Print and Go Back ESPN: SportsNation

October 7, 2:00 PM ET
Chat with Mechelle Voepel

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:01 PM)

Good afternoon. I was going to open with something snarky about the Mystics starting their manic merry-go-round again, but that seems cruel to do to upset D.C. fans. So ... let's get started.

Helen (New York)

Inquiring Lib fans want to know: Who is Scott O'Neil and why does he care about our team?

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:07 PM)

Instead, we'll tackle the Liberty situation. Scott O'Neil took over as president of Madison Square Garden Sports - which owns the Libs - in the summer of 2008. He previously was with the NBA, where he was a senior VP who oversaw marketing and various business operations. His schooling background: Villanova and Harvard. As MSG pres, he oversees the Knicks, Libs, Rangers and Hartford Wolfpack. The "word" is that he has wanted to put more of his stamp of how things should be run with the Liberty. I would have suggested that they had a GM and coach, or GM/coach ready right away to replace Donovan/Blazejowski ... but I didn't go to Harvard. Besides this way, nobody's on the payroll for those jobs for a little while, right? In a bit of non-snarkiness, I'll say I hope the Libs have a real plan to shepherd the team and fans through 3 years in Newark. Be nice to have a GM/coach ASAP.

Natalie (NC)

I'm sure you're getting a lot of questions about the unceremonious firing/release of Angela Taylor in DC, so I don't want to ask about that specifically, but I do want to use it as a basis for a broader question. It's pretty clear that, but for Mel Greenberg's reporting, the Mystics had no intention of telling their fans that Taylor was out as GM. They quietly removed her from their website, gagged Mystics players and staff (apparently), and hoped no one else would notice. How can a team show such contempt for its fans?But the bigger problem is that this isn't something that's exclusive to the Mystics. At times, throughout the season, I've felt like several WNBA teams and the league as a whole, seemed overly secretive and, in doing so, alienated fans. It's gotten to a point where longtime season ticket holders are rethinking their purchases because they no longer have faith in their team's front office. And, on top of all that, the league's leaders, including President Donna Orender, seem unwilling to discuss fan dissatisfaction. So what are we to do? Should fans be more accommodating or do we have the right to expect better?

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:16 PM)

You pretty much said it all, Natalie. The Mystics as an organization have stonewalled all of us journalists on this so far. They have been asked to explain. They have been pleaded with, in fact. I did get a call from the WNBA saying the Mystics would reach out to me. Still waiting for that. On my blog, I will have a much longer discourse on this overall issue - the treatment of the fans for a niche league that depends on the loyalty of a relatively small - compared to some other sports - group of fans. And about the league's apparent inability to have much influence on how individual franchises handle the management of difficult situations in terms of explaining them to fans and the media. You'd like see a more uniform front: This is how we treat people, because we have to maintain our relationship with fans. To say the least, the situations with the Liberty and Mystics - both coming off great, fun seasons that had their fans rejuvenated - have been terrible examples of how to maintain hard-won enthusiasm - that your players provided you _ as an organization.

Kim (Hawaii)

Do you think that the Aussies will actually skip the 2011 and 2012 WNBA seasons to prepare for the Olympics? I can understand 2012, but 2011?

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:21 PM)

I would be very surprised about 2011 ... and somewhat less surprised by 2012. But it's going to come down at least in part to compensation ... does the Australian team's national program have the financial resources to induce players like Lauren Jackson and Penny Taylor to entirely skip one or both of those WNBA seasons? Even if they did, is that going to guarantee a medal? I understand this was a pretty disappointing world championship for the Aussies, but I am doubting that the answer necessarily lies in the best players not competing in the WNBA.

Veronika (PA, USA)

Sue Bird's name is lucky enough to be synonymous with two of the all-time greats in the WNBA (DT and LJ; not that Bird herself is not an all-timer as well.) Which duo do you think will be remembered as the most legendary in women's basketball as a whole (overeas, college, WNBA, Olympics, etc.)? Bird and Taurasi? or Bird and Jackson? Also, which do you think is a stronger on court tandom in general?

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:27 PM)

My instinct is to say Bird-Jackson is *the* duo of the two that will be most remembered. DT and Bird were together for two years in college and on national teams. LJ and Bird have played together nine years in the WNBA. And I don't want this to sound wrong, as if LJ and Bird don't stand all by themselves as great, great players - because obviously they do. But ... I tend not to think of Taurasi as part of any specific tandem. She was the "kid" on the senior-laden team at UConn in 2002. She was *the* star, the team's rock on the '03 and '04 squads. In Phoenix, she has been a great combo player with Cappie Pondexter and Penny Taylor, and now with PT and Candice Dupree. She is a star among stars, in my view, on the national team. So ... there is a bond between her and Sue, obviously. But the dynamic duo as a true duo that we will always remember as such ... that's Sue and LJ.

