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From the Hall of Fame to Calling Games, Rebecca Lobo On The WNBA’s Renaissance

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Rebecca Lobo is a UCONN legend, Naismith Basketball Hall of Famer, and current ESPN basketball analyst. A Hartford, CT native, Lobo was the face of the University of Connecticut Women’s Basketball team’s first national championship in 1995 under head coach Geno Auriemma with an undefeated 35-0 record. She played five years in the WNBA, and in 2017, Lobo was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.

Today, she can be seen court side at some of the biggest games in basketball as an ESPN analyst, including the recently concluded WNBA Finals. We spoke to Lobo about the scintillating Finals between the Washington Mystics and the Connecticut Sun, and about how the WNBA can potentially capitalize on the momentum generated by the thrilling series.

The atmosphere this year during the Finals was noticeably different than previous years. Whether it was the enthusiasm for women’s sports because of the success of teams like the USWNT, or simply the surge in WNBA talent, something has changed.

Lobo credited the hype around this season to players like 2019 MVP Elena Delle Donne of Washington — who played this season with 3 herniated discs, a bone bruise on her knee, and a face mask due to a broken nose.

“Elena Delle Donne–it’s her third time going to the finals with two different teams,” Lobo said. “So you had a group that was a little more seasoned and experienced in the moment, and then you had this young upstart Connecticut team who didn’t have a player on their roster who was even 30 years old.”

The ESPN analyst also thinks this surge in popularity for the WNBA has been going on for about a year now, and says that the league is becoming ‘cooler’, and more people simply want to be associated with it.

“I think it started a year ago, there was just a feeling around the WNBA … that it was kind of being treated like, this is a cool thing. You know the play on the court has been really really good for the last few years … really last year that it was this feeling that it was kind of becoming a little more mainstream and there was a bit of a coolness factor to it.”

That ‘coolness factor’ leads to more coverage. Its influence is huge. We’ve seen the Brooklyn Nets capitalize on that same ‘coolness factor’ of playing in Brooklyn in the past years. Last year, they debuted a special edition jersey that paid tribute to Biggie Smalls. They’ve since upgraded their court and jerseys to emphasize Brooklyn’s urban vibe.

The WNBA is starting to do the same with their teams, and media outlets are noticing. As Lobo commented, “This year, there’s more outlets covering — not just the play on the court — but what are these women wearing as they are walking into the arena, what’s their style today, what’s on their feet. There was a different vibe and a coolness factor the past two seasons that feels like its really building and hopefully that carries over into more people in the stands, more people watching on tv … the product is there, the talent, the elite level of play is there, and it just feels like there’s stuff around the game that’s now in the last two years growing and becoming bigger.”

Calling Game also spoke to Rebecca Lobo on what being a female reporter in sports is like. In the wake of the Astros firing their Assistant GM, Brandon Taubman for tormenting three female reporters about signing their closer Roberto Osuna (who last season was suspended 75 games for domestic violence), Lobo commented on what her experience has been like so far:

“Fortunately, I haven’t been around quite somebody who has that level of idiocy as that person from the Houston franchise, probably because I deal mostly in women’s sports. People are respectful, and everyone I cover, even if it’s male coaches or male GM’s or male presidents, they’re part of a franchise that’s empowering women and that is supporting women, so for the most part, I’m glad that I’m not in those kind of circumstances. I don’t know that I’d handle it with the level of professionalism that would be required. That’s obviously a complete reflection on that person, and you know–what that person stands for, and I think when you read about that story you get a pretty accurate description of who that guy is.”

Rebecca Lobo also hosts a podcast called Ball & Chain Podcast with her husband, Steve Rushin, a current Sports Illustrated special contributor. Together, they discuss their life, as well as current events from their home studio.

Listen to the full Calling Game episode below, and subscribe to Calling Game on Spotify and iTunes for weekly episodes and follow us on Instagram & Twitter!

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Kelsey Trainor is a former two sport collegiate athlete, collegiate women's basketball coach and current attorney & producer. Amba Jagnarine is a former college athlete in charge of business development at Abrams Media (Mediaite's parent company). We are passionate about sports and giving women a bigger voice in all aspects of it. Twitter: @ktrain_11 | @AmbaJagnarine