The WNBA Game was a mass public sea of pure positivity.

The WNBA came to Toronto. It was perfect.

If you ask a Raptors fan what’s the greatest buzzer-beater of all time, you know the answer: the Kawhi shot. Those four bounces live in our minds like a famous Renaissance painting in motion. I hate to break it to you, but the Kawhi shot is a remarkable, jaw-dropping, glorious… runner-up. The greatest buzzer-beater of all time happened on September 4th, 1999. 

It was the Houston Comets vs the New York Liberty. It was Game 2 of the WNBA finals in a best-of-3 series. The Houston Comets were on the verge of becoming the WNBA’s first great dynasty, and the New York Liberty sported a talented, scrappy, tough roster — like many New York teams embodying the culture of the city — and they were Houston’s greatest rival. Houston was up by two points with less than three seconds on the clock, and New York was out of timeouts. They had won Game 1 and by all accounts, this was over too. They were about to be champions. Confetti started to fall from the ceiling. The yellow tape started lining the court preventing people from rushing as the inevitable crowning was about to begin. Then New York’s Teresa Weatherspoon dribbled the ball to half court, throws up the dictionary definition of a “Hail Mary,” and hit it! The crowd with confetti all over them, stunned. Weatherspoon sat on the ground for a second alone until a young Becky Hammon ran over to give her a hug, and quickly the rest of the team piled on in a moment of glory only dreams are ever made of. Houston’s Cynthia Cooper can be seen asking a ref if the shot counted. Houston went on to win the championship, but that shot is a moment for the history books. 

I watched that game on TV as a child. Marquee NBA games back then were on Sunday afternoons on NBC, which lucky for me was a part of our cable package. When the summers hit I used to think, “I can’t wait til the fall for basketball to be back.” The WNBA fulfilled that role in the same Sunday timeslot. But when NBC lost their NBA broadcasting rights in 2002 it became more difficult to keep up with the WNBA in Canada. Fewer games were broadcast here, if at all. TSN launched its TSN2 in 2003, but even then it would be difficult for a WNBA game to make the cut. TSN3, 4, and 5 wouldn’t launch until 2014. So much WNBA history wasn’t available to Canada. Lisa Leslie’s first WNBA dunk, most of the 20-year rivalry between Diana Taurasi and Sue Bird, Maya Moore with the Lynx, and so on. If you got to see those moments in Canada, you were a die-hard, and you must have gone out of your way to see them. And for that I say, thank you. You kept a very tiny spark alive long enough so we could eventually start a fire. 

In those years, we endured the departure of Vince Carter, Kobe scoring 81 points against us (another game I tuned into live), and endless nauseating Andrea Bargnani Primo pasta commercials. All while most Canadian hoops fans were none the wiser of the greatness happening in a different league. 

Then, three pivotal things started happening here: The aforementioned boom of sports broadcasting, the advent of League Pass (by the way, the WNBA League Pass is only $30 a season, get that!), and lastly, the Raptors started winning! The “We The North” era was more than a great campaign; it was a shift in culture. Once the Raptors won the championship in 2019 more and more people started to ask “When do we get a WNBA team.” Just like that, here we are. 

The WNBA is stronger than ever but not without its ups and downs. Those storied Houston Comets are no longer in existence, same with many other franchises in its 26 years. The WNBA has settled on 12 teams and 144 roster spots total to stabilize the league. But with large recent growth, the league gets to dream big again and that includes expansion. 

WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert emphasized the importance of a long-term commitment from potential expansion owners, and Toronto has done an excellent job proving that with the success of the Raptors. It doesn’t surprise me that Toronto would be on a short list of cities for a new WNBA team. Engelbert said the league conducted a “big data analysis about 18 months ago of 100 cities…  Toronto scored very high on the list.” 

On May 13th, 2023 The Chicago Sky and the Minnesota Lynx played the first WNBA pre-season game in Canada. I give the city and its WNBA fans, either new or old, a lot of credit for understanding the assignment. This WNBA Canada game was in fact an audition. We sold out the game in a matter of minutes, we promoted the hell out of it, and all the merch in the building was sold out by the third quarter. The energy of this game was different. It was overwhelmingly positive, it made my eyes well up, and we were cheering for both teams. Signs in the crowd that said “We want the WNBA in Toronto” and “future season ticket holder” got roaring applause, Jully Black’s halftime show was a knockout, and I’ve never seen so many people stay in their seats for halftime, ever. So many young girls in the crowd, many of whom got their moment on the jumbotron, and rightfully so. The end of the game got a standing ovation. A pre-season game with a standing ovation. After years of pandemic-related social and economic doom and gloom, it was wonderful to be in a mass public sea of pure positivity. 

Another thing of note is that I was joined by many women in sports media who have been laying the groundwork for years to be ready for moments like this. This game was my first ever as a member of the media, and I was honored to be in their company. I got to meet people I only knew via social media or Zoom, and people I’ve been a fan of from afar. 

Personally, I decided to dress up for the game, wearing a bright pink suit ensemble. After all, I’ve been waiting since 1999 for this moment; it’s a special occasion. In my Uber on the way to the game, I started to tear up. Yes, I did that more than once. Remembering my younger self watching Teresa Weatherspoon and losing my mind, realizing how far I’ve come and how proud I was to be a part of this. Proud of all the women and people who helped make this happen. Proud of the city of Toronto for absolutely crushing this audition. It was said often by players, coaches, and media alike that this game was for the next generation. It was for young girls (and boys) to see what IS possible. And for those who have loved women’s basketball for as long as I have, if not longer, this was for you too. 

The momentum in this city is undeniable, and a large community of Canadian WNBA fans is officially in formation. This is the genesis of something truly great. This is just the beginning. 

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