Monday, March 4, 2024

BATON ROUGE, La. — When Angel Reese, standing at 6-foot-3, sat down in front of coach Kim Mulkey this fall, she couldn’t help but express what was on her mind. What surprised Mulkey was what Reese said: “I’m so happy to have a schedule again.” After a summer filled with photo shoots, events, and media attention, Reese longed for monotony and the normalcy of everyday life. She wanted to sleep in her own bed, take care of her new puppy, and enjoy some quiet time in her apartment. Despite being one of the highest-paid college athletes, Reese craved a routine and a sense of familiarity.

During the summer, Reese’s schedule was always changing. It was exhilarating and perfect in some ways, but also challenging. After LSU’s national title victory, Reese had a whirlwind week of promotional events, appearances on various shows, and travel. She barely had a moment to rest. Two weeks later, she was in Los Angeles for more photo shoots and filming. Then, she flew to Colorado for Team USA basketball trials, followed by winning a silver medal in Mexico. Amidst all the travel and commitments, she managed to take online classes and maintain her workout schedule.

Reese understands that some may question whether basketball is still her top priority. However, she welcomes the doubters. Her summer allowed her to embrace all aspects of herself, not just the basketball star or the media sensation. She’s simply being herself, unapologetically. Reese acknowledges that her newfound fame speaks not only to her but also to the progress of women’s basketball. Her story shows that she can be authentic and successful without having to conform to others’ expectations.

Reese’s rise to stardom was influenced by factors beyond her control. In basketball, her height played a significant role in her success as a rebounder. In terms of fame, it was her timing. Her national title win coincided with a growing audience for women’s basketball, the introduction of name, image, and likeness opportunities, and heightened interest in off-court storylines. The stark differences between the treatment of women’s and men’s players during the NCAA Tournament sparked outrage and drew attention to the sport. Reese, who experienced gender disparities firsthand, felt compelled to speak up.

As NIL opportunities became available and the transfer portal gained popularity, Reese’s decision to transfer to LSU drew widespread attention. The attention surrounding her recruitment and commitment brought even more interest to the women’s game during the offseason. Last season, with players capitalizing on their personal brands through endorsements and partnerships, and the increased visibility of the women’s championship game, the sport saw a substantial boost in viewership. Reese’s authenticity and her willingness to speak her mind both on and off the court contributed to this surge in interest.

Ultimately, Reese’s story reflects the power of an African American woman being true to herself and breaking barriers in women’s basketball. Her journey challenges the notion of “faking it ’til you make it” and encourages others to embrace their authentic selves. Reese’s impact extends beyond her play on the court, and her story serves as a testament to the progress and potential of women’s basketball.

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