Torri (State College, PA)

Did Liz Cambage's outing at Worlds threaten the presumptive number one pick of Maya Moore? And just how much of an effect is Maya's participation in the US National team going to have on UCONN's season?

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:34 PM)

Some people may call this an extreme comparison _ and it is _ but I'll use it any way. To me, the idea of picking Cambage over Moore made me think of the same logic that had the Trail Blazers in 1984 picking Sam Bowie over Michael Jordan. Now, that sounds unfair to Cambage because we know in retrospect how bad a choice that was. It could turn out that she would be more like Hakeem Olajuwon, a great player who went No. 1 to the Rockets that year. Again, I'm stressing this is just a a bit of a hyperbolic comparison, because we have no idea right now how good Cambage is going to be ... we know she has great potential. And we also can't be sure how good Moore will be at the pro level. But if you look at how well most of the UConn stars have done so far in their pro careers, I'd say the odds that Moore will be a big star are pretty good. I'd pick her. And I don't think the national team experience did anything but help Moore prepare for having a lot on her shoulders this college season. She is so level-headed about it, though, that it's another impressive quality. She knows she can't do it all, but she's ready to do a ton.

Elizabeth (Pennsylvania)

Have you seen Diana Taurasi's pictures? What do you think of them, and who do you think should be/will be the next WNBA player to bare all?

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:48 PM)

Yes, I've seen them. I think everybody has a pretty instinctual response to this - would you do it if you were a popular athlete with an attractive body ... how would you feel if someone you were very close to did it ... do people give too much of themselves away to total strangers by showing them their bodies in this way ... are you a prude if you question it ... is there that big of a difference between this and, say, going to the beach ... should we even have an opinion, since these athletes are all adults and apparently wanted to do this? My instinct is ... I'm not all that in favor of these pictures. But I am also not condemning it or criticizing anyone for it. If she and the other athletes in the Body Issue are comfortable with this and like how it made them feel and like the results, then that is what's important for them. I don't know who will be "next." The bottom line for the magazine is that it makes money. So whoever wants to do it should consider his or her own personal reasons for doing it. A lot of people love seeing it. Some really don't. Some of us just must admit we are ambivalent for several reasons, some of which we are always kind of wrestling with because it makes us think about all the above issues. I'm in that category.

Faith Tanney (Washington, DC)

A large number of Washington STHs are quite upset about the firing of Angela Taylor and the subsequent refusal by management to answer any questions. Aside from not renewing next year, what are they to do?

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:53 PM)

This is one of the hardest things ... the fans want to support the players. It's not the players' fault that management is treating fans in a way that they feel disrespected. The fans don't want to hurt the league or the players - they want to do everything they can to support them. But they also don't like to get treated this way by people they are handing their money to. I'd say fans just have to make their own choice on this. Does the fun you have going to see the Mystics and supporting the players outweigh your anger at management? Do you feel you can really change something for the good by withholding your support? I feel like I'm not offering any good advice here ... because loyal fans who care about their teams are really torn on this. We all sometimes decide we're going to put up with crap we shouldn't put up with for a "greater good." But we all have to figure out what our level of tolerance for that is.


Angela Taylor was offered a contract, and she turned it down. Are the Mystics reserving more blame than due based on past history?

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:58 PM)

You get judged a lot on your history, because that's what your record is. Nobody can be sure what anybody is going to do in the future. We know what people have done in the past, and what they're doing right at the moment. Look, maybe the Mystics really have good reasons on their side. If so, why not at least reach out more to the fans to say, "We know you're upset, we know you like Angela. Sometimes things don't work out. We are absolutely committed to making this franchise as successful as possible, and we need you." That's not telling all their business, but at least acknowledging that people are upset and they care about that. How hard is that? Talk to the media in something other than condescending statements. Or ... just let everybody think you just don't care what the fans think because you're above that. This is basic customer relations 101. The Mystics' organization is flunking.

Helen (New York)

When you look at the current leadership in the W - within the main office and within individual teams - which players do you see moving up into the "land of suits"?

Mechelle Voepel
  (3:04 PM)

It is not an automatic that great leadership as an athlete will translate to the same thing in business or coaching or administration that today's players may move into as their athletic careers end. And it's hard to know who will have the same fire for those kind of jobs that they do for playing. But one name - in terms of leadership, experience with working with all kinds of people, intelligence, grace - that comes to mind immediately is Taj McWilliams-Franklin. As far as other players nearer the ends of their careers, we'll have to see if the likes of Tina Thompson want to move into roles like this. I know that WNBA players do talk about life after playing, even though it's scary to a lot of them. These are intelligent women, most very well-grounded. I am eager to see who among them in the next decade or so may emerge as leaders in the athletic world in ways other than playing. I do want to add Ticha Penicheiro talks about being a player agent, and that's important, too. Someone who will help players navigate life overseas successfully.

