Hey, we noticed you're in Canada but are currently viewing our US site. Would you like us to take you to the Canadian site, or do you want to stay on the US site?
Picking up what we're putting down? We thought you might be. Sign up for our free twice-weekly newsletter to get "the gist" of what's going on in the sports world in less than 5 minutes.
Skip to Content

Basketball

🏀🎾

Podcast Episode 45: The Pope, Megan Rapinoe and a turtle walk into a bar

November 25, 2020
AP Photo/Mike Carlson
AP Photo/Mike Carlson

Listen to this episode of The GIST of IT here.

Ellen: What's up, GISTers? Welcome to The GIST of It, I'm Ellen Hyslop, and I'm wondering if Khloe Kardashian is going to move to Boston with Tristan Thompson 

Steph: And I'm Steph Rotz and I'm super stoked that the Toronto Raptors resigned. Fred VanVleet.

Ellen: And we're just two old pals and we're two gals. And we're here to give you the gist of what's going on in the sports world. Today, we're talking about the NBA, covid in the NFL, the MLS playoffs, and most importantly, equal pay in sports. We'll get to all of it in a minute. But first, a word from our partners.

Steph: Thanks to Rogers, for sponsoring today's episode, we had some snowfall here in Toronto this past weekend and the crisp air had me thinking about hockey. I have so many fond memories of my youth hockey days. Rogers and their team Rogers Community Draft is here to ensure Canadian kids have an exciting opportunity to play this year, just like I did back in the day. So what is the Team Rogers Community Draft? The draft is giving three thousand five hundred lucky youth hockey players a chance to receive one hundred and fifty dollars towards league registration fees, plus exciting swag and exclusive conversations with current hockey pros. Learn more about how to sign up with your kid at rogers.com/getdrafted. Little Steph would have loved this. So check it out at rogers.com/getdrafted.

Ellen: Steph, as we mentioned off the top of the show, there are a lot of things that we want to talk about in today's podcast episode. But first, I do just have to say your leveling the playing field GIST merch T-shirt is looking hella fresh.

Steph: Back at you. I love that we're matching. All I've ever wanted to do is match with my friends and significant others. So thank you, friend, for matching me today.

Ellen: I'm so excited that we both came on literally wearing the exact same GIST merch. And for anyone who also wants to look like Steph and I go to shop.thegistsports.com and buy yourself a leveling the playing field. Everyone is doing it.

Steph: It's really cute. I'm excited to pose the blazer or maybe a collared shirt underneath. It's fabulous. Check it out. I highly recommend it.

Ellen: You are vibe. So OK, now we've talked about our merch. Let's get into today's podcast because we are switching up things a little bit.

Steph: You know, they tell me change is good, so let's lean into that. And before we get into the meat or maybe the Tofurky of the podcast or for the non meat eaters out there, Ellen and I want to catch you up- a quick catch up on a few things. So first off, let's start by talking about the NBA, the beloved NBA. The NBA, as you probably read in Monday's GIST newsletter, is busy with free agents seeing signings left, right and center. But we're not going to go through any free agency stuff today. What we do want to talk about is the NBA's players council traveling to the Vatican to meet Pope Francis. Five players and NBPA exec direct Michele Roberts flew to meet Pope Francis after he extended an invitation to the players union, saying that he wanted to learn more about their past work and future plans regarding social justice.

Ellen: This was a complete plot twist to me and totally unexpected. It was the last bit of news I would have thought we'd be getting this week. But at the same time, it's pretty refreshing, especially from an institution like the Catholic Church.

Steph: I had to do one of those things for you, like shake your eyes and think, is this actually when I'm reading, this is really cool. The fun fact, though, is Pope Francis is a big soccer fan, so a big sports fan. And he's basically in Italy, so how could he not be a soccer fan? And he praised their humility, humanity, and encouraged them to keep using basketball as a way to unite and lead. So ten out of ten, Pope Francis.

