Dawn Staley, WNBA Stars Highlight Women’s Basketball at Warriors Panel

Before her top-ranked basketball team from South Carolina takes center stage in Sunday’s game against No. 2 Stanford, head coach Dawn Staley shed some light on some of the biggest issues in women’s sports following Friday’s Golden State Warriors game in San Francisco.

Hosted by Stephen Curry following the Warriors’ 111-101 win over the Knicks, the panel produced by the Empowered Campaign also included South Carolina’s A’ja Wilson and her Las Vegas Aces teammate Chelsea Gray, a native of Hayward, and the WNBA Finals 2022 MVP.

The panel was presented to a group of over 40 high school basketball players from Piedmont, Saint Mary’s Stockton and Moreau Catholic, who also attended a clinic with Gray and Wilson in Oakland earlier in the day.

Along with many topics related to women’s athletics, the panel reflected on how Title IX has impacted them during its 50th anniversary year.

“As a coach, you see a little bit more of what’s going on,” Staley said. “The differences we saw at our 2021 NCAA tournament, the men had incredible weight rooms and we had two free weights and a yoga mat. You don’t know what you don’t know until you actually see and experience it.”

Staley, who wore a “Free BG” hat while Brittney Griner was unjustly jailed in Russia for more than 275 days, has long been a vocal advocate for equality in women’s athletics.

She spoke about Aliyah Boston, the top player in South Carolina women’s collegiate basketball, not being invited to the ESPYs hosted by Curry. Staley acknowledged the men’s top player wasn’t invited either, but at a celebration of the sport for the year it was a small matter to rule out one of the biggest stories in women’s sport.

“Equal doesn’t mean fair,” she said. “There are some things we want in women’s football that men don’t want and some things they want that we don’t want.”

Staley said about 45 minutes after tweeting about Boston’s ESPYs nudge and how important the show is as a platform for women’s sports, Boston received a text message invite.

Gray and Wilson also highlighted the accessibility of women’s basketball coverage, particularly how difficult it is to watch WNBA games.

“You have to open three tabs, you have to close them, come back and refresh, go to the homepage, and then it’s halftime,” said Wilson, the 2022 WNBA MVP. “I really wish we could get the visibility.”

Staley joked that WNBA League Pass owes her money after she couldn’t watch most streaming games, and Gray cited “innovative” ways of broadcasting, like the Amazon Prime deal a year ago.

“These larger companies can join the fight,” she said. “I think that’s when you start to see growth.”

Sunday’s game between South Carolina and Stanford takes place in front of a national audience on ABC, with the teams ranked 1st and 2nd in the country going head-to-head for the 63rd time in the regular season. Staley said in her Saturday press conference, “Are we excited that we’re playing NFL, men’s college basketball, on ABC? Obviously there’s a place for it, otherwise it wouldn’t be nationally televised.”

Gray and Wilson clinched the first-ever title for the Aces and Las Vegas professional sports overall, with Gray winning the Finals MVP after a historic performance. The WNBA had its highest ratings of all time for its televised games on ESPN during the 2022 season.

As the national audience grew, so did local demand.

In an interview with the Chronicle, Gray said of her Bay Area homeland potentially getting a WNBA team in the future, “It would be great to be able to travel here and see a team. I think the Bay Area would treat them well and welcome them with open arms.”

The Warriors wore their City Edition uniform Friday, designed by Oakland-based artist and muralist Allison Hueman to honor the women’s suffrage movement, with a yellow and gold rose at the center.

The Warriors and Rakuten are donating $25,000 to the Women’s Sports Foundation, which was present at the game and on the podium.

Marisa Ingemi is a contributor to the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected]