By Christian Hince | October 2, 2023
On Sept. 23, the University at Albany welcomed WNBA legend Seimone Augustus and sports journalist/ex-Niskayuna High School basketball star Kate Fagan to the Albany Book Festival presented by the NYS Writers Institute.
Left to right: WNBA legend Seimone Augustus, UAlbany women’s basketball coach Colleen Mullen, sportswriter Kate Fagan.
Photo Credit: Christian Hince / ASP
In March, the two published “Hoop Muses: An Insider’s Guide to Pop Culture and the (Women’s) Game,” which was written and researched by Fagan with Augustus acting in a curatory capacity. They participated in a panel-style discussion about the book moderated by women’s basketball coach Colleen Mullen.
“It was just really cool to be around two people that are such main players in women's basketball,” Mullen said.
The three touched on how the book came about, as well as varying topics concerning the role of women in sports and basketball in the modern day and throughout history. Fagan described the book as a way of addressing the lack of pop culture and publicized history surrounding women’s athletics.
“There’s more movies about horses than there are about women’s sports,” Fagan said.
The book is written with a mix of fiction and anthology style. It alternates between telling the story of Jacklyn Jones, the first-ever female player to sign a $100 million dollar contract in 2072 while being admired by a mysterious older woman who turns out to be Augustus, along with anecdotes about the history of women in basketball.
It’s a format that came late to Fagan in the creative process, with “Hoop Muses” originally having a simple beginning-to-end order.
“This book, I wanted it to be so dynamic and interesting, and I just felt like that chronological structure wasn't going to draw people in,” she said.
Illustrator Sophia Chang was also brought into the project, sketching out numerous comic strips throughout the book to give “Hoop Muses” a more fun, artistic feel.
The cover of “Hoop Muses.”
Photo Credit: Joyce Bassett, Times Union
She talks about forgotten stories such as the first women’s basketball game ever, which was played between teams at Stanford and Cal in 1896, the revenue from which subsidized the Cal men's cow track team.
“So you've got at the dawn of women's basketball, they are subsidizing men's sports,” she said. “What is the story we are now told about women's sports? That we are subsidized by men.”
When Stanford pulled the plug on the team in 1899, the school saw no women’s basketball until 1975.
“Imagine being off the radar for 75 years, and what that does to how people perceive you and how people perceive what sports is,” she said.
Augustus, a four-time WNBA champion and eight-time All-Star, was brought to the “Hoop Muses” project for her insight as a player across most of the 21st century.
She talked about the lack of celebrity for women’s basketball players, saying, “we don't have security guards following us around, we live the same life you live. I go to the grocery store, I go get gas, I do all of this.”
The WNBA is multitudes less lucrative than its male counterpart, with a yearly league maximum salary of just under $235 thousand. It’s standard for top players to compete abroad during the league’s offseason to make more money, with Augustus playing several stints in Turkey and Russia between 2006 and 2012.
Fagan, who wrote and appeared on TV for ESPN from 2012 to 2018 talked about the failure to market the WNBA, with the league’s broadcasting rights simply being bundled with its male counterpart.
She’s optimistic about the league being set to broadcast on a fully independent deal with ION TV in 2025, as well as the NCAA “now unbundling just their women's championships into individual championships, like softball, basketball, because they all have different value on the open market.”
Fagan believes that women’s basketball’s struggles with fanfare have been artificial, saying “the whole infrastructure around women's sports historically has been built to limit that sort of appetite for it.”
The event was well attended by the women’s basketball team, with some members of the men’s squad coming as well. Women’s guard Fatima Lee found it gave some interesting perspective on the sport.
“I feel like that was huge just to see somebody come down and give her experience on how basketball was to her growing up, compared to how it is now and how it just evolved,” she said.
Augustus thinks this evolution will only continue, and sees coaching trailblazers such as Becky Hammon of the WNBA’s Las Vegas Aces making waves on the male side of coaching ranks some time soon.
“It’s just a matter of time,” she said. “The NBA will be calling, and you'll see the doors and the lights shining a little bit brighter when it comes to women coaches in the game.”