking about?

Ms. MOSBY: My first love was softball, so I always thought I was going to end up playing softball. But this came up, and I guess, sometimes, I don't even know why I'm playing but…

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: I should mention you had a rough night last night, but we'll go on…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. MOSBY: No, but, honestly, I love the game, and it's been a blessing for me to come and play the sport, so…

MARTIN: You're the rookie. To make that leap from college to the pros, what is that like?

Ms. MOSBY: Oh, it's a big change. I mean, I'm still shocked to this day. I'm still learning from the veterans, like Alana and Coco. Every day they push me in practice. I mean, it's a dream, but also it's work and it's hard work. And I'm just learning. You got to take it one day at a time.

MARTIN: Women have been playing the game almost since it's inception. But women only started playing full court in 1971. I wonder if you still feel like you're struggling for respect, for people to see your game as equal to the men's game. Alana?

Ms. BEARD: I don't necessarily think we're struggling for respect, because we have our fan base. And I think that we want to appeal to a wider audience, I guess. We want the same audience that the NBA has, and we sort of want people to know that we can play this game, too. Just because we're not playing above the rim like the men, we still have a pure game. We still go hard. We still hustle. So, as far as the respect, I think it's fair, but I think we can get it from also another audience.

MARTIN: Coco, what about you? Do you think that women athletes, particularly the pro-ball players, basketball players, are getting the respect they deserve?

Ms. MILLER: I mean, I think we're definitely respected by a, like Alana said, by, you know, a selective audience, and we're just trying to, you know, grow our fan base. And I think, you know, we play a little bit different than the men, but I think to some that something even more exciting. So, you know, we put a lot of hard work into what we do.

MARTIN: Women still don't make as much as the men. In pretty much no sport do they make as much as the men. In women's tennis, they only started getting parity in the purses. I wonder what that says.

Ms. MILLER: I mean, when the men first started, too, their salaries weren't up there. It took a while for them, you know, to get the respect and to get the money that they deserve. So, you know, we just - we're young, so we're just starting out. So, hopefully, someday, you know, our, you know, our salaries will be up there.

MARTIN: You still have to work in the off-season in something else, though, don't you? What do you do in the off-season?

Ms. MILLER: Yeah. A lot of us go overseas to play during the off-season. Practically everyone in our team this year went to do that.

MARTIN: Where'd you play?

Ms. MILLER: I played in France. So it was fun. It was a good experience, you know - work on my game and just to see the world. It's neat.

MARTIN: I see you stayed away from the butter. And from what I can see…

Ms. MILLER: Oh, yeah.

MARTIN: …I don't see any evidence of the butter.

Ms. MILLER: They have good food in France…

MARTIN: Yeah, they sure do. Alana, what do you do in the off-season?

Ms. BEARD: I go overseas for a couple of months. I don't go as long as much of the women. I go for about two or three months, and I was in Korea, South Korea.

MARTIN: South Korea, that must have been interesting…

Ms. BEARD: I love it. I was on for a season there.

MARTIN: Did you pick up any Korean?

Ms. BEARD: (Korean Spoken)

MARTIN: What does that mean?

Ms. BEARD: A little.

MARTIN: A little, a little. Okay. Well, you haven't had to deal with that yet. What were you doing in the summers?

Ms. BEARD: Playing…

MARTIN: Yeah, playing.

Ms. BEARD: …playing and playing in a tournament, NCAA tournament, and not -after the tournament, I just - I came here so…

MARTIN: Okay.

Ms. BEARD: …happened.

MARTIN: Well, some argue that the women shouldn't get as much money because the game isn't as exciting, you know. Women, as Alana was saying, they don't play above the rim. Some players can dunk, you know, most can't. What do you say to that?

Ms. BEARD: I love the game. Just because you're a woman doesn't mean you don't have the moves. I mean, if you watched Nikki Teasley, I mean, she can just do any move a man can do. If you watch Nikki Blue, any move a point guard can do. So all I can say is they need to come watch the game and change their mind.

MARTIN: Did any of you follow the whole Imus controversy, where he said some rude things about the Rutgers women's team? Do you know what I'm talking about? I don't feel the need to repeat what he said, but he made some comments after the finals.