Ellen: Yeah, ten out of ten. Never thought I'd be talking about the pope on a frickin sports podcast, but here we are, 2020. You never know what's going to come at you. So moving on to things a little bit less involving the pope. Let's talk about the NFL. With covid-19 cases skyrocketing across North America and basically everywhere and after a plethora of players recently tested positive for covid-19, the NFL updated their coronavirus regulations on Monday. And some of those key changes include players having to wear face masks or coverings on the sideline if they're not wearing a helmet. So right now, when they come off the field and they're chillin on the bench or they're on the sideline, they can not be in masks between possessions. But now they'll have to take off their helmet and put on their mask, which I think is great. Play callers, so this includes head coaches, offensive coaches, defensive coaches. Basically, anyone who is calling a play on the sideline will still always have to wear masks. But what's interesting is that for the coaches that were just originally wearing that clear shield, now they're going to have to wear their mask as well as their clear shield if they want to keep the clear shield. And otherwise, finally, all parties traveling with teams now have to wear the very intense N-95 masks. So altogether, some big changes in the NFL, much needed. And all we could say is be safe out there, GISTers, be diligent.

Steph: Yes. Yeah. Safety is number one, always without our health what do we have? The N-95 thing is a little bit of a question mark to me because I'm not sure how many we have available, but I guess that's a different topic for possibly a different industry.

Ellen: Yes. Yes. I had no comment on that. No clue.

Steph: Our third catch up real quick, in case you missed it, MLS playoffs officially started this weekend. As much as we have to say that we love our beloved Toronto FC team, I really do feel like the Philadelphia Union will win the championship like they won the league.

Ellen: Yeah, the Union has been so good all season long. All year long, really. Even in that horribly named MLS is Back tournament that they had earlier this summer. But I do always like to say one thing about soccer is that because it is a low scoring game, it really is a game of moments. So as much as Philly could be amazing the entire year, they could just have one moment where they have a little bit of a brain fart and someone could sneak through and end up winning everything. I always like to have that caveat, but speaking of soccer, Steph, let's get into what we actually fully want to talk about today.

Steph: Yes. With the U.S. women's national soccer team playing the Netherlands in a 2019 FIFA World Cup final rematch on Friday at twelve thirty five p.m. Mark your calendars Friday twelve thirty five p.m. and with it being American Thanksgiving, we wanted to chat through some talking points about the ever important topic of equal pay.

Ellen: Steph, I'm very excited to be diving in this topic with you today, because, let's face it, it's controversial, it's a controversial topic, and it can also be super hard to hit key points in a heated conversation about equal pay, especially when you're with your family members and especially when you're maybe tipsy off of some red wine, or if you're tired from any of the tryptophan from the turkey that might be hitting you, it can be difficult. So I think we've got to be here to kind of talk through the three to four key points we have about equality in sports.

Steph: Very relatable moments been there for sure. Yeah, but before we dive into the sports side of things, I think it is important to start with the fact and the concept that equality truly benefits everybody. Patriarchy harms men, too. We will all be better off across genders, sexual orientation, race, et cetera, with equality in the book, The Spirit Level, Why Equality is better for Everyone. The authors use data from twenty three of the world's richest countries and 50 U.S. states and found that people in more equal societies live longer, have better mental health and are more socially mobile. In more unequal countries or states, everyone is worse off and experiences general economic inequality. Stats and data are, of course, always helpful to having these conversations, if you want to start with that.

Ellen: Yes, great, great start and good macro view to our conversation today. Now, getting into the sports side of things and thinking about equal pay, I get that it's a really tough conversation. It is one hundred percent true that in most but not all cases, men and women play a very different game almost across all sports. But that doesn't mean that either the men's game or the women's game is less entertaining or of lower quality. It just means that those games are different. It's also 100 percent true that in most but not all cases, women's sports bring in less revenue than the men's sports. However, when I think about why this happens, it's kind of like what came first, the chicken or the egg type of conversation. And with that, it requires to look into the history of leagues a little bit more, remembering the fact that women were segregated and not really allowed or not really deemed acceptable to be playing sports until the mid 20th century. When we're looking at leagues specifically, the MLS was founded in nineteen ninety three, whereas the NWSL was founded in 2012, the NBA was founded in 1946, whereas the WNBA was founded 50 years later in nineteen ninety six. And this is a big one. The NHL was founded in nineteen seventeen and the now defunct Canadian Women's Hockey League. The CWHL started 90 years later in 2007 and women's hockey itself is just still so fractured.

