PUBLISHED July 20, 2019 | News
*From tennis to soccer to basketball, women athletes continue to elevate the game. Though many may agree that disparities still exist, women are increasingly gaining respect and securing opportunities across multiple sporting franchises. That includes the BIG3, the men’s pro-basketball league, co-founded by rap icon and actor Ice Cube in 2017, which includes women in key executive roles.
Recently, Toyota hosted the BIG3 Power luncheon to honor three of the most powerful women in basketball, including BIG3 head coaches Lisa Leslie [The Triplets] and Nancy Lieberman [Power] and Chairwoman Amy Trask. The sports icons were each presented with Toyota’s Breaking Barriers Award for their leadership and career achievements and shared their inspiration and insights on how they succeeded as women in an unconventional career in a panel discussion hosted by sports analyst LaChina Robinson.
The intimate gathering was recently held at the Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts (MoCADA) in the Fort Greene section of Brooklyn, NY. The guests mingled with the honorees and enjoyed a seafood feast, catered by Crabby Shack, a Brooklyn eatery owned by Gwendolyn Niles, former music executive and Fifi Bell-Clanton, a former fashion stylist.
During the panel discussion, host Robinson guided panelists Leslie, Lieberman, and Trask through an insightful and wide-ranging discussion about their careers as women in sports.
“I have never thought of myself just as a basketball player. I’m much more than that,” said Leslie, the three-time WNBA MVP, and four-time Olympic gold medal winner. “I love being educated. I love educating people. I love learning. And for me, basketball was one thing that was like, “I could do that, and if I’m going to do it, I’m going to give it my all.” I started in the seventh grade and then realized that for me to go to college, basketball was going to be the way I was going to be able to get a scholarship. I started to use basketball, and I started to focus on it and give it my all because of what basketball could give me.”
Lieberman, who was known as “Lady Magic” during her days in the WNBA, also shared her journey to a sports career. “For me, I needed sports more than sports needed me. My first sport was football, then baseball, and then ultimately, my landing spot was basketball because it made me feel good about myself. I had a sketchy upbringing with no father, no food, no heat, and no electricity. We were one grandparent away from food stamps. I got tired of being called stupid, dumb, and you’ll never make anything of yourself. And sports gave me a chance to change the narrative. I am not a victim. I’m a victor.”
Leslie also noted the importance of giving back and corporate sponsorship in educational programs that reach young people in communities of color. “I started working with Toyota five or six years ago. Toyota went into the community, and the HBCU [Historically Black Colleges and Universities] community, and I got a chance to go out and give back. We were on the ground with the students to help and educate them,” she explained. “At the time, it was about going green. That’s when it was new and fresh. We educated people about protecting our universe and being energy efficient and how to plant and eat organic [foods]. I was happy to partner with Toyota. I want to say thank you to all the people in the room who represent Toyota. Thank you for supporting our communities and empowering women, empowering girls, but also empowering the communities that we as black people live.”
Lieberman made several points about equality for women not only in sports but within the workplace as a whole. “The leadership of the BIG3 … take Lisa and I, [who are] equal to our male counterparts. Women still in our society make 80 cents on the dollar to men for the same job description. It is disheartening for me to know that women of color make anywhere on a sliding scale, 57 cents to 68 cents on the dollar to what men earn,” she said.
“Everyone contributes, and everyone is valuable, and everyone rolls up their sleeves to get the job done,” noted Amy Trask, the former CEO of the Oakland Raiders. “Stop asking what it’s like to play for a woman coach. You think of her as a woman coach. We think of her as our coach. The same thing with Lisa when we brought her in, no one cares about their gender.”
When moderator LaChina Robinson asked what can be done to make the playing ground more equal, Leslie responded, “I think we’re doing it, but I think we, the people, have to enforce and get behind the companies that support you. Figure out what companies support your communities, what companies are supporting the idea of inclusion of all people. It’s all about money, right? And if we stop supporting the companies that don’t support us, we will get their attention. How do we do that? It’s important for all of us to continue to spread this message and expose companies that don’t support us.”
Robinson concluded that the panelists are walking the walk. “The message that sticks with me is that the ladies credit their success[es] to things that we can all do. The little things, the hard work, the sacrifice, being inclusive when we have those opportunities,” she said. “Whether you can hit a jump shot or not, those are things that you can, not only implement in your own life but your family, in your business or wherever you are. So, these are some powerful, amazing women and some of that power has been transferred to you this afternoon.”
The panel and speakers had a powerful impact on many young women in attendance. Among them was Ageliki Key, a 26-year-old student of the Women in Entertainment Empowerment Network Academy (WEEN). “The panel was very motivating, and it re-emphasized that working hard and being good at things doesn’t require a talent for success,” she said. Reacting in particular to Lieberman’s story of overcoming poverty, she added, “We all face difficulties, and it can be easy to dwell on those times. But moving past those moments and conquering your past is liberating and essential to moving forward in life. We are the fate of our destiny, and through a positive attitude and hard work, we can fulfill our purpose on this earth.”
Abiola Akesode, also a student of the WEEN Academy, added, “It was an honor to attend the BIG3 luncheon. It made an impact on how I view women in any industry. The panel further cemented the idea of how important it is to work hard consistently and to be patient, especially as a black woman trying to enter the entertainment industry. I really resonated with what Amy Trask said ‘no role is too small when you’re on a team, because it all helps the bigger picture.’”
Guests of the BIG3 luncheon at the MoCADA Museum also had the opportunity to tour the photo exhibit celebrating the 30th Anniversary of Spike Lee’s “Do The Right Thing” by photographer David Lee, which was held in the same gallery. The exhibit runs through July 28.