And I think that the gist of it was that the women aren't feminine. And early in the history of women in the sport, there was this concern about making sure that the women players were perceived as feminine. In some of the exhibition games, women were asked to wear make-up and all this and - do you still feel that way, that you have to represent as women as well as athletes?

Ms. MILLER: I mean, for myself, I mean, when I take the court, you know, I'm a basketball player. I go there and give 100 percent. I mean - and then off the court, you can, you know, act as feminine as you want.

And - I mean, women can sweat. They can, you know, we work so hard at our game, and it's a shame for us to be perceived, you know, negatively. I think, you know, everyone has kind of their own way they live by but - and that's just the way I look at it.

MARTIN: What about you, Alana? Do you feel that there's pressure on the one hand to prove off court that you're still feminine, even as you're trying to prove on court that your as tough as you need to be?

Ms. BEARD: I don't think it's an issue at all. Like Coco said, on the court, you sweat just like the men do. You do work hard. You put as much - you probably put as much hard work in it as some of the men do, you know, because they're gifted with it. We have to work harder, you know, for it. As far as the off the court, who you are. And I don't think anyone should be able to comment on how you carry yourself, you know. If we weren't in the public light, I don't think there will be any comments on it. But we are, so it's just a matter of who you carry yourself off the court.

MARTIN: And what about off the court? Do people starting to recognize you as, hey, that's Alana. Do you get that? Do people know who you are off the court?

Ms. BEARD: Only if I pay them to come up to me. And say, hey.

Mr. MILLER: No, everybody know Alana.

MARTIN: Yeah. What about you, Coco? I know people recognize you.

Ms. MILLER: There's a lot of great fans in D.C., and there are a lot of people that follow us and they do, you know…

MARTIN: Is that fun, or is it weird?

Ms. MILLER: …it never weird or nothing. No. It's fun. It's neat getting to, yeah, see how many supporters we have out there.

MARTIN: So how does it look for this season? I know you had a rough night last night, and you got a little bit roughed up.

Ms. MILLER: Yeah. You know, unfortunately, we got off to kind of a slow start, but, you know, we just got everyone back together. So, you know, give it another week or two. We'll be in good shape. We got a lot of veterans, lot of experience on this team. So, we're okay.

Ms. MARTIN: Alana, how does it look this season? What do you need to do to, you know, take it the whole way this year?

Ms. BEARD: You know, like Coco said, we have a lot of players, a lot of key players that have just come back from overseas. And once you get our continuity going, I think we'll be good to go. We have a rough one last night, but I think we need those rough ones in the beginning to actually figure out what we need to do to win and take it to the next level.

MARTIN: And you not only had a rough one in the arena, you were on ESPN last night.

Ms. BEARD: Yeah. You can rub it in a little bit. Yes, we were on the ESPN.

MARTIN: (unintelligible) me up out here in practice, like, not that I'm getting revenge or anything. But…

Ms. BEARD: It was pretty rough. Like I said, it was a rough game, but we can learn from this game. I would rather have those games at the beginning of the season rather than at the end, you know, because when you get into the playoffs, it's - you go into a three-game series, you lose three games, you're done. You know, and I think - then the games are going to be as intense in the post-season as they are now. So we need those rough ones in the beginning.

MARTIN: And Bernice, I just wanted to finish with you, because you're the rookie here. How do you see your career unfolding? Do you think this is something you're going to be able to do as a career? You're going to be able to retire like some of the guys do, and, you know, put on weight and set up there in your suit and…

Ms. MOSBY: I mean…

MARTIN: …chin-wag about the people who are actually playing right now.

Ms. MOSBY: Yeah, I pray it will. This is something that I've been looking forward to my whole my life, so hopefully God has given me the ability to endure for the - until I'm old, until I can't walk no more.

So it's - he's blessed me right now. So hopefully, he will continue to bless me, and hopefully I can do this and be a - meet somebody like AB in a couple of years, Delicia(ph), so I'm just looking forward to that.

MARTIN: The Washington Mystics, thanks so much for joining us.

Ms. MOSBY: Thank you.

Ms. MILLER: Thank you.

Ms. BEARD: Thank you.

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