Amy (Michigan)

Roger Griffith and Nolan Richardson are still GM's in this league. Right now, Angela Taylor isn't. Tell me again why I should take the WNBA seriously.

Mechelle Voepel
  (3:16 PM)

Well, I have to say that a lot of people would agree with you. We don't know all the details with Angela Taylor's situation ... and we might not ever know. Griffith has family connections, and how that might impact his job security is kind of impossible not to at least mention. Nolan Richardson seems to still be the Tulsa ownership's choice to lead that franchise. Yeah, you do have to wonder a little, don't you?

Glenn (Fresh Meadows, NY)

With Cokie Reed gone for the season and the Longhorn Nation grumbling is Gail Gostenkors in some mild trouble in Austin?

Mechelle Voepel
  (3:22 PM)

Aren't they too busy being upset about football right now to think about anything else? :) I said all along that nobody -not Gail G., not anybody - was going to just come in and immediately win a national championship at Texas ... it was going to take some time. It is a very competitive conference. UT had to pay a lot to get her away from Duke, so I know some folks thought she was supposed to win the NCAA title the next year. That's how some folks think in Texas - we paid, now give it to us. Like it's just that simple a transaction. It isn't. The Horns have been to the NCAA tournament in all three of GG's seasons. No, they are not where they want to be. But I don't think it's unreasonable to say more time is needed.

kevin (macon ga)

Diana Taurasi made the cover of ESPN the Magazine, only the second WNBA player to do so. Candace Parker, while pregnant, was the first. When will we see a WNBA player make the cover in uniform?

Mechelle Voepel
  (3:26 PM)

Ok, that just made me laugh out loud. I'll take your word for it, as I can't remember all the Mag's covers, actually. At some point, DT was on in a "Next" issue before her WNBA career, with other athletes. But I don't doubt you; I don't recall anyone else. I guess the Mag is on the clock on that one.


The WNBA doesn't make details in contract signings available to the public. Is there a reason for this, other than wanting to hide the fact that WNBA players aren't being paid nearly as well as their NBA counterparts?

Mechelle Voepel
  (3:31 PM)

I actually was talking with a league official about this yesterday. I think being open would be a better way to run the business. Everybody already knows they don't get paid anything like the NBA players. But people who run organizations sometimes just cling to secrecy almost out of instinct. The NCAA did that FOREVER with the RPI and how it did its brackets ... and then realized, "Hey, we actually look better and are more respected when we open up the process so everyone sees the details." Sunshine, what a concept.

Glenn (fresh meadows)

I don't think it's fair to discuss Taylor's firing with Blaze's Blaze was a GM who constantly ailienated fans and players and who had gotten so bad the libs did not improve much at the gate even with getting PONDEXTER and even put Cappie in an awkward spot with her treatment of Shameka Christon. Taylor was respected and suddenly let go with no reason given...there is a MAJOR difference and i do NOT think it's outside the league to force Shiela Johnson to give an answer to the fans, the players and the league.

Mechelle Voepel
  (3:36 PM)

I agree with you that NY fans' reaction to Blaze's "departure" and Mystics fans' reaction to Taylor's "departure" are totally different, and for the reasons that you state. My point in comparing them is that if you leave an organization without a person on the rudder even for a little while, you risk more things going wrong. I heard Lib fans went to the Prudential Center last night to see their new seats, scout the building, get a feel for the new commute. Why wasn't a new GM there to great them for that? The WNBA needs to keep that grass-roots connection to fans going all the time. It seems very simple to me to know how to treat people who are spending money on your business ... if you want them to keep spending it.

Lisa Marks (San Antonio)

There are stories that the Silver Stars front office went over Dan Hughes head to fire Brondello/Lange, in part because the players were so unhappy under their direction. Do you think Dan Hughes can continue on as GM or is that elationship between players and GM going to suffer. If the players went over his head isn't that an indication they no longer trust his judgement?

Mechelle Voepel
  (3:38 PM)

Dan Hughes was not happy about the decision to let Brondello/Lange go, but these kinds of things do sometimes happen with pro sports franchises, obviously. I think there is a lot of repair work to be done in San Antonio between the players and management, to see if everyone is really on board in the same way about the future. And there needs to be a talent upgrade. I keep saying that with the SASS, but it bears repeating. If Dan Hughes does stay in his role as GM, that's on him.

