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Mercury’s Sophie Cunningham Retains it Actual About Narratives and Competitiveness

Have you learnt the true Sophie Cunningham? The sincere reply is, in all probability not. You realize of the Phoenix Mercury sharpshooter, who is thought for having a aggressive hearth that, at occasions, has usually been intertwined with a story that’s adopted her since school. Truly, manner earlier than that. In Kindergarten, dad and mom scolded her on the soccer subject for being “too aggressive, too tough.” She by no means wavered, not as a high ranked recruit and former McDonald’s All-American in highschool, or at Mizzou, the place she emerged into this system’s all-time main scorer and led her squad to back-to-back-to-back-to-back appearances within the NCAA match. 

However even amidst all of that success, the hometown standout couldn’t shake the notion that the hearth that she exudes on the hardwood—the physicality, the celly’s after big-time performs, the hair flips—are deliberately petty acts by a “soiled participant.” When the Tigers confronted off in opposition to South Carolina throughout the 2017-18 season, followers booed her any time she bought the rock. After which, within the second quarter, a scuffle ensued on the high of the important thing between the Gamecocks and the Tigers, inflicting a surge of backlash surrounding the Tigers, and Cunningham particularly. 

“For me, I don’t hearken to all that noise,” she tells us over Zoom in June. “I bought that stuff in school, too. We beat South Carolina a number of years in a row and hastily I’m the soiled participant and it’s like, Nah, I’m simply out working. I’m working y’all’s ass, you realize what I imply?

However I can’t actually say that. I’ve been used to it however I simply know that I’ve a really tight circle. I lean on them fairly a bit…For me, I simply wish to be one of the best teammate, I wanna be one of the best competitor [and] I wanna do no matter it takes for my staff to win and all that different noise can simply be squashed.” 

That was six years in the past, however all through her profession within the WNBA, Cunningham has nonetheless needed to cope with the noise that that is who she is, even off the court docket. There’s been many, many situations of that taking place all through her profession, probably the most well-known of which being what went down between her and then-Sky star Kahleah Copper throughout Recreation 4 of the 2021 WNBA Finals. Everybody was speaking (and tweeting) concerning the controversial second. 

However again in 2022, Copper assured us moments like which might be all a part of what occurs when aggressive athletes go at it. Some even assumed they’d beef, which Kah squashed. “They anticipate us to be all good and glad and shit, like, that’s not the way it goes,” she advised us for the quilt of SLAM 236. “We’re one of the best at what we do. We’re tremendous aggressive.” 

Once we requested Cunningham just lately about how she’s handled these narratives about her, she echoed that very same sentiment. “Thanks for asking that query as a result of I believe that individuals see me and it’s so humorous that any time I get a brand new teammate that perhaps, like, they’re aggressive, we type of go at it. They’re like, Oh, you’re really like, very nice and enjoyable to be round. I’m like, duh. Why can’t I be aggressive on the court docket and why can’t all of us hang around after? I wish to change that narrative for females that it’s OK to compete, it’s OK to play bodily. It’s alright to go on the market, work arduous and sweat after which nonetheless be a pleasant human and a special individual off the court docket, too. Like, we’re not going in opposition to highschool[ers] or something like that. These are one of the best individuals on the earth, so that you gotta deliver it proper.

I believe for me when Kah got here in, I didn’t suppose two issues of it. I used to be simply so glad that we had been getting one other badass participant on our staff that’s gonna assist us win a championship right here quickly. For me, I don’t hearken to all that noise.” 

It’s what Cunningham brings to the staff that’s allowed her to solidify her position on the Mercury, whether or not she’s been beginning, or as is the case this season, primarily coming off the bench. It has earned her reward from legends like teammate Diana Taurasi, who as soon as described Cunningham to the New York Occasions as somebody who likes to “muck it up.” 

“Each time Sophie performs, the extent of the sport goes up. And you realize, she’s achieved that constantly yearly she’s been on our staff. And that’s why she’s so essential to what we do,” DT mentioned, per The Subsequent in 2022. Years prior, she gave Cunningham recommendation about remaining true to herself, too. “You’ve been taking part in this recreation ever because you had been a child,” Cunningham as soon as recalled Taurasi telling her. “You know the way to play. I’ve seen you. You know the way to play, so simply go on the market and have enjoyable.”

Through the 2022 season, Cunningham dropped a career-high 23 factors in opposition to the Liberty as a starter in July, after which a number of days later, adopted it up with a 36-point efficiency in opposition to the Lynx, together with seven boards and 5 steals, a historic stat line that made her solely the second participant in WNBA historical past to take action. The opposite? Cynthia Cooper in ‘97. Whether or not she’s dropping buckets, flattening pictures, or allotting dimes—like she did in her win in opposition to the Storm— her skill to adapt to regardless of the staff wants makes her a key part. 

And because the WNBA continues to develop, and new followers tune in to observe not simply the Mercury, however throughout the League, there’s a sentiment that moments of competitiveness are private, or that vets are focusing on and/or jealous of the rookies. Cunningham stored it actual about all of this, and in an unique interview, we chopped it up with the star about conversations surrounding Caitlin Clark, her personal profession to date, and her pursuits off the court docket as an analyst for the Suns, displaying out within the tunnel and extra. 

WSLAM: Hey Sophie! How do you are feeling just like the season goes up to now? What was your mindset going into it?

Sophie Cunningham: You realize, since I’ve been in Phoenix, I’ve been right here happening my sixth 12 months, it has been a curler coaster. I’m somebody who’s gonna shoot it straight that, like, it has not been probably the most enjoyable years. I didn’t know if I used to be gonna go to a special staff a few these years simply because it’s identical to a lot drama was simply happening. And so, once we bought this new possession, we bought an entire new entrance workplace, we bought an entire new teaching workers who’re completely simply phenomenal individuals and so they do issues the suitable manner and so they’re all about ensuring us ladies have the identical issues as our brothers on the Suns do.

I simply love their method to all the pieces and once I noticed, the roster that we bought, I used to be like, All proper, we’re gonna be legit this 12 months. With that generally individuals’s egos get hit a bit bit—I’ve been beginning the previous two or three years, however I knew that I’m gonna have 4 or 5 Olympians on our staff. So I’m like, you realize what, I’m right here to win, I’m right here to compete. I’m hopeful to be an Olympian in the future, perhaps the three×3 staff. So, why would I not wish to encompass myself with individuals who have been the place I wanna go? So, for me, my position does look a bit completely different. I’m coming off the bench this 12 months, however once I let you know, it’s simply a lot enjoyable to be on this staff.

It has been like one of the best expertise and everybody’s simply genuinely, actually good individuals.

WSLAM: What’s the vibe and vitality of the staff?

SC: Oh my God, we now have a lot vitality. We have now plenty of personalities [and] everybody’s simply goofy. I do know that we play basketball, however once I say that we snigger 24/7, [it] in all probability appears like an excessive amount of generally as a result of like, hey, I’ll want to love dial it in a bit bit. It’s enjoyable although as a result of we do compete at such a excessive degree, however proper when the ball stops, we’re all identical to goofing round having an excellent time.

WSLAM: Out of your perspective, how has your recreation developed over time and what have you ever realized? 

SC: I believe there’s plenty of discuss our League proper now, which I completely love…I believe we now have plenty of eyes and a spotlight on our League, and I’m simply glad to be part of it throughout this time. I believe the highschool, school leap is huge, however the school to the professionals is even 20 occasions extra that. So, I believe the primary couple of years, you type of have to search out your toes. There’s some individuals who can go into the League and so they have the inexperienced mild straight away and the balls of their hand 24/7. You see them type of take off loads sooner, whereas [for me], I used to be DT’s sub for almost all of my profession. I lastly labored my manner into the beginning lineup about two or three years in the past, so [I] positively was very persistent, was plenty of ups and downs. It was a thoughts recreation at some factors. 

For me, I simply had to ensure I stayed prepared and actually, I realized that from DT. She’s the last word professional, she’s the GOAT of our recreation. Simply the best way that she goes about her on a regular basis exercise to grow to be higher every day and generally that’s not doing something and it’s a psychological day. I believe I’ve actually really have realized from the easiest. And, for me, I’m seeing [in] my profession that the extra I stack the times the higher I grow to be.

WSLAM: You’re a participant that individuals have talked about for some time when it comes to being tremendous bodily. For brand new followers, there’s a false impression that that type of play could be very particular and focusing on one individual. What’s your perspective on that?

SC: You type of hit it on the top as a result of to be sincere, I believe that there are plenty of new eyes, however with that, there’s lots of people who’re uneducated about our League.

You see lots of people within the public eye on the boys’s facet type of having Caitlin Clark’s again, too, which is type of shocking simply because they know the way bodily our recreation has at all times been. However once I let you know that the narrative that we’re all in opposition to Caitlin or the vets in opposition to the rookies that must be squashed as a result of it’s not like that. I promise you, it’s not like that. I’ve had my jaw damaged, I’ve damaged a finger, I’ve damaged my nostril. Everybody has tales of how bodily this League actually is and I believe that’s the fundamental leap that individuals don’t perceive.

It’s like, her ability degree will come, all the pieