The game never stops. There are a lot of great athletes all over the world and here in the United States. However, roster spots are limited and many great players don’t get opportunities to play in professional leagues. There’s been a sea change in recent years, and one league in particular is hoping to shake things up in a major way.
Since 2020, Athletes Unlimited has been been a place for athletes to compete and make develop their games even further. The organization started with volleyball, lacrosse, and softball before expanding to basketball at the beginning of 2022. WNBA players have taken to AU so they can stay close to their loved ones at home, continue expanding on their skills and make some more money instead of having to travel overseas. Sydney Colson of the Las Vegas Aces spoke to Bernadette Doykos of Boardroom about AU in February 2022 and explained why she was drawn to them:
“It was easy to hop on because you could see that [AU] had successfully done this in three other sports. You could see that it wouldn’t end up as a hoax. As a women’s basketball player, you hear about other things that are going to come around and talk about it, but it’s never anything legit.”
AU has been successful in their short run and are starting to become a nice option for W players in the offseason. It's a more convenient option than going abroad and serves as a great opportunity to hoop in the months between WNBA seasons. For players who may not get a chance to showcase all of their skills in the WNBA, AU gives them a chance to sharpen their games and develop new skills. And now, they’ve received a big financial boost from some big names.
It’s been a great couple of weeks for Kevin Durant. KD turned 34 years old on September 29 and is glad to still be with the Brooklyn Nets after a busy, rumor filled summer. Everything is settled on the court, which should make for a much smoother season as he and the Nets chase an NBA championship. As he handles business on the court, he's continuing to build off of it.
Last Thursday, it was announced that Athletes Unlimited received a $30 million capital raise from a group of investors that included Durant and his agent x business partner, Rich Kleiman, with 35 Ventures. In a statement, Durant said:
“We have been advisors for AU since the very beginning, and we’re excited to be a part of this capital raise. Athletes Unlimited is at the forefront of women’s sports and an inspiration for how sports leagues can thrive with an athlete-first business model.”
“Every pro sports league should take note of what AU is doing, especially the pathway for athletes to have a financial stake in their own leagues.”
This investment follows a trend for the folks at 35V. Earlier in the week, they partnered with tennis legend, Billie Jean King, on a new professional women’s volleyball league. And to go back a little further, Durant and Kleiman made an investment in Gotham FC of the NWSL back in the spring.
It's important to continue to make the investment in women’s basketball and provide women’s sports at large with the funding, coverage, and support their deserve. As the Las Vegas Aces won the WNBA championship, the ratings for the playoffs were at its highest in quite some time. Here in New York, the Liberty have continued to successfully reestablish themselves back home after being away for four years. FIBA just wrapped up the World Cup, and the finale between the United States and China was a sellout that had the largest crowd to see a final since 1953. Team USA’s Breanna Stewart spoke about the Australian crowd and made a great point in her postgame media availability following the gold medal game:
Breanna Stewart: "This has to be one of the best atmospheres I've played in.... The biggest thing from this is you can't say people don't support women's basketball... there was a lot of people cheering for us, cheering against us, but they're here watching women's basketball."— Alexa Philippou (@alexaphilippou) October 1, 2022
The fans are there and have been there for a long time. As the sports world works to become more accessible and equitable for all, television networks and folks with large pockets have to meet the fans where they are and put the funds and time in to grow the game. With investments like the ones Durant has been making, that will help bridge the gap and support the athletes as they take the games to higher heights.