Mary (WV)

So what ultimately became of Diana Taurasi's deliberations about taking some time off? Is she going to miss any part of her schedule next year, either foreign or domestic?

Mechelle Voepel
  (3:40 PM)

She is signed at least through next year with the Mercury, so she is expected to complete the next full season, to my understanding. I've always thought it would be impossible for her emotionally to take a full WNBA season off. I think it would drive her nuts, really.

Alex (Boston)

Laying out like that makes me realize just how little (in the grand scheme of things) Bird and Taurasi have played together - yet they are so intrinsically linked. How is that?

Mechelle Voepel
  (3:45 PM)

Well, I do need to amend that. Bird and Taurasi have played together along with LJ in Russia. So I should have mentioned that DT-Bird connection as teammates, too, of course. It's important and significant, even if we here in the States have basically not seen any of that. They also did that Buddy chat thing on a few years back, which I think most people really enjoyed. Because they were very funny and actually revealed some interesting details of their friendship. So I think the link is significant, just that as an on-court duo, we've seen more of Bird and LJ. Plus, it's a point guard-post player link, and they've won two WNBA titles we've been able to watch. I doubt many people here in the States saw much of Bird and DT winning for Spartak.

Judith (Wash DC)

Following up on your statement that it would be nice for NY to have a GM asap, if you owned the Libs, would you be on the phone right now to Angela Taylor? Here's another star that could fall right into their laps through no real doing of their own. How lucky can you get?

Mechelle Voepel
  (3:47 PM)

Angela Taylor will go into her next job, whatever it is, on a wave of good wishes from Mystics fans, for sure. :) I think her track record is good, so if I were looking for a GM - if the Libs haven't made up their minds already - it would only make sense to at least call Taylor.

Helen (New York)

How useful is the "Summit" on ESPNW if it doesn't actually include the, you know, target audience? Fans of women's basketball. Not sure what Peck, Jones and/or a Notre Dame player (Was Diggins?) know about what women's sports fans want.

Mechelle Voepel
  (3:54 PM)

I was not there and wasn't involved with it, but I got the sense that it was a connection between women from the athletic world and potential advertisers/corporate sponsors. I've talked on a couple of different occasions to the people in charge of developing espnW, and they've done market research going into this process. There is a lot they are still trying to really nail down - that has been my impression. I don't know to what degree actual coverage of competitive women's sports works into their equation, but that's what fans of such sports really need to let them know they want.

Mary (D.C.)

What do you think of DT's decision to be a part of ESPN's body issue this year? I feel like there has been very little negative response to it, which isn't what I expected. Do you think the American public (or at least women's basketball fans) are loosening up?

Mechelle Voepel
  (3:57 PM)

Just want to revisit this a little part, if there is no so-called negative reaction, it may be because this isn't really new. Brandi Chastain posed nude with strategically placed soccer balls back in 1999 before the World Cup, Lauren Jackson and other Aussie athletes did their nude photos in Australia before the 2004 Olympics, I believe, and the Mag's Body Issue isn't new. Maybe it's just that people have seen it before and don't have as much reaction to it, one way or another.

Keith H (Seattle)

Mechelle, reading about the dissatisfaction in other corners of the league makes me appreciate all the more how the Storm does business. It doesn't replace the Sonics leaving, but it helps. Thank you.

Mechelle Voepel
  (3:59 PM)

I have heard that sentiment from more than one Seattle fan. Maybe some folks on the East Coast should be paying a little more attention to the Pacific Northwest? I think so.

Emma (CT)

Diana was on ESPN the magazine in 2003 with a number of female athletes, in 2004 with a number of other athletes, and with Emeka her senior year. All basketball related.

Mechelle Voepel
  (4:00 PM)

Sounds like someone who has kept close track of Diana covers. :) Thanks. I do remember those.

Rich (London)

How good is the 2011 draft besides the two everyone's talking about? Are the likes of Harris, Pedersen and Lavender going to be true impact players on the pro level?

Mechelle Voepel
  (4:03 PM)

I am by nature a little more optimistic about players' potential at times than other people are. So keep that in mind. But I do think there will be some impact players out of this 2011 draft ... especially if they go to a team where they are a good fit. How deep will the draft be? That I'm still not sure of ... and it does partly depend on the some seniors' development and health this season.

Mechelle Voepel
  (4:08 PM)

Next week, it will be time to really go more in depth with college hoops questions, so forgive me for not answering as many of those as I was presented. As for thoughts on FIBA's inaugural "convention" on women's basketball, held during the world championship, I'll have thoughts on that upcoming on Suffice to say, I didn't think much of what came out of it ... some platitudes about support. That needs to *really* happen. Lowering the rim? I am not in favor. Don't know too many people who are. Thanks for questions, and we'll chat again next week.