Steph: Starting leagues decades after men is one thing, but this unequal start allowed the men's game to grow at a rapid pace before the women's game. And because of this, it changes supply and it changes demand. Also circling back to the women's sports, bring in less revenue than men's point that I hear so often when I'm having these conversations is, yes, it matters how much a league is earning. But what is rarely talked about is the cut of the revenue that players get varies in different leagues. So the percentage of that revenue that goes to players varies and has an impact. There is this great quote from a twenty eighteen Huff Post article. As sports history tells us the percentage of revenue paid to the players is not about how much revenue the league is earning. It's about power and it's about the share of revenue that owners keep for themselves, end quote. There is so much of this is tied to a player's bargaining power and to their perceived value as an athlete, so you have to look at these things as investments and you have to look at the investment and the pay in the leagues.

Ellen: Yeah, definitely. And playing off of that Steph, let's look at the NBA and the WNBA as an example. So back in the 1940s, the stars in the NBA were paid about sixteen thousand dollars, taking that sixteen thousand dollars and applying the value of a dollar for what that would mean today, that sixteen thousand dollars would represent two hundred and twenty six thousand dollars today, the max salary that the highest paid WNBA players can make today. Twenty four years after the WNBA started it is two hundred and fifteen thousand. And that's just because the new CBA was passed earlier this year. So when you look at the money and investment and respect that the women's game received, it was just not the same as the NBA received and it was not thought about as a business right from the beginning.

Steph: We need to pay women more to play sports professionally as a long term investment that I'm sure they were looking at these things when they started the NBA give athletes incentive and the capacity to focus on growing the game like you would have with a men's league, because there is less history in the women's game, less investment in general in women's sports, and really, let's get right to it, less media coverage and general social value placed on women's sports. Women also suffer when it comes to receiving endorsement deals simply because there's less people watching the game, there's less eyeballs on the game. For example, less than four percent of sports media coverage is on women's sports. And as a result, less than one percent of endorsement money is spent on female athletes. Less than one percent! Oh, my gosh. Women's leagues make a fraction of the sponsorship dollars that men's leagues make because of that as well. And that's when it turns into this chicken and the egg argument, if women's sports were on air just as much as men's sports, could they generate the same revenue, the same amount of people watching it, the same viewership, the same endorsement dollars? That's the if that we're really getting into here?

Ellen: Yeah. It's really that we women I mean, not that you and I are pro female athletes by any means, but it is a fact that female athletes at least want to have the opportunity for that if we want that opportunity for equality, which we just haven't been getting so far. And I do think what's remarkable about 2020 is that we slowly tested it and women absolutely smashed it. So every single women's league in terms of TV viewership grew this year. The men's leagues faltered a little bit. For example, when we look at the WNBA is average viewership. It was up sixty eight percent year over year. And because of those additional eyeballs and additional people watching, they were able to bring on some really great new partners, as well as expand their partnerships with other sponsors like AT&T and YouTube. So it's going to be super exciting to look at the year that they had in twenty twenty and say, OK, what's the opportunity in the future for the WNBA and all of their sponsors? 

Steph: Thinking about the WNBA and thinking about all of those points, I really like this stat from Nielsen. According to Nielsen, women's sports popularity is growing in large part thanks to new media. Games on Twitch, Twitter, apps, et cetera, and that 84 percent of general sports fans with an interest in women's sports and 51 percent of those fans are men. So the majority of people who are interested in women's sports are men. So despite what you might read on Instagram comments on major sports accounts, a sports fan is a sports fan, is a sports fan, and anyone who says otherwise or gets in your face otherwise has perhaps had some internalized sexism that they have to work through with sports.

Ellen: I love that. Yes, sports is sports. And I think also, too, when you do meet a guy who loves women sports, you're like, oh yeah, you're actually such a true pure sports fan. Like, you love the purity of sports. And I think that anyone who loves sports, period can say it doesn't matter who's on the field, it matters what they're doing on it. It truly doesn't matter who's on it. So finally, Steph, let's get into our last argument. And so to recap, so far we've talked about the macro benefit of equality in society. We've talked about the impact of history in sports, the difference in investment and respect to the women's game. And we've talked about the chicken and the egg issue of giving women sports more coverage. So now Steph, let's talk about tennis, because tennis really is leading the charge in terms of equality in sports.

