UConn's Paige Bueckers' NIL deal with StockX and Gatorade just rocked the sports world.
Growing up obsessed with basketball, you start to see the world through basketball-like goggles, articulating even the smallest details with basketball lingo. Watching a friend go up to a girl at the mall you would undoubtedly have said "that fool is gonna brick hard." Or if anything goes perfectly your way, it's always "nothing but net, baby." Don't lie, if you are at least 30 years old, you used these phrases in middle school or high school. Perhaps you still do, like myself.
What's funny is that until around 1997, the WNBA's inaugural season, the world of basketball was usually male-dominated. You never saw many women obsessed with basketball nor did you find many fans rocking any popular female athlete for that matter besides a few such as Mia Hamm, Gabby Reece or even the occasional pro-wrestler like Sable and Sunny.
But when the 1997 season started, you saw some serious talent on the WNBA court. Players like Cynthia Cooper, Sheryl Swoopes, Lisa Leslie, Rebecca Lobo and Tina Thompson were serious hoopers. If you think any of these names are pushovers, go watch some highlights of Cynthia Cooper back in the day. She would destroy you. I'm still in awe of her mastery of the dark arts during the first four Houston Comets championships.
As the old guard started to retire, this led to a new crop of players comprised of players like Diana Taurasi, Swin Cash and Sue Bird, started to lead the WNBA, with a growing, albeit slow, rise in popularity.
Where all of this falls off the rails is how women's basketball started to become reactionary to men's basketball. TV broadcasts, starts of the season, player drafts all started to become second fiddle to organizations like the #NBA. If only there was a time when brands and media could place a woman on a pedestal in the same regard as her male contemporaries.....
.....well, look no further than Paige Buckets, aka Paige Bueckers.
The UConn #Huskies is a storied university. Winning the #NCAA title about 4,283 times and producing some of the best players in the NBA and #WBNA have come from this school. Ever heard of Ray Allen? Rip Hamilton? Kemba Walker? Cliff Robinson? The aforementioned Rebecca Lobo, Sue Bird, Diana Taurasi? Well, now you have.
Fast forward to present day, and you've got Paige Bueckers – one of the first college athletes to score NIL deals with brands after the NCAA changed their rules for amateur athletes. This past fall, Paige scored #NIL (name, image and likeness) deals with StockX and most recently with Gatorade. Why is this significant? Because in our view, this will elevate the shit out of female sports and athletes to the same level of male sports and athletes.
Just imagine, if the power of social media and brand sponsorship that we see today with Instagram combined with the unleashing of shackles for big brands like Nike, were allowed to highlight Cynthia Cooper or Sheryl Swoopes? We have ZERO doubt, that you'd be seeing their popularity soar way higher than what it is today – a nice smile and a foot note in Wikipedia. And before someone tries to cancel us, let us just say that we think it is criminal, how the level of a female athletes' popularity always feels sceond-rate to their male counterparts. It can get pretty tiring to see players like Derrick Rose for 4 years straight on everything from shoes to t-shirts even though he's a shell of his former self, yet Diana Taurasi gets nary a mention. She's like a wizard on the court, for crying out loud. Go look at her Wikipedia career highlights. It's like a receipt at #Costco.
This is where Paige Bueckers can make some waves. With a more progressive generation, countless media opportunities and rising athletic talent, these enormous NIL deals she just signed with StockX and Gatorade are the catalysts we need to see female sports and female athletes start to catch up.
Already a phenomenal player, she's also very savvy in the sense of who she signed NIL deals with. StockX is a powerhouse when it comes to culture and streetwear. It's become apart of this young generation – swag, art, streetwear, convenience, popularity – all have been engrained into the DNA of a young person's life. It's no coincidence that StockX would choose Paige, and that Paige would choose StockX. It is 10x more impactful than say, H&M, signing a deal with her. Gatorade also has the same level of juice as big international brands such as #Nike or #Adidas. There's mass appeal here, and makes sense from a sports point of view.
The question we always ask here is: where does this lead to? If Sheryl Swoopes had the same level of push within media and big brands that Paige Bueckers is getting, we are 1000% sure we would have seen her face and likeness, long after she retired. If Instagram had been around when Mia Hamm was dominating the soccer world in college and in the pro's, she would have received endorsements on the same level as Leo Messi.
Sure, there were a few signature shoes created by the big sports companies for a few WNBA players, but those lines weren't nearly as self-sustaining as someone like LeBron or Kobe. This is why the new NIL deals are extremely important. It's not because of shitty players able to sign with some international beans company at the grocery store, it's for athletes like Paige Bueckers to be able to kick down the door and elevating women's sports to the same level as their male counterparts. Let's revisit this in 5 years and see how this all turns out. #CROSSxOVER #Culture #Sports #WNBA #NBA