Fifty years ago, this basketball game in Las Vegas on Tuesday night would have been hyped a dozen different ways, some healthy, some entirely sexist.
Men vs. Women. Yeah, it could have gone a lot of ways for Tiffany Hayes and the rest of those playing in The 5 Tournament’s Battle for HoopQuality.
Fortunately, save those who know nothing about women’s basketball — and claim they know plenty — or Neanderthals who still tweet to Breanna Stewart and Elena Delle Donne to shut up and go make them a sandwich, we have a good handle in 2020 on the talent level of elite women’s players relative to men.
Frankly, the more pressing social matter for Hayes, who opted out of the WNBA season with the Atlanta Dream, is dealing with an owner who calls Black Lives Matter a Marxist movement that threatens to destroy America.
Still, as the former UConn star prepared to lace up her sneakers to lead a women’s team 5-on-5, full-court, no handicaps afforded, against NBA alumni, Hayes was psyched for the game’s relative historical value.
“I can’t wait to play,” Hayes said. “This is a pretty cool thing. I played in the first mixed-gender game and that was pretty tough. Going against all guys is hard, but it’s good for people to see our talent as well.”
The WNBA season is underway. The NBA is preparing to start. For the past 10 days, meanwhile, six teams of five male players have gone at it 3-on-3 in The Five Tournament Pro Basketball Invitational. Sacramento, which got 31 points form Donte Greene, will face Toronto in the title game Wednesday night. Meanwhile, Mario Chalmers, who scored 50 points in a game for Miami in the tournament, led the men’s team against nine women at Orleans Arena on Tuesday night.
“Honestly, I’m not at my peak, so I was trying to hurry up and get prepared,” Hayes said. “I’m pretty sure if I were in midseason form I’d do much better. For me, it isn’t the right time to see if I’m better than any of those guys out there. The scales are kind of off, but I’m going to do my thing.”
Hayes, 30, was a first-team WNBA All-Star in 2018. She made the NBA All-Rookie Team in 2012. She has played in WNBA All-Star Games. Averaging nearly 14 points a game over eight years in Atlanta, one could argue she became a better pro than projected, which isn’t an easy thing coming out of a hyped UConn program.
“A lot of reasons went into not playing this season and, of course, social justice is one,” Hayes said. “Being from Florida and knowing all the (COVID) cases there, even though I’d be down there, I’d be in the bubble without being able to check on my family. I commend all the ladies who went down there, but I just didn’t think being locked up in a bubble would be the best thing for me right now.
“My contribution now, I feel, is to get out the things that the world needs to see. A lot of things are left out of history about African Americans. Also, there are things still going on that people didn’t think were. I’m so glad people are starting to record racial interactions. I’m using my social media platform to help make sure that stuff is getting out there. Hey, the fight’s not over. I don’t want it to be a moment. I want it to be a movement.”
And wouldn’t you know it? Sen. Kelly Loeffler, R-Ga., who co-owns the Dream, brought the movement to Hayes. Early in July, Loeffler wrote to the WNBA objecting to the league’s promotion of Black Lives Matter and instead advocated putting American flags on jerseys.
“There’s no room for racism in this country, and we have to root it out where it exists,” Loeffler wrote. “But there’s a political organization called Black Lives Matter … that advocates things like defunding and abolishing the police, abolishing our military, emptying our prisons, destroying the nuclear family. It promotes violence and antisemitism.”
On Fox, Loeffler, a Trump supporter, called armed Black protesters in Atlanta “mob rule,” although she supports the Second Amendment and open carry is legal in Georgia.
Collectively, the Dream players made a statement in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. The players association called for her ouster. Stewart, who plays for Seattle, tweeted: “How is she still a owner? Bye Kelly.”
Loeffler, who has a minimal role in the every-day operations of the team, said she isn’t selling.
“I’m pretty sad to see that my team ownership is not supportive of the movement & all that it stands for,” tweeted former UConn star Renee Montgomery, who also plays for the Dream and opted out. “I was already sitting out this season & this is an example of why, I would love to have a conversation with you about the matter if you’re down?”
Hayes said she hasn’t spoken to Loeffler.
“It’s just kind of sad to know you were around a person you thought really cared for you as a person, but now it seems she only cares about us as employees,” Hayes said. “I’d never really heard any of this or knew she felt this way before. We were invited to her home. She’d take care of us. Give us nice meals. Now, it just seems, like I said, she treated us like employees instead of people.
“It’s just very disappointing that’s what she thinks.”
Hayes said she is still planning to play in the WNBA next year with the Dream.
In her Atlanta community, she has been involved in giveaways for those in need, observing social distance where people open their trunks or their backseat and boxes are placed there. She wants to get involved in events to help people understand what they have to do and don’t have to do when confronted by the police.
I ask Hayes what moment hurt her most profoundly: George Floyd in Minneapolis? Breonna Taylor in Louisville? Ahmaud Arbery shot down by civilians in Brunswick, Georgia? I forgot Rayshard Brooks in Atlanta. So many tragedies to remember.
“It’s collective,” Hayes said. “That young man (Arbery) jogging could have been me. I jog around the neighborhood a lot with my headphones on. Breonna Taylor could have been my mom sleeping in her bed, (police) busting in her house when she had nothing to do with anything. George Floyd could have been my dad or my brother. They are me. I am them. One doesn’t hit you harder. They all hit you hard.
“It’s happening way too much. You could be next. I’m not wishing that on anyone. But that’s why everyone has to be involved in something now. I don’t want my dad or brother to be on the news next.”
Tina Charles, Sue Bird, Stewart, Stef Dolson, Diana Taurasi, Montgomery, Hayes — the number of strong UConn women willing to speak out on race, LGBT, labor matters, is impressive. Maya Moore, who gave up a piece of her career to work tirelessly to free wrongfully convicted Jonathan Irons, has become legend.
“I’m so proud of Maya, so great,” Hayes said. “She did what a lot of us wish to do. She actually helped free this man. Big ups to Maya. She went the extra mile and finished the race.
“I can’t come up with one story of how or where we learned it at UConn. I don’t know. We all come from the same family. You learn stuff when you’re part of a family. I’m sure through games, through practices, being together, something happening on campus, we learned that you’ve got to stand for what’s right. That’s what we all have in common right now. We’re standing for what’s right. We call ourselves the UConn family for a reason.”
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