Basketball is the great equalizer. It doesn’t discriminate on the basis of skin color or socioeconomic background. Either you can play or you can’t. It’s a game that requires a certain amount of attitude, style, and grace, which these women, six of the greatest in the WNBA, all have. But those aren’t their only attributes. They are also compassionate leaders who give back to their respective communities. Their voices need to be amplified, their work celebrated. So this past July, InStyle traveled to Minneapolis during the WNBA’s All-Star Games weekend to capture these ballers all together for a fashion shoot — remarkably the first in the league’s 22-year history. (“We’ve always been told that magazine editors wouldn’t be able to pull clothes in their sizes,” admitted one agent on set.)
Only 12 teams are in the league, and this year the WNBA athletes have been outspoken on the subjects of better pay and travel conditions, especially given what their male counterparts are accustomed to. Of the 144 players in the WNBA, 89 signed up to play during the off-season in leagues overseas, where the salaries are much higher. “I realize that we aren’t pulling in nearly as much as the NBA, but I think that falls back on the lack of media coverage and the lack of big-name companies supporting women,” says Washington Mystic Elena Delle Donne. “And to be a fan, you have to be able to see people. You want to know their story. You want to see them on billboards. You want to see them in commercials. There’s just not enough of that in women’s sports.” Get to know the women who are moving the ball forward.
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ELENA DELLE DONNE
“I take being one of the leaders of this league seriously,” says the Mystics forward, who, despite playing with an injured knee during this year’s semifinals, helped her team advance to the next round. Though the Mystics ended up losing to the Seattle Storm, the Delaware native can feel good about giving it her all. Delle Donne, 29, is passionate about her causes: the Special Olympics (her older sister has special needs), Lyme disease research (Delle Donne was diagnosed in 2008), and women’s rights (in the sports world and beyond). “If women are doing the same job as a man, they should definitely be paid the same,” says Delle Donne, who has written a memoir and three children’s books and helms a woodworking business (Delle Donne Designs) with her wife, Amanda. “When you turn on any sports channel, you’re seeing all-male sports 95 percent [of the time]. This year’s WNBA playoffs were some of the greatest yet, and you turn on the TV and you hardly hear about it. The coverage has to improve, and it’s got to get equal.”
At 6 foot 9 and with a wingspan of more than 7 feet, Griner, 28, has a certain swagger in her step. (You would too if you led the league in blocks and dunks.) The five-time WNBA all-star spent a chunk of the fall playing for the U.S. National Team and then is headed to Russia for roughly seven months to play with UMMC Ekaterinburg. While abroad, she’ll also do a bit of wedding planning (she recently got engaged to her girlfriend, Cherelle), and, unlike in Phoenix, where she’s earned rock-star status, she’ll be able to roam freely. “I love how people come up and take pictures, but when I go overseas, I actually feel normal.”
In addition to averaging 18 points and six assists per game, Diggins-Smith, 28, is killing it off the hardwood as well. As the first female athlete signed to Roc Nation Sports (owned by Jay-Z), she secured deals as a spokeswoman for Puma (the first basketball player to do so since Vince Carter in 1998), Zappos, and BodyArmor. Those endorsements, as well as her speaking engagements and the traveling kids’ basketball camps she runs, mean she can stay closer to home with her husband and family rather than travel abroad to play in the off-season. “I understand how I’m blessed just to have this opportunity,” says Diggins-Smith. “I’ll play as long as I love it, but I also understand that my impact in the game will go beyond my actually being on the floor. My ability to connect with people through the game of basketball will be something I expect to take advantage of for the rest of my life.”
Stewie, as she’s affectionately known throughout the WNBA, broke all kinds of NCAA records in college while playing for the UConn Huskies, the best women’s team of all time. This year she helped the Storm take home the championship trophy, earning her the league’s MVP award. With all the accolades comes opportunity: “I want to take advantage of doing more photo shoots in something other than a basketball jersey,” says Stewart, 24, who cites Gigi Hadid as a fashion influence. Like Hadid, she embraces social media to connect with her fans: “You’ve got to have an appreciation for them and be the one who’s reaching out to them instead of the other way around.” Stewart is also among those playing in Russia in the off-season. “It is frustrating, but it’s something we’re trying to change, and until then, whether we like it or not, we have to go overseas to make the majority of our money,” she says.
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There are two sides to Fowles, 2018’s defensive player of the year. At 6 foot 6 and 220 pounds, she is a rebounding machine who grew up playing against her older brothers. While she’s a powerhouse on the court, in person she’s a soft-spoken intellectual who reads poetry, listens to jazz, and is studying to be a mortician. As one of the league’s venerable veterans, she says she’s playing her best now, at age 33. “My first five years I had injuries back-to-back, and it made me dislike the game a little. To be in the place I am now and the age I am now, I feel like I’m making up for lost time.”
Las Vegas Aces
The newbie of the group, University of South Carolina alum Wilson was the WNBA’s leading draft pick this year. In her first season in the league, she not only became an all-star but also was unanimously voted Rookie of the Year. Her début was so impressive that her alma mater decided to erect a statue of her on its campus. (“I thought graduating was exciting enough, but this really caught me off guard,” Wilson, 22, says.) Through her namesake foundation, which she established with her parents, she is an advocate for people with dyslexia, which she has dealt with firsthand. Her outspokenness caught the attention of LeBron James, who enlisted her in his #Strongest Nike 16 campaign in September. “I’ve always been a vocal person, so to have those issues recognized by LeBron was huge,” she says.
Photographed by Martin Schoeller. Styling: Ryan Young. Hair: Madeline Freiberg, Priscilla Bruce, Taryn Kasa, Lux Christian Alexander. Makeup: Fatima Olive, Leah Peterson, Lianna Colestack. Prop styling: Mickie Clark. Production: Code Creative Services.
Image from left: On Elena Delle Donne: Gucci bomber. Levi’s jeans. Converse x Comme des Garçons sneakers. On Brittney Griner: Balenciaga sweatshirt from Saks Fifth Avenue. Jeans, her own. Unravel button-down (around waist). Nike Air Jordan 1 x Virgil Abloh: The Ten sneakers. On Skylar Diggins-Smith: Versace windbreaker and boots. On Breanna Stewart: Unravel hoodie. Balenciaga sweatpants from Saks Fifth Avenue. Off-White c/o Virgil Abloh sneakers. On Sylvia Fowles: Unravel hoodie. Roaman’s leggings. Marc Jacobs fanny pack. Fendi sneakers. On A’ja Wilson: Roaman’s bomber. Moschino hoodie from Saks Fifth Avenue. Helmut Lang shorts from Saks Fifth Avenue. Apple Series 3 watch. Uniqlo socks. Pierre Hardy sneakers. All jewelry, their own.
For more stories like this, pick up the November issue of InStyle, available on newsstands, on Amazon, and for digital download Oct. 12.
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