During one of the first possessions of Game 3 of the WNBA Finals between the Los Angeles Sparks and the Minnesota Lynx at Staples Center last Friday night, Candace Parker sent a graceful lob across the key to a teammate in the post for what should’ve been an easy bucket. But Parker’s efforts were foiled by a Lynx defender, who darted between the offensive player and the ball to intercept the pass before parading down the court for an easy layup of her own. Ruefully, Parker glanced at the crowd with a look of exasperation — this was not the way a star player wanted to kick off a pivotal at-home finals game.
Seeing her disappointment, a tiny mixed girl sitting with her white mom and black dad a few rows over from me screamed “It’s ok Candace!!!!” with all her might, channeling the empathy and concern that only a toddler recognizing the pain of someone they love can muster. Though I doubt the encouragement made it to Parker, she brushed herself off, got the ball back, and kept playing, proceeding to lead the Sparks to an eventual victory over the Lynx. Rows away, her tiny, biggest fan cheered her on the whole way, unrelenting even through botched passes and the occasional, unavoidable brick.
In a scene, that little girl’s passionate fandom encapsulates the entire ethos of attending a WNBA game. Here was a toddler, she couldn’t have been more than three or four, already seeing women who looked like her excelling — and yes, sometimes, making mistakes — at the highest level of athleticism in the country. This was clearly having an impact on her, and she was just one of many. In fact, I’d never been to a basketball game at this level where the majority of the attendees were women, and the feeling was an unexpectedly powerful one.