Steph: Getting into the history books with this one. Open tennis began in 1968 with the creation of the ATP men's tennis and the WTA women's tennis coming a few years later, the ATP in 1972 and the WTA in nineteen seventy three. And really, the woman who changed everything for women's tennis and probably sports everywhere was Billie Jean King. And at this point we highly recommend that you watch Battle of the Sexes, which is the movie that explains everything. But anyway, because of the unfair treatment of women in tennis, Billie Jean King formed the WTA in nineteen seventy three, famously paying all the women one dollar to join her. And then also in 1973, a big year for women, she beat former number one Bobby Riggs in the Battle of the Sexes match. With that, she earned massive respect for the women's game from everyone.

Ellen: Yeah, 1973 was a super important year. And coming back to that history argument that we were talking about beforehand, super important to highlight. That's just a one year difference between the ATP and the WTA as opposed to a 90 year difference in terms of the NHL and the CWHL. But really, Steph, what would we do without Billie Jean King? Absolutely love her. A few years later, she also became one of the first known openly gay athletes. And since then, because of her, tennis has really been at the forefront of gender equality. And though it did take a lot of time starting in 2007, all major tennis tournaments, such as the US Open, French Open, Australian Open and Wimbledon, had equal sized purses for the men and women. And it's important to note, while all Grand Slams have equal pay, some of the regular ATP and WTA tournaments don't. But a lot of that has to do with the value or the points that you can earn within different types of tournaments. So there's definitely some work to be done. It's not perfect, but it's on its way.

Steph: The ATP and WTA media coverage percentage does still slightly lean more towards the men. And as a result, on aggregate, the women still receive less endorsement money than the men. But with that said, of the top five paid players in tennis, the top three are men and the fourth and fifth are Naomi Osaka and Serena Williams, respectively. Roger Federer was paid one hundred and six point three million dollars. And Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal are in the forty four million dollar range and Serena and Naomi are in the thirty seven million dollar range. So you know what? Maybe exposure does equal pay here. A nice little equation. I'm a math girl.

Steph: Yeah, huge math gal over there. So I mean, when we look at it, Steph, there's no question that tennis is on the forefront of equality and is on the forefront of pay equity. But I would also like to caveat this conversation in what tennis started out as and how tennis is different from the sports that we have also been talking about on this podcast. At its root, when you look at tennis, tennis is a very privileged and largely a very white sport. At its root, women still have to look like women when they're playing tennis. When you look at tennis, women often wear skirts or they're often wearing dresses as much as their athletic skirts and dresses. They are wearing skirts and dresses. And this is similar to sports like figure skating, but it's very, very different to sports that we've been talking about. When you're looking at basketball, hockey and soccer, those sports are often seen as more manly, more gay, and as a result, a lot less marketable, both in terms of people feeling comfortable to actually watch those sports, as well as sponsors feeling comfortable, feeling like they're going to get their return on investment or feeling comfortable putting their name besides those types of sports. So that's just some food for thought as we think about tennis and also how it does compare to some of these other leagues in that the challenges are a little bit different.

Steph: Mm hmm. That's great food for thought. Also great food for thought is how important it is to invest in women's sports in these different leagues to help shift the cultural narrative. And actually, there's a podcast called History of the Sports Bra, and they have an episode called Kicking Grass and Taking Names, which goes into a deep dive of where the US women's national soccer team's equal pay lawsuit is right now, as well as their history of bringing professional paid women's leagues to the US. The History of the Sports Bra does dive deep in obstacles and victories that women in sports have seen over the years, and this episode in particular was a good deep dive into what ended up being a relevant topic for us today ahead of the US playing Netherlands on Friday and them being truly leaders in equal pay as of late with their gender discrimination lawsuit against US Soccer. I highly recommend checking that podcast out and that episode in particular ahead of the US vs. Netherlands matchup later this week. Otherwise, let's take a quick minute to hear from our partners and then we'll get back to the pod.

Ellen: As we mentioned, today's episode is brought to you by our friends at Rogers, Rogers is all about building community connections and empowering Canadians through sport. And that's why they created the Team Rogers Community Draft for young hockey players all across the country, 3500 kids across Canada will have the chance to receive exclusive mentorship opportunities from our very own stars like Connor McDavid plus one hundred and fifty dollars for registration fees. And if the fees were already due, no freakin worries. Rogers will still help you out if your kid is drafted, sign up now at rogers.com/getdrafted. One more time, that's rogers.com/getdrafted.

