She’s Got Game: Former WNBA Player Michelle Reed Talks Winning On And Off The Court

As a child growing up in South Jamaica Houses – also known as the infamous “40 Projects” in Queens, NY, Michelle Reed didn’t know anyone from her hometown who became a professional basketball player. Yet, that didn’t stop Reed from conquering her dream of doing just that and landing a coveted spot on the Los Angeles Sparks while becoming the first woman from her neighborhood to make it to the WNBA. After receiving a full athletic scholarship to play for Western Kentucky University (WKU), Reed went on to compete with the Sparks and played professional basketball overseas in Croatia and Finland. While at WKU, Reed earned a bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies and business management. During her college career, the talented guard-forward received many player of the week honors and participated in the iconic “Sweet 16”.

Now retired from the WNBA, Reed remains an inspiration for those both in and out of basketball. She is a powerful motivational speaker, author of the memoir What Happens After the Game and is establishing her own nonprofit organization called Dream in Vertical Network. Since the ESSENCE staff is captivated by all things WNBA right now (And so are you!), as well as longtime champions – pun intended – of Black women charting their own course, we caught up with Reed for an enlightening conversation. Keep reading to get her insider take on the criticism faced by rookie players Angel Reese and Caitlin Clark, those controversial Olympic Team USA selections, the importance of financial literacy and the value of giving back. Reed, a former “tomboy” turned history maker also reflects on her own professional basketball career and the lessons she learned – and is still learning –along her impressive journey.

She’s Got Game: Former WNBA Player Michelle Reed Talks Winning On And Off The Court What ways is the WNBA different now from when you were in the league? And in what ways is it the same?  

MICHELLE REED: It is more visible now than it was before. Whether it’s positive or negative, people are talking about the W. People are starting to get engaged; it’s exciting! It took 28 years. There’s a lot more brand marketing around the W now. What’s the same about it? Well, there are still 144 players. But the plan is to add a team to Toronto so that will change soon too. What are your thoughts about one of the league’s most talked about players, Angel Reese? Do you think she’s being too harshly criticized as a rookie?

REED: I think with money and notoriety comes criticism, there’s no way around it. She’s a new face to the game. And somebody has to be the catalyst. When it comes to branding, sometimes noise is what sells. You have to look at it from a branding perspective. Then, there people who just want to get followers and attention to their [social media] pages, who are just stirring up controversy and making things more than what it is. I commend Angel Reese for answering questions with professionalism and speaking her truth. What about Caitlin Clark?

REED: [Michael] Jordan went through it, [Larry] Byrd went through it, all the greats went through some kind of something. This is just their time. Fortunately, it doesn’t take away from their talent. But mentally, it can be draining. It’s draining as a spectator to just listen to some of the things that are being said about them. Caitlin Clark is a great player. She has a long way to go and a long career to go. A lot of people are looking up to her, Reese and all of the women in the W. I hope that doesn’t stop. I hope the adrenaline that’s pumping from all of this continues for years to come because it’s bringing attention to the league and it’s putting butts in the seats. It sure is and the buzz has expanded to college. There’s a viral advertisement circulating for a University of Southern California (USC) game (against University of Connecticut) in December – six whole months away! It featured their star player and rising sophomore, JuJu Watkins.

REED: It’s the new normal, but it’s also money. JuJu is one of the key marketing players that’s coming out of this year’s college basketball season. So, a lot of teams that have been in the top ranks want to go after USC because of her. You’re talking about television time, you’re talking about money to the schools, and money to the players.

That’s the part of the college game that’s scaring me because I just don’t want people to get to the point where they are playing teams for financial gains and forget about the maturity and mental health of the players. That brings pressure to play. That brings pressure to perform. At the end of the day, they are still there to get their education. The Summer Olympics are approaching and there was also lots of critics weighing in on the women’s basketball team selection. Thoughts? 

REED: I think they did a great job in choosing the team. I know there’s a lot of controversy around Caitlin Clark not being on the Olympic squad but like anyone else she has to earn her stripes. You can’t just make it because you’re a big name and have college career credits. I think it’s a fair selection. Are there some missing components? Absolutely. There are plenty of players who could have been selected. I would have liked to see DeWanna Bonner on the squad because she’s been an amazing player for her entire career and doesn’t get the credit I think she deserves. But I think [the selected players] will represent our country in a fantastic and classy way. Bring home the gold, USA! Excellent points. In addition to the WNBA, you enjoyed a successful basketball career overseas. Was it anything like Love & Basketball?

REED: [Laughs.] For me, it was everything like Love & Basketball, especially my stint in Croatia. I was mainly in a country where English wasn’t a second language. I only had two people to communicate with at practices and games, one was the assistant coach, and the other was a teammate. I had to learn tidbits of important terms in the language like ‘Where’s the bathroom?’, just to slightly communicate with others because I didn’t have a translator. Wow! What things did you learn while playing in the WNBA that you apply to your current day-to-day life?

REED: You have to maintain a strong backbone. It only takes one conversation for someone to either break your spirit down or build your spirit up. Just like somebody telling me, “Oh, your jump shot is weak and you’ll never be a good shooter.” I can either allow that to make me work harder or it could break me down and make me want to quit. It’s all about being strong enough to ignore the noise and push through. I’m the type of person, if you tell me I can’t do something, I’m going to show you that I can. 

But a lot of people aren’t built like that. Some people will take words to heart, and start looking down on themselves, and discrediting their true ability, when they’re actually very talented, but have somebody in their ear who wants to see them fail. At the end of the day, it’s what believe to be true. I don’t care how hard you work, or how good you are, or how much you need to develop, it’s all about your confidence and commitment to becoming the best version of yourself. You’re a personal finance junkie. What are your thoughts on Angel Reese investing in the Washington D.C. women’s soccer team, Power FC and athletes securing multiple streams of income?

REED: Once you have an opportunity to invest, you do your homework and if it aligns to your goals, go for it. She looks like a smart young lady who’s doing right by her money. It’s good to have good people in your ear to coach you about business. That’s something I wish I had when I was playing. What I know about money now is because I sat down, and figured out that I was ignorant in a lot of areas, and spending my money on careless things that were more liabilities than assets. 

Financial literacy should be a constant conversation at home and in schools. It baffles me that it’s not part of the core curriculum. If we don’t do our own homework, we’ll always be behind the eight-ball. Any tips to share for aspiring WNBA players out there?

REED: 1) Don’t stop educating yourself. Stretch yourself. Read books. If you have a mentor or someone who you look up to, find out what they’re reading. 2) Be an advocate for your community. Use your gifts for good. There should always be an act of giving, from giving time to giving information. Stay in the giving spirit because your blessings will come tenfold, especially when you give from a good place. 3) Don’t quit. No matter how hard life gets. There’s going to be great days, and there’s going to be horrible days. Continue to fight through it. Recognize that every lesson is a blessing and there’s something to learn from it.

Things aren’t just happening because you have bad luck. Things happen because there’s lessons to be learned about yourself in them, whether they’re lessons in relationships, whether it’s lessons in the information you feed yourself, or lessons in your professional choices. In order for you to become a professional basketball player, you must engage yourself in what it takes to become the person who needs to be a professional basketball player first, and then [work on] the player. The person develops before the player.

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