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WNBA star open to visit Manila

Joaquin M. Henson (The Philippine Star) - June 30, 2013 - 12:00am

WASHINGTON, D.C.– WNBA guard Kara Lawson said the other day she’s agreeable to visit Manila someday and encourage girls to play basketball in showing by example how it can lead to a career.

Lawson, 32, is averaging career-highs of 15.8 points and 4.2 assists with the Connecticut Sun in six games so far this WNBA season, her 11th in the league. In 2008, the 5-9 guard played on the US team that captured the gold medal in women’s basketball at the Beijing Olympics. In the title game, Lawson fired 15 points on 5-of-5 field goals and 4-of-4 free throws.

“I’ve made four trips to China to promote women’s basketball and I’ve heard so much about how Filipinos love the game,” said the Detroit Shock’s first round pick in the 2003 WNBA draft. “I know about Erik Spoelstra being a Filipino-American and of course, Manny Pacquiao. I’ve never met Erik. He’s done very well for himself as a champion coach and I admire him for his dedication and excellence. I think there’s room for women in basketball. I think I can inspire girls to take up the game by showing how it has opened doors for me.” Like Spoelstra, Lawson is an advocate of the NBA Fit wellness program.

Aside from playing, Lawson is a successful ESPN college basketball analyst. She broke into broadcasting at the end of her WNBA rookie season in 2002-03. In 2007, Lawson became the first female broadcast analyst to work an NBA game between New Orleans and Washington at Oklahoma. She has also done broadcast work for the Sacramento Kings as a courtside reporter.

“I never get the urge to jump into the court when I’m broadcasting a game and I don’t see something right,” she said. “Since I do mostly college games, I don’t really relate to the kids playing. I sometimes comment on how a player is being used or not being used so I could be critical. It’s part of the job.” Lawson’s ability to marry two careers in broadcasting and playing is a source of inspiration for both men and women who work two jobs.

“As a Nike athlete myself, I’m blessed to work with a star like Kevin Durant,” said Lawson. “I played at the Beijing Olympics and he played at the London Olympics. It’s a huge honor playing for your country, the feeling is different from when you’re playing for your school or professional club. When you’re playing for your country, it’s about national pride.”

Lawson said as a kid, she never looked up to a women’s basketball star for inspiration because there weren’t too many icons in the game then. “I used to watch the great female track stars like Flo-Jo (Florence Joyner) and Jackie Joyner-Kersee but there wasn’t a ton of women basketball players I could look up to,” said Lawson, a finance graduate from the University of Tennessee. “I remember when I started playing, three weeks into it, I wanted to quit but my father told me whatever I start, I should finish. So I pursued it with dedication and hard work until I got to where I am.”

Lawson joined Durant and soccer star Oguchi Onyemu in meeting global media and 140 summer campers within the age range of 6 to 17 at the Seat Pleasant Activity Center the other day in line with the launch of the new Nike KD VI shoe. Lawson, Durant and Onyemu are from the Metro Washington, D. C. area. Lawson is married to sports agent and radio broadcaster Damien Barling.

Lawson, who played on the WNBA champion Sacramento Monarchs in 2005, is one of the league’s shining stars trying to sustain marketability as a viable product. Now in its 17th season, the WNBA is coming off a campaign where attendance hit record lows and six of the 12 franchises suffered turnstile drops by double-digit percentages. But WNBA president Laurel Richie said the reversal is just around the corner with the arrival of blue-chip rookies 6-8 Brittney Griner of the Phoenix Mercury, 6-5 Elena Delle Donne of the Chicago Sky and 5-9 Skylar Diggins of the Tulsa Shock. Griner, the first pick in last year’s draft, dunked twice in her WNBA debut which drew the highest ratings in nine years for a regular season game on ESPN2.

Mark Giannotto, writing in the Washington Post, said, “Richie is convinced that Griner as well as Delle Donne and Diggins can have the same transformative impact on the WNBA that Magic Johnson and Larry Bird had when they entered the NBA together nearly 35 years ago,” he said. Former WNBA president and now Big East commissioner Val Ackerman said, “In the end, it’s all about the stars, the spotlight is on them and now they just have to step up and perform and if they turn out to be ordinary players, then this kind of fanfare won’t last.”

With the challenge of sustainability hanging in the balance, the WNBA will no doubt rely not only on rookies but also the established veterans, like Lawson, to lead the charge into the future. A positive sign was last March, ESPN extended its WNBA contract up to 2022 for $12 Million.

 

BASKETBALL BEIJING OLYMPICS BIG EAST BRITTNEY GRINER OF THE PHOENIX MERCURY CONNECTICUT SUN DAMIEN BARLING DELLE DONNE AND DIGGINS DETROIT SHOCK LAWSON WNBA
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