#FromOurArchives: Meet the Wojs of the WNBA
How reporters Rachel Galligan, Howard Megdal, and Khristina Williams took WNBA offseason coverage to the next level.
Hi, friends! It’s been a while. I hope you’re all doing well. I’m off to a bit of a slow start to 2023, thanks primarily to an extended and unwanted stay in home-repair purgatory. But we’re revving things back up just in time for one of my favorite times of the year: WNBA free agency.
Teams can officially begin negotiating with players on January 21, and can officially sign free agent contracts on February 1. But already we’re seeing lots of player movement, thanks to Connecticut Sun trades that sent 2021 WNBA MVP Jonquel Jones to the New York Liberty (!!!) and point guard Jasmine Thomas to the Los Angeles Sparks.
There is a lot of player movement to anticipate over the next few weeks, with the biggest question being: Where does free agent Breanna Stewart end up? Will she stay in Seattle, head to Brooklyn to join Jones on the Liberty, or surprise us all by joining one of the other 10 teams in the league?
Perhaps the answer is in this purposefully-cryptic Tweet she sent this week:
The only thing I know for sure is that it is likely Rachel Galligan, Howard Megdal, or Khristina Williams will be the first to report the news. Because those three reporters have transformed the way WNBA offseason transactions are covered over the past few years, much in the same way Adrian Wojnarowski has done for the NBA.
Last year, I interviewed the three of them for a newsletter as part of our ongoing #CoveringtheCoverage series. Today, that newsletter is only available for paid subscribers, because all Power Plays posts go behind a paywall after eight months, even the ones that are initially free for everyone.
So, because we have so many new members in our community, and because I want to shine more of a light on these three news-breakers, I decided to re-publish those interviews in today’s newsletter.
Power Plays is a reader-supported publication. Paid subscribers make this work possible, and get access to the full archives, the Power Plays Book Club, and our private Slack channel.
A Power Plays Q&A with Rachel Galligan, Howard Megdal, and Khristina Williams
NOTE: These interviews were initially conducted in January of 2022 and published in a Power Plays newsletter on February 1, 2022.
Enjoy! And, if you like what you read, please share it with friends.
Rachel Galligan (@RachGall)
Howard Megdal (@howardmegdal)
Khristina Williams (@Khristina)
Founder of GirlsTalkSportsTV and Insider/Talent at MSG Networks
Power Plays: How did you get started reporting on women’s basketball?
Rachel Galligan: I have a very bizarre journey to this point. I coached college basketball for many years, and I played before that. But when I decided to get out of coaching and start my business, I was looking for ways to stay involved in the game. I reached out to this company I saw on Twitter called HERO Sports with my resume, just saying that I loved talking about women’s basketball and to let me know if they needed anyone. They reached out a few weeks later and asked if I would write about women’s college basketball. That was kind-of how I got my foot in the door. That same year, I started working with Winsidr, doing the podcast that I still do. And you know, it's just been a snowball effect for like the last five years.
I came home that night and I remember just saying to myself, “If the greatest player in the history of the league winning in the world's most famous arena is not getting coverage, how many other stories are falling through the cracks?”
Howard Megdal: I've been a sportswriter for most of the past 15 years, and I would find myself with opportunities to cover women's basketball and other women's sports, and every time I did there was just this flashing neon sign showing how little was being done compared to the men's sports I was covering. The nexus point of it for me was the fall of 2015 when I was covering the World Series, and I was also covering the WNBA playoffs. I was at the World Series at Citi Field, and when [Mets third baseman] David Wright was at his locker [during media availability], he was surrounded by about 50 reporters. Then I went to cover what was a deciding playoff game at Madison Square Garden involving Tamika Catchings, the best player in the history of the WNBA. And when I went to interview Catchings it was just me and a couple of videographers from the league. I wrote a story about what was one of the greatest Tamika Catchings performances there ever was — she managed to lift an Indiana Fever team that was a big underdog to a victory over the New York Liberty. I take no pleasure in saying this, but if I hadn’t been there, no one would have really documented it.
I came home that night and I remember just saying to myself, “If the greatest player in the history of the league winning in the world's most famous arena is not getting coverage, how many other stories are falling through the cracks?” I said to myself that day, “I'm going to make sure that first and foremost I am covering women's basketball and women's sports, and then I will fit in men's sports around it, instead of the other way around.”
