WNBA: A Sit-down With Chicago Sky’s Imani Boyette

In the midst of the WNBA’s Olympic break, we sat down and discussed life, basketball and more with Chicago Sky’s Imani Boyette

The Olympic break for Chicago Sky center Imani Boyette was more like the pre-season for her. The time she received off was about working out and being ready for the second half and stretch-run of her rookie WNBA season.

Along with that, she’s been busy with donating backpacks to youngsters back in Chicago and working out with P3 Sports Science as an Adidas athlete. (She also recommended that I upgrade from a Iphone 4s during our interview, which I did the same day to a 6s plus.)

Not much of her break was spent watching her peers in Olympic play. Mainly, because she already knew the outcome: another gold medal for the United States. The USA Basketball’s women’s team has been dominant for the past four decades in Olympic competition, by winning 10 of the last 11 gold medals. Their dominance isn’t questioned and a gold medal in Olympic play is simply inevitable.

The dominance of the women’s team in Olympic competition is unparalleled to any other nation in a singular sport. Through their eight game journey to gold they defeated teams by a total of 298 points, with a win margin of 37.3. Their closest game was against France, which was a 19-point victory. As for their biggest margin of victory, well, that came against Nigeria in their opener by 65.

“That’s normal though,” Boyette said on the women’s dominance.” We’re never not dominating everyone.”

Snuggled up home with her dog, Boyette had zero reason to worry at all. She felt that the fellas had a more difficult road to gold than the women, which is true, because they struggled during their gold medal run and had gotten bailed out a few times from hot performances.

“The men have a much harder road than we do,” Boyette said.” The men actually get challenged a little bit.”

Boyette kept it real and admitted to not watching any of the Olympic games, but for good reason. She, like the rest of the United States, was caught in a trance with the women’s gymnastics team. Mainly by 5-time medalist Simone Biles. who she thought was “awesome” during her Olympic run.

With the Olympics now over, Boyette is focused on the Sky clinching a playoff berth for the fourth consecutive season. As of right now, the Sky are holding onto the 6th seed with an 12-13 record.

“We definitely want to make the playoffs,” Boyette said.” We’re like tweaking our way in there. The season has been so competitive that the middle four, we’re all kind of like ‘you lose one game you’re in fifth place, you win one you’re in fourth place.’ The second half of the season is very important to solidify your playoff standing.”

Twenty-one games into Boyette’s career and she’s been adjusting to a new lifestyle and job. She’s exceeded some of her personal expectations, but is still learning as the season is almost at its finish line.

“It’s easier than I expected, but also a lot harder than I expected,” Boyette said.” I know that’s a contradiction. I expected to be terrible, and I’m not terrible. It’s a lot harder in terms of everything else. You have to be able to take care of your body; and you have to figure out how to rest; no ones gonna tell you what to eat, where to eat.”

What Boyette and many athletes go through on a daily basis, by putting their body through regiments that WE the fans and outsiders don’t see unless its on video. It’s truly amazing what Boyette and other athletes can do at such a high rate, since that’s something most of us can’t do in athletic competition. There are so many logistical aspects to being a professional athlete, along with excelling above others and having longevity within the respective sport.

People like me and you are accustomed to viewing a finished or still developing product when games are broadcasted.

Boyette has a friend who plays for the Chicago Bulls, and the two typically have conversations on the difference between the WNBA and NBA. The difference is pretty glaring because people who don’t appreciate the WNBA product continue to bash it, but I guarantee you that if someone who can can help their life played in the league they’d become genuine supporters.

The WNBA is celebrating its 20th season, and the criticism it still receives to this day from sports fans and outsiders can be akin to what presidential candidate Donald Trump receives from minorities: shouldn’t be around, continuously questioned and taken as a joke.

It’s no secret in the world we live in today that women have it harder to become great. Boyette points out that females have to be beautiful, sexy and represent themselves in an immaculate to achieve their dreams. She knows her NBA counterparts don’t have to go through what women do when it comes to getting their name out there.

“I don’t think men have to have those conversations within themselves,” Boyette said on men not needing to look a certain way. “When they’re thinking about branding and opportunities after basketball. Men don’t have to fight in terms of validation for their sport, people just respect them. I have to have conversations it all the time when people say, ‘Oh, you play in the WNBA, oh okay.’ A lot of people don’t realize that what athletes in general — especially those in the WNBA — deal with.”

The lack of respect the WNBA receives is egregious, in comparison to other known sports organizations. You’d think a league partnered and created by the NBA would be respected, but it’s the complete opposite. Boyette has to consistently deal with folks who question the authenticity of the WNBA. Over and over again she has to explain her occupation instead of it being self-explanatory.

“Sometimes it’s aggravating,” Boyette said when it comes to explaining her job.” If you get different comments like ‘do you guys get paid?’ or ‘when is your season?’ and you’ll just be coming from a game. That stuff is really aggravating.”

In just 20 years the WNBA is featured on ESPN, ABC NBA TV and local affiliated stations for teams. The athletes are signed to endorsement companies in the realm of Nike, Jordan, Adidas and more. Within the league, the talent and quality of basketball has gotten better, and the main stars and are in advertisements like their NBA counterparts. All that in 20 years and still not a scintilla of respect is being shown.

Just recently, France put a ban on burkini’s, which limits what women can wear and subliminally punishes Muslim women. Then, there’s the Leslie Jones situation, who’s been getting excoriated since the “Ghostbusters” release as a female and person of color. One of the more prominent attacks on a woman with celebrity status is Serena Williams for her appearance.

Zero respect is shown towards the female gender. If people couldn’t handle Barack Obama as a black president, then lord knows how the country will act if Hilary Clinton is elected.

Just knowing how people are these days, especially with the internet, you could only imagine the vitriol that’s sent in the direction of the WNBA and its players.

“People don’t know me, so I get the, ‘you should want to grow up and do something with basketball,’ Boyette began to say on the disrespect she and the WNBA receive.” Or ‘is the WNBA a season?’ Obviously, you get the homosexual comments — majority of us are homosexual. It’s just the general disrespect that’s unwarranted. At the end of the day women’s basketball is definitely a different type of basketball. Women’s basketball isn’t always flashy and fun, and women’s basketball is based on fundamental and we’re a lot more skilled savy. You have to really appreciate women’s basketball if you aren’t at a game, I get that.

People go out of their way to say women’s basketball isn’t credible or isn’t relevant,” Boyette continued.” I get tweets about it, like you went out of your way to tweet me.”

It’s a different style of basketball that some don’t appreciate. The ones that do appreciate use women’s basketball to their advantage. The WNBA is for sure a correct learning tool for people looking to improve their skills. Do most of the players in the league have freakish athletic ability that allows them to have daily highlight reels? No. Do the players have a skill level and IQ that is respected? Yes.

“In the NBA there’s always a guy who is only around because he can jump,” Warriors forward Draymond Green told Sports Illustrated.” He doesn’t have a clue about the fundamentals. I learn more from the WNBA. They know how to dribble, how to pivot, how to use shot fake.”

It’s paying attention to details that matter the most and it’s interesting how the perception and learning curve works between the two leagues and in society as a whole.

Despite the two leagues being related, the relationship between an NBA and WNBA player is practically non-existent unless both teams are in the same city.

“There really isn’t one unless you play for a team that’s owned by an NBA team,” Boyette said.” We’re privately owned, but we don’t really affiliate with the Bulls. We don’t play at the same place, don’t share the same practice space, we don’t do events together. While in Indiana or in Minnesota they do everything together — they share the same practice facility. It really depends on what type of program you’re in.”

NBA and WNBA partnerships do matter. There are currently eight WNBA teams that are associated with an NBA team in their market and are recognized as a sister team. The Indiana Pacers and Fever; San Antonio Spurs and Stars; Phoenix Suns and Mercury; New York Knicks and Liberty; Atlanta Hawks and Dream; Washington Wizards and Mystics; Los Angeles Lakers and Sparks.

The other three teams without an NBA affiliation — Connecticut Sun, Dallas Wings and the Sky — don’t have access to NBA facilities and events. An NBA affiliation should be mandatory to help the WNBA continue to grow and have their players train and showcase their talents in the best of places.

Boyette and the Sky play their home games at the Allstate Arena in Rosemont, Illinois, while their should-be NBA brother, the Bulls, play at the United Center in Chicago. The distance between the two isn’t too kind for a relationship to be built between players on either team. Driving wise, the two arenas are 40 minutes apart and would take almost an hour and a half by public transportation.

(If you never heard of Rosemont, it’s a village with a population of around 4,200, with residential sections being gated communities.)

The facilities that the Sky use aren’t in comparison to the ones Boyette became accustomed to at Texas.

Boyette referenced as to how her collegiate teammate, Nneka Enemkpali, was back in college with the facilities the Lynx have, courtesy of the Timberwolves. As for Boyette herself, she believes the amenities she had access to at Texas “were bigger and better than what we have now, and the University of Texas has way more money.”

There’s a lot going on right now with the WNBA, with its supporters and doubters. Boyette keeps it real and is optimistic with every chance she gets. With the Olympic break over, she’s focused on clinching a playoff spot and playing deep into the fall.