Ellen: Ok, and we are back, so to close out our podcast, we're switching things up from our regular WTF moment this week, I guess it could still kind of be considered a moment. But this week we're going for a more shocking story that Steph is truly obsessed with.

Steph: I'm so obsessed. So after a long stint with the Washington Capitals, NHL goalie Braden Holtby signed a two year deal with the Vancouver Canucks at the start of free agency. On November 18th, Brandi Holtby, who is Braden's wife, Brandi and Braden, love that. So Brandi put a call out on Twitter asking if anyone has any sweet connections with Federal Fish and Wildlife that could push their export papers along in order to get to happy tortoises across the border. So in this tweet, Brandi was referencing the two turtles that her and her husband have. And turns out, the couple of turtles, as well as the hockey player Braden Holtby, was stuck at the Canada-U.S. border. So Braden, a turtle named Maple, and Turtle named Honey, were unable to get into Canada because they didn't have the proper paperwork. And I absolutely love that this is a story about a hockey goaltender, because goalie's, I tell you, are the best. Only a goalie would own two turtles. But I love goalies, any sport.

Ellen: But it takes a very special person to just, like, stand in front of something that's coming at you a jillion kilometers per hour and try to stop it. No freakin way.

Steph: I always want to be friends with the goalie. And I think this is just a great anecdote as to why they might have turtles. The three of them made it into Canada. So the two turtles and Braden did make it into Canada a few days later after that tweet was sent. So this is all good fun. Everyone's safe. And we can expect him to be joining the Vancouver Canucks.

Ellen: I can't wait to see more social videos of Maple and Honey. And I also really do want to ask Braden Holtby, if we ever do get the opportunity to interview him, Maple and Honey, I would have never expected those names for tortoises. 

Steph: Yeah. Makes me want like a donut or something.

Ellen: Yeah. It makes me want to go to Tim Horton's. Either way though, Steph, I love that story and we want to hear other GISTers' crazy. WTF, shocking, hilarious, any type of moments or stories that you have. It could be from the pro sports world like this one amateur sports world or even a WTF moment that you had in your life, or a really funny story that you had in your life either now or previously. So over the next week, you can email us at pod@thegistsports.com or tweet at us @thegistpod, and you might just be featured on next week's podcast.

Steph: All right, folks. That was the gist of it from Ellen. And thanks so much for joining us this week. If you want to help us get the word out about the podcast, please give us a rating, leave a review and tell your friends to subscribe to The GIST of It on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Play or Stitcher.

Ellen: And if you like what you heard today, you have to first buy some GIST merch at shop.thegistsports.com. And then you also need to check out our free twice weekly newsletter where every Monday and Thursday morning we give you the gist of what's up in the sports world. You can subscribe at thegistsports.com. Otherwise, as we already said, Steph and I want to hear from you. You can email us at pod@thegistsports.com or tweet us on Twitter at @thegistpod. Again, I'm Ellen Hyslop.

Steph: And I'm Steph Rotz.

Ellen: And this has been The GIST of It. Take care of yourselves and we'll chat with you next Wednesday. 

🏀#WeTheSouth

November 23, 2020
SOURCE: JOHN E. SOKOLOWSKI/USA TODAY SPORTS
SOURCE: JOHN E. SOKOLOWSKI/USA TODAY SPORTS

The GIST: As the great Whitney Houston once asked, didn’t we almost have it all? Just after the Toronto Raptors signed one of our all-time faves to an all-time contract, we lost two others to the bright lights of California.

Oh no. Tell me everything: The Raps moved quickly when NBA free agency opened on Friday, re-signing Fred VanVleet to a four-year, $85 million (!!!) contract by Saturday afternoon. VanVleet joined the Raps in 2016 after going undrafted, and his new contract is the largest for an undrafted player in NBA history.

  • The high didn’t last long though. About 12 hours later, Serge Ibaka signed with the LA Clippers, joining another instrumental piece of the 2019 NBA Championship–winning roster, Kawhi Leonard. Ibaka confirmed the news yesterday with this heartbreaker of an IG post. Miss him already.
  • And then, the final knife through our Raptor-loving hearts came last night, when news broke that Marc Gasol was finalizing a deal with the LA Lakers. Seriously guys, what does SoCal have that TO doesn’t? Sun? Beaches? Above freezing temperatures? …take us with you?