Khristina Williams: I started to report on women's basketball in 2018 after I started my social digital platform GirlsTalkSportsTV. Sports have always been a part of my life, and so when I started in 2018 it was really because I wanted to provide equitable media coverage for a game that I love and believed in. Every year I've just grown and grown and grown, as a storyteller, a content creator, and a journalist through this space. But it really started with my passion for the sport and my love for storytelling.
PP: How did you begin breaking big WNBA news stories?
RG: It wasn’t a conscious decision. I was active on Twitter, doing the podcast, and writing more articles, and I just happened to be in a space where I was involved with all these talking heads, I knew the game, and I happened to be really connected because of my experience in basketball. I believe the first big story I broke was Liz Cambage wanting out of Dallas. I remember it being free agency, I was talking with different sources, I found out about the Cambage news and decided, let's just report this out and see how this is received.
[This type of reporting] wasn't really a big thing back then. But it’s gained momentum in the last couple of years, and now there are all sorts of people doing it and all sorts of outlets that want to be involved. Before, the reporting was focused on official news, but this year it’s evolved so talks on the front end are being reported on. You're seeing coaches, agents, everybody get more comfortable with what we see on the men's side — reporting on meetings, conversations, transactions before they’re signed on the dotted line — and allowing that to be a part of our game, part of our hype and our culture.
HM: When I was starting to do this regularly, I asked a longtime executive in the league a question, and she was afraid to answer it, so I told her we could talk on background. [Ed. note: “On background” is a common term and tool in journalism that means the reporter can use the information given but cannot name or directly quote the source.] She said, “What is background?” Here was a person who'd been working with the WNBA for over a decade and she didn't know what background was. That just told me how little it was being done. So I would start to do things like having an on-background conversation with each of the GMs in the league so we could get to know each other. It was just about creating the basic infrastructure to get this reporting done. That was what was necessary.
Then I started to collect and eventually publish salaries, because you cannot write these stories without knowing how players fit into the larger framework. A GM had a major free agent signing five years ago, and I had a PR person tell me I should write about it. I said, “Okay, how long is she signing for?” “Well, we can't tell you that.” “Okay, how much is she making?” “Well, we can't tell you that.” Okay, then, what would you like me to write?
[Ed. note: For years Megdal published and maintained a database of WNBA salaries that he collected from sources across the league; bringing that information to light was a game-changer for all WNBA reporters.]
“I feel like free agency in the W should be just as exciting as it is in the NBA.”
KW: I’ve always admired the ones who did it before me. I'm a huge fan of Woj, Shams, Chris Haynes, you know, those guys in the NBA. My way in was really going back to my mission to provide equitable media coverage. I feel like free agency in the W should be just as exciting as it is in the NBA. The talk should continue year round. And so I would say I broke into the breaking news space around 2019. I don't remember the first story I broke at all, but once I started to develop relationships with trusted sources — people who have seen me consistently in locker rooms, on the sidelines, creating content — they started coming to me with information and trusting that I could be the person to break their news. It was about leveraging my network of people that I made relationship with along the way, and always staying true to my journalistic values and ethic of getting reliable sources, making sure the facts check out.
PP: How do you go about cultivating sources?
RG: You know, sometimes you’ve just got to put yourself out there blindly. There are a lot of people that haven't responded to me or don't understand what we're trying to do. You can't take that personally. I'm just trying to network, I'm trying to build relationships. I'm lucky because I know a lot of people because of my basketball playing and coaching background. That's been really beneficial for me. I think, honestly, the biggest reason why I've even been in this position is I've just been around the game since I was 16 years old.
“There are a lot of people that haven't responded to me or don't understand what we're trying to do. You can't take that personally. I'm just trying to network, I'm trying to build relationships.”
HM: It's just having conversations with people. Everybody wants to talk. Everybody wants to talk in the WNBA the same way everybody wants to talk in every industry I've ever been in. So you need to go about proving yourself reliable and trustworthy, which always takes time. But if you do that and you talk to people along the way, that's how you get to a point where you're able to break news. People need to trust you. And you need to be accountable for what you do.
KW: I mean, for me, it's all about just being yourself in this space. I'm in and around the game, I'm in and around people within the industry all the time. And so for me when I'm around these people, it's not always about working, working, working, and just using people to get information. It's about creating real authentic relationships with people in and around the industry.
PP: What’s the hardest part of your job?
RG: It doesn't pay. I mean, yeah, it's fun, and it's great, and it's an adrenaline rush. You know, I hope that we're pushing the envelope for teams. I hope we’re pushing the envelope for the players. That's my motivation. I hope we get to a point where we have the Adrian Wojnarowski on the women's side that can make a living from doing this, but we're not in that place. It's still young, and it's still being pushed, and there are a lot of great people who are involved in it. But that's the hardest part. I have a business, I have other things as my full-time job. I have things that I have to balance constantly. And I have to tell myself sometimes, “Oh my gosh, remember why you do this. Just keep going. This is bigger than you.”
HM: The hardest part of breaking news is probably knowing that I'm going to stick to my principles about how I do it. If that means I don't break a given story because I believe in fundamentals like two independent sources, and I'm never going to to break your confidence if something is told off the record, then so be it. Because credibility is something you have to build over time, but it can disappear in an instant.
KW: The hardest part about news breaking is when you may have a piece of information ahead of someone else, but then I check two or three sources before putting news out. So let's just say you have a lead and you're reaching out to people and they don't reach back necessarily right away, and then you go on Twitter, and you see someone else break it.
There aren't really a lot of Black women in this space who are news breakers. So I see myself kind-of as a disrupter in this space because it is dominated by white men. Just being a breath of fresh air and representing in this space, you know, it has its ups and downs. But sports fans are loyal, especially women's basketball sports fans, so they always have my back. If I broke something and they see I wasn't cited they will go to war for me to make sure I get the proper credit. The other day I broke news about Angel McCoughtry going to Minnesota. Chris Haynes reported it a couple of minutes after me, but once he realized that I broke it first, he said, “Hey, Khristina was the first report this news.” For me to get the respect from someone like him who is like an OG in this space, that meant everything. It kind-of stamped my validity in this space.
“There aren't really a lot of Black women in this space who are news breakers. So I see myself kind-of as a disrupter in this space because it is dominated by white men.”
PP: What story are you most proud of breaking?
RG: I mean they're all just so fun. I was really excited about breaking the news on Seimone Augustus's retirement. I thought that was really special, as much as I admire her, to be able to get that out there and just do my little part to pay homage to one of the greatest of all time. I thought was a really cool moment and I took a lot of pride in that one.
HM: Without talking about a specific story [Ed. note: BOOOOOOOOOOO], the thing I am most proud of is when people I have built relationships with over time trust me to tell the story properly. Not because it's me versus somebody else, but because it means that I've done this work the right way, and there's an appreciation and understanding for that. Because that's ultimately why we're here, right? The idea isn't that I get to tweet it five minutes before somebody else, or somebody else gets to tweet it five minutes before me. It's the larger idea of shining a light on these stories in a proper way.
And every time someone I’ve mentored breaks a story? My heart bursts. It just means everything.
KW: I guess I would say that I would say the Atlanta Dream situation. [Ed. note: In October 2021, then-Atlanta Dream player Courtney Williams released a video on YouTube that included footage of a public fight she and her teammate Crystal Bradford were in the previous May. Howard Megdal broke the news that the Dream would not re-sign Courtney Williams or Bradford in 2022. Khristina Williams reached out to her sources, including Marcus Crenshaw, the agent of both players, for more information. She then hosted Crenshaw for a 30-minute Instagram Live video which shone more light on the situation. The Instagram Live was covered by ESPN, and Dream co-owner Renee Montgomery, who was serving as an analyst for a WNBA playoff game, was asked to address Crenshaw’s comments live on air during halftime.]
Howard broke the story, and then Marcus Crenshaw calls me on the phone at 11:00 at night and said, “Hey, let's go live. I'm not putting out a statement, I want to go live and speak my peace, but I want to do it with you.” That spoke volumes to the relationships I've created in this industry and the way people view me. I feel like that interview with Marcus really changed the scope of how we could break news in women's sports, and so that made me proud. Suddenly the co-owner of the team is being questioned on ESPN during halftime of the playoffs about an interview that I did on Instagram Live.
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Home-repair purgatory is a place where you upend your life to accommodate contract work to fix your kitchen — a kitchen that hasn’t been functional since a flood on July 3, 2022. You are assured every day for two straight weeks that this work will be done “tomorrow,” only tomorrow never comes.