First it was banana bread and draft-day memories, then it was an honest interview with Kevin Durant. The new podcast from A’ja Wilson and Napheesa Collier, Tea with A & Phee, has already shown it can be silly, brutally honest, and juicy. While Wilson and Collier, the last two WNBA Rookies of the Year, have a plan for what they want the show to be, they also want to create a comfortable atmosphere for themselves to give fans an inside look into their lives, careers, and time in the WNBA’s bubble this summer.
The WNBA is full of legends, and even as the media environment around the league has grown, a lot of the coverage is still geared toward veterans like Maya Moore, Sue Bird, and Nneka Ogwumike. Rarely is attention turned toward the young stars who will soon take the mantle. That’s the hole the pair — who both already are All-Stars in their own right as well — hope to fill.
“We kind of get over-shadowed in a way, because of course we’re surrounded by so many great women that are so good at basketball,” Wilson told Dime over the phone. “For Phee and I, we’re fairly new in this league, so it’s like we’re trying to speed up the process to be talked about. This is a perfect exposure for the younger generation in the bubble.”
Wilson and Collier met in 2015 when they played on the USA Basketball U19 women’s team under head coach Dawn Staley, who would go on to recruit Wilson to South Carolina. Fans have already taken to the easy chemistry between the two, who are both repped by Octagon, but they didn’t have much of a relationship before starting the show.
In just two episodes, they’ve already bonded over the shared pressure they felt as young players — Wilson as the leader of a budding dynasty at South Carolina, Collier upholding the longstanding tradition of dominance at UConn — and the challenges of acclimating to the WNBA.
Collier admitted to believing she should have been the first overall pick in 2019, when she went sixth, and the pride she felt being vindicated with the Rookie of the Year trophy after an All-Star campaign and playoff berth with the Minnesota Lynx. While Wilson is a more heralded and well-known name in the hoops world, getting a SLAM magazine cover in her second season as she’s put Las Vegas on the WNBA map with the Aces, she bonded with Collier over also feeling self-doubt on draft night, up until the moment her name was called, a feeling athletes are not often free to share.
“People like to see behind the scenes for whoever it may be,” Collier told Dime. “Whether it’s athletes or actors or whatever it might be, people really like to see what goes on when we’re not watching them in their element or on TV. I like to see that too, so diving behind the scenes and talking about what goes on in our personal lives and not just on the court, we both thought it would be a really cool idea.”
Yet even as more athlete-driven media has popped up, few of these endeavors center women. Athletes from J.J. Redick, to Vince Carter, to Matt Barnes and Stephen Jackson have made news on their own podcasts, and created an environment in which fans get an unfiltered perspective. Collier’s boyfriend’s, basketball trainer Alex Bazzell, had the idea for Wilson and Collier to specifically try out a podcast, and the pair has taken to the format instantly.
They’ve also gone viral as listeners have realized no one is off limits on the show. The duo went viral for a hilarious moment comparing Kendrick Perkins’ scoring to a solid GPA…
…and for comparing Aces coach Bill Laimbeer’s quarantine haircut to Johnny Lawrence’s look from The Karate Kid.
— Tea With A & Phee (@WNBATea) August 6, 2020
As opponents on the court, they also appreciate the chance to have fun with listeners’ expectations, even down to the idea that they would even pair up for the show in the first place.
“These are two people that you probably never thought would come together because we’re not teammates and it’s a nice point of view that you normally wouldn’t see,” Wilson says. “You’re opening up another channel for our fans, for our platforms and everything, so I think that’s the beauty of our podcast is we don’t feel that pressure because we talk freely.”
“Even if a reporter had asked me now how I felt (about the draft and rookie season), I probably wouldn’t have said what I said on the podcast,” Collier adds. “It definitely gives us the freedom to give that inside look and just be our unfiltered self, which is what I love about the podcast.”
With record ratings and constant headlines about WNBA players’ work on and off the court this summer, the moment is ripe for more voices. The hosts aren’t sure if the social justice movement will come up on the show, or how much they will dive into politics and social issues versus just providing fans fun, insightful basketball conversation, but they want the podcast to highlight their true selves.
In 2020, that means a lot of things for two Black female athletes.
“It’s hard out here being a Black girl, and people can connect to us on that level,” says Wilson, who recently made waves for an article in The Players’ Tribune about growing up in suburban South Carolina.
The history of WNBA activism connects squarely with Collier as well, who came to the three-time champion Lynx the same season legends like Maya Moore, Rebekkah Brunson, and Lindsay Whalen left the team. But just as Collier filled those shoes capably, she and Wilson believe the WNBA’s youngest players are ready to start bridging the gap with their voices, too.
“With everything — social justice, pride, everything — I think our generation has grown up in a world where it’s OK to push the boundaries on those things and to go after what you think is right,” Collier says.
The WNBA has consistently proven that discourse can capture many things at once. Just as they got Durant to discuss the challenges of playing out of position as a rookie and spill the “tea” on his laid-back form of romance, the pair also expect the podcast to highlight the persona of the 20-somethings in the WNBA who are already filling up All-Star rosters and highlight reels.
Wilson and Collier already notice a generation demonstrating confidence on and off the court. While we spoke, Atlanta Dream rookie Chennedy Carter was piling in 35 points on the championship favorite Seattle Storm, a testament to the “swagger” Collier sees developing on players’ online presence and their hardwood style.
“We’re very outspoken, and we’re going to say whatever’s on our mind,” Wilson says. “But at the same time, we can get buckets.”
And if that’s not the fun of basketball, what is? Now, the WNBA has a podcast that can bring both together, with two unflappable personalities who are on their way to dominating the league.