Boo. So where does that leave the Raps?: Unfortunately, without two of their very reliable big men. Ibaka and Gasol won’t be easy to replace, but the Raps have already signed Aron Baynes and re-signed Chris Boucher to help fill the gap.

  • Looking ahead to next season, the Raps are hoping to sign reigning NBA MVP Milwaukee Buck Giannis Antetokounmpo (pronounced YONNIS ANDEDO-KOONPO). 2021 can’t come soon enough.

Any other Raps news?: On the sunny side (literally), the Raps have found an American home to ride out the winter pandemic. While the US-Canada border remains closed, the team will play out of Amalie Arena in Tampa Bay, Florida, home of the Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning. Hopefully they’ve left some winning juju in the place.

🏀Stranger things have happened

November 20, 2020
SOURCE: VAUGHN RIDLEY/GETTY IMAGES
SOURCE: VAUGHN RIDLEY/GETTY IMAGES

The GIST: An NBA draft in November. Are we living in the Upside Down?

Tell me more: The two-round 2020 NBA Draft, usually held in June, took place virtually last night. Unlike most drafts, there wasn’t a super clear favorite for the top pick, but the Minnesota Timberwolves’ first overall selection of Anthony “Not really into it” Edwards wasn’t much of a surprise.

  • One of the other likely number one picks was the youngest of the notorious Ball brothers, LaMelo, but the Charlotte Hornets took him third overall after getting the stamp of approval from team chairman Michael Jordan (not to be confused with the Sexiest Man Alive). Check out the full draft rundown here.

What else is going on in the NBA?: Lots of Selena Gomez and Jimmy Butler dating trade rumors floating around...and a few actual trades. Since the trade moratorium was lifted on Monday, players like Danny Green, Al Horford and Chris Paul have found new teams, but even bigger names like James Harden and Russell Westbrook are still on the trading block.

  • Free agency begins tomorrow, which opens up a whole new can of worms. Stars like Toronto Raptor Fred VanVleet and Brooklyn Net Joe Harris are likely to re-sign with their teams, but given the unpredictability of the Upside Down, we really can’t say.

Wait, what does this mean for the Raptors?: Along with VanVleet, the Raptors could also look to re-sign Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol. There’s a chance they all stay, but an even bigger chance that we lose one of the three integral members of the 2019 championship team. Ugh. Cue the #KawhiWatch flashbacks.

🏀🏆

Oops, he did it again

November 16, 2020
SOURCE: LEWIS HAMILTON/TWITTER
SOURCE: LEWIS HAMILTON/TWITTER

🏎Formula One: Another weekend, another win for Lewis Hamilton...and this time, it was a biggie. Not only was yesterday’s wet-and-wild Turkish Grand Prix the 94th win of his career and 10th of this F1 season, but it also meant that Hamilton clinched the F1 Drivers’ Championship for a historic seventh time, tying him with Michael Schumacher for the all-time record. #GOAT.

  • With just three races left in the season, Hamilton still hasn’t signed a contract with his long-time team Mercedes for next year. Rumor has it that Lewis might retire from F1 to focus on activism and his new Extreme E team. That said, after yesterday’s win, Lewis stated, “I feel like I’m only just getting started,” so your guess is as good as ours.

🏀NBA: It’s beginning to look a lot like...basketball season! Yesterday the NBA announced a tentative schedule, giving us — and the players, of course — just about five weeks to get into game shape. The regular season is set to tip off December 22nd and run until May 16th, with the postseason (which includes the fan-favorite play-in tournament!) running May 17th to mid-July.

  • Other changes include playing a 72-game season (instead of the regular 82) and no All-Star Game. The super-soon start date also means the trading window will start today at noon ET, so follow our Twitter and Instagram for all the big-name signings.

🏀Guide to Basketball

November 14, 2020
Guide to Basketball

The GIST

Professional basketball is made up of four quarters lasting 12 minutes each. Five players on each team are on the court at the same time. The point of the game is to shoot a basketball in a hoop to get the most baskets (and the most points). A basket counts as either two or three points, depending on how far the shooter was from the basket they hit the shot. Courtside seats gives fans unprecedented access to the players, so basketball brings out celebrity sightings like no other sport. Just look at Drake getting up close and personal with Toronto Raptors coach Nick Nurse during the 2019 playoffs.  

How is it organized?

The highest level of the sport is the National Basketball Association aka NBA. The league is divided into two conferences (East and West), and each of those conferences are further divided into three divisions. There are 30 teams in the league, and only one team in Canada - our Toronto Raptors! In the 2018-19 season, the Raptors went all the way to the NBA Finals against the thought-to-be-unstoppable Golden State Warriors and WON, bringing the Larry O’Brien trophy (like the Stanley Cup of the NBA) home to Toronto. Unreal.

The best of the best

The reigning NBA champions are the LA Lakers. The Lakers claimed their 17th (!!!) NBA title in franchise history during the NBA’s historic 2020 bubble season played at Disney World in Orlando, Florida.

Superstar LeBron James led his Lakers squad, earning NBA Finals MVP honors by averaging nearly 30 points per game throughout the Finals. King James became the first player to ever win the MVP honors with three different franchises. True royalty.

James had some help from teammate Anthony “The Brow” Davis, who averaged 25 points throughout the Finals. Talk about a dynamic duo.

The 2020 bubble season was historic for many reasons, most notably the wildcat strikes for social justice which nearly ended the season midway through the playoffs. With these strikes and calls to action, these players and franchise put social justice at the forefront all season long.

In addition to King James and Davis, the league’s most notable stars also include 2019-20 league MVP Giannis Antetokoumpo (pronounced YAWN-IS ANT-TET-TO-KOOM-PO), who could stir up some drama by joining a new team this offseason, and Houston Rockets guard James “The Beard” Harden.

When does the next NBA season start?

The 2019-20 NBA season ended on October 11th, right around when the new season would typically begin. It took some negotiating, but we officially have a start date for the 2020-21 season: December 22nd. It's a Christmas miracle!

Although this season won't be played in a bubble, things will still look a bit different. Most notably, each team will play 72 games as opposed to the standard 82. Exact schedule details (including fan attendance policies) are still TBD, but we're already counting down the days until tip-off

Play like a girl (it’s better that way)

The WNBA is one of the best professional sports leagues for women in North America as these basketball bosses actually get airtime on top sports networks. Keep your eye on:

  • WNBA legend and 2020 Defensive Player of the Year (DPOY) Candace Parker (Los Angeles Sparks)
  • Kia Nurse (New York Liberty), who in 2019 became just the third Canadian to ever play in the WNBA All-Star game #proud
  • 2018 league MVP and 2020 Finals MVP Breanna Stewart, who led her Seattle Storm to their fourth (!!!) title in franchise history.
  • Reigning WNBA MVP A'ja Wilson of the Las Vegas Aces. Last season, Wilson lifted the Aces to a WNBA-best 18-4 record.
  • 2020 No. 1 draft pick Sabrina Ionescu of the New York Liberty, who will be returning from a heart-breaking season-ending injury. We can't wait to see her back out on the court!

Wow! Can I get more info on the WNBA?

Absolutely! The WNBA season (typically) runs from May until late September or early October, with each of the 12 teams playing 34 regular season games. The league has actually been around since 1997, though only three teams remain from inception: the New York Liberty, Los Angeles Sparks and Phoenix Mercury. Go deeper on how the league is organized here.

These women still have a long way to go before reaching parity with their professional male counterparts. But thanks to 87 nationally televised regular season games (more of this, please!), the WNBA saw an incredible 68% increase in viewership during the 2020 season. Amazing what happens when you put women's sports on TV!

And prior to the historic wubble season, we finally saw the WNBA bet on itself by signing a groundbreaking new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) that will significantly benefit the players. Among other things, players receive an increase in salary that improves the average compensation from $79k to $130k (!!!) with the league’s top players set to earn $500k — more than three times the previous maximum. Cardi B would be so proud. 

There’s obviously still a long way to go before there’s parity with the men’s professional leagues. That being said, this is a BFD — the WNBA listened to its players and took their input into account more than ever before. It’s refreshing to see a league partner with its players and bet on its women to move closer to closing the inequality gaps that still exist in women’s sports. 

One last thing…

The most important (although we are admittedly biased) fact about basketball is that the sport was created in 1891 by Canadian James Naismith! O’ Canada, indeed!

Don't get The GIST’s free twice-weekly newsletter yet? Let's make it email official