Last year, Skokie real-estate developer Michael Alter ponied up a reported $10 million for the Chicago Sky, the 14th franchise in the Women’s National Basketball Association. With the Sky tipping off its inaugural home game May 23rd at the UIC Pavilion (for tickets, call 877-329-9622), forward Stacey Lovelace took a break to share eight things you don’t know about professional women basketball players.
Photograph: Katrina Wittkamp
(Hair and makeup Susie Lee)
Stacey Lovelace and her
1. THEY APPRECIATE THE VIEW
At six feet three, Lovelace is one of the tallest players on a team where the average height is six feet. But growing up as a tall girl was never the big deal people assume it was, she says. “Ninety percent of the people who went to my high school [St. Martin de Porres in Detroit, which closed in 2005] played sports; it was like a sports factory. Once I got there, it was like, Oh, those are the basketball girls.”
2. FAST WOMEN SCORE
In the past, one of the main complaints about women’s ball has been that it’s too slow. So this year the WNBA has shaved six seconds off the shot clock, taking it down to 24 seconds. “It’s definitely going to speed things up,” Lovelace says. “There’s going to be no time for standing around thinking, I’m not sure where to go. You’ve got to get in there and get it done.”
3. BIOLOGY PREDICTS THE BASKETBALL
The cream-colored swirl on a WNBA basketball ensures a look different from the men’s, but the main distinction is size. The WNBA ball features a 28 1/2-inch circumference-an inch smaller than the NBA standard. The rationale? Female players generally have smaller hands.
4. THERE’S STILL A GLASS CEILING
The average WNBA salary is $55,000 for a 34-game regular season. The average for the NBA: $4.5 million (for 82 games). Many WNBA players double or even triple their income by joining foreign teams during the off-season, which is September to April. In addition to playing two seasons apiece for the Seattle Storm and the Minnesota Lynx, Lovelace has played pro ball in France, Spain, Turkey, and, most recently, Israel.
5. NICE GIRLS FINISH LAST
When it comes to competition, women’s instincts are every bit as sharp as men’s, Lovelace says. “We’re not really getting that much money to play. We’re out there playing hard because we want to win, not because we’re getting huge endorsements and big contracts. It’s very physical, very aggressive. I have a broken nose right now; I was going up for a rebound [in Israel], and someone elbowed me.”
6. A WOMAN’S WORK IS NEVER DONE
The mother of a two-year-old daughter, Ryann, Lovelace, 31, is one of 13 parents among 166 women playing for the WNBA. (A teammate, Jia Perkins, also is a mom.) Lovelace, who is married to Brian Tolbert, a pro basketball player for Israel’s Elitzur Ashkelon, skipped playing while pregnant, returning to the court when her daughter was five months old. “I only practice maybe an hour in the morning and an hour and a half in the evening,” she says. “The rest of my day, I’m there.”
7. FASHION MATTERS
An avid shoe shopper, Lovelace has a hard time finding stylish footwear to fit her narrow, size-11 feet. So when she hits a retail jackpot, she doesn’t hold back, buying six or seven pairs at a time. Gleefully anticipating all the shopping to be done during a preseason publicity junket to Chicago-with credit card in hand and no disapproving husband in tow-she jokes, “I might not be married anymore when I leave, but at least I’ll look good when I go out.”
8. EXCEPT DURING THE GAME
When she’s on the court, style is the last thing on Lovelace’s mind. There, “it’s about competing and winning and being comfortable.” But that doesn’t mean she’ll trot out in just anything; the Sky’s uniform is a tasteful light-blue and yellow jersey and matching knee-length shorts. “I wouldn’t be comfortable in a body suit or short shorts.”