Like the rest of the sports world last week, I watched rapper Drake serenade Skylar Diggins with words on the ESPY Awards show. The significance of the moment was real: one of the biggest entertainers in the business was giving props to one of the faces of the WNBA.
But the incident also highlighted a profound disconnect by both the WNBA and NCAA: not leveraging attention from musical megastars to facilitate the growth of the game.
The ESPYs weren’t the first time women’s hoops has received love from hip hop artists. Lil Wayne showed up at several Minnesota Lynx games a few years ago wearing a Seimone Augustus jersey, as a tribute to the fellow Louisiana native. Wayne also gave frequent twit-outs to Diggins, at one point calling her his wife. Rapper Common attended a Notre Dame at UCLA game in November, 2012 and waited afterwards to talk to Diggins. He has also attended Los Angeles Sparks games. Ludacris has been spotted at Atlanta Dream games.
In maybe the biggest nod of all, Jay Z signed Diggins to his Roc Nation sports agency last year, after she graduated from college.
All the love is great, but women’s basketball needs to make it work for them. Both college and WNBA teams always need more butts in seats, and if there is one group that has more power, influence and money than male sports stars, it’s entertainers. It’s amazing what you get when you just ask. I suggest the WNBA and NCAA do just that.
Why not start with Jay and have him make appearances at Shock games, to support his protege? I have a feeling the entire city of Tulsa would show up if he had a courtside seat. If he came to Madison Square Garden – in his hometown – regularly to support the Liberty, the team would find itself with a bigger fan base. (This would also indirectly help Jay’s client).
If Nicki Minaj can rap about Lisa Leslie, as she did in a song a couple years ago, I’m sure Lil Wayne could be persuaded to drop in a line about Augustus, or another player he appreciates. Jay could also easily finesse in a Skylar Diggins reference as he hits the tour circuit with wife Beyonce.
If Jay Z, Drake, Lil Wayne and Nicki Minaj started talking about how cool and fun women’s basketball is, I bet that would translate into an attendance bump for the sport. We’ve already seen, countless times, how well music and sport go together. During last week’s ESPYs, for example, one of the best skits featured Drake and Los Angeles Clippers star Blake Griffin.
The WNBA and NCAA need to get off their rears and start reaching out to entertainers. It would be a match made in heaven.