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2020 WNBA jersey sales show the old guard is finally getting its due

Oct 2, 2020

By Tamryn Spruill

Old guard WNBA players are finally get their due from mainstream media. But what about the younger class of women’s basketball players not named Sabrina Ionescu?

On Friday, the league announced before tipoff of Game 1 of the 2020 WNBA Finals that the orange WNBA logo hoodie in 2020 became the bestselling merchandise piece in the league’s history. The hoodie, popularized by the late Kobe Bryant, a fierce supporter of the league and a mentor to many of its players, is “the most popular item this season across official online retail partner Fanatics’ network of e-commerce sites, including WNBAStore.com,” according to a league statement.

The signature item also has been embraced by NBA players like LeBron James and other celebrities.

But when it comes to individual player jerseys, the old guard reigns supreme while younger players, with the exception of Ionescu, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 WNBA Draft, float beneath the radar. Former No. 1 picks from recent years who got little or no jersey love include: Jackie Young (2019), A’ja Wilson (2018) (sixth in sales), Kelsey Plum (2017), Breanna Stewart (2016) (seventh in sales) and Jewell Loyd (2015).

Sue Bird, an 11-time All-Star and three-time champion with the Seattle Storm, had the bestselling jersey this year in spite of playing just 11 of 22 regular-season games due to knee soreness and load management after missing the 2019 season because of the knee. That all but one player in the top five for jersey sales are veterans on course for induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame as soon as they are eligible suggests fans may be buying up the gear before these players retire and their garb becomes unavailable outside of auction.

Diana Taurasi of the Phoenix Mercury (second in sales), Candace Parker of the Los Angeles Sparks (third in sales) and Maya Moore of the Minnesota Lynx (fifth in sales) complete the top five, with recent league MVPs A’ja Wilson (2020), Elena Delle Donne (2019) and Breanna Stewart (2018) coming in sixth, eighth and seventh, respectively.

Satou Sabally of the Dallas Wings, the No. 2 pick overall pick in 2020, joins Ionescu as the only rookies on the list.

WNBA jersey sales in 2020

  1. Sue Bird, Seattle Storm
  2. Diana Taurasi, Phoenix Mercury
  3. Candace Parker, Los Angeles Sparks
  4. Sabrina Ionescu, New York Liberty
  5. Maya Moore, Minnesota Lynx
  6. A’ja Wilson, Las Vegas Aces
  7. Breanna Stewart, Seattle Storm
  8. Elena Delle Donne, Washington Mystics
  9. Courtney Vandersloot, Chicago Sky
  10. Satou Sabally, Dallas Wings

It is Bird’s first time at the top of the list. Her increased mainstream profile due to media appearances in the offseason is potentially the biggest contributor to this result. Additionally, Bird’s popularity has soared outside of the basketball space because of her relationship with soccer star Megan Rapinoe, with whom she appears in a television commercial for Symetra.

Any recognition for Bird and the other WNBA veterans is long overdue and the power that comes with cultural ubiquity was long ago earned. Taurasi, Parker and other history-making stalwarts of the league deserve similar culturally-ubiquitous shine.

But the league’s new crop of stars, such as Natasha Cloud, Delle Donne, Stewart and Wilson — plus the promising talents of tomorrow such as the 2020 and 2019 Rookies of the Year Crystal Dangerfield and Napheesa Collier, respectively, both with the Minnesota Lynx — have made strong cases for media worthiness. Their accomplishments on the court and their personalities, leadership and extracurricular pursuits, demand visibility.

Media make the stars.

These dynamic women should not have to wait until they are nearing the age of 40, like Bird, to draw the gaze of the mainstream and the endorsement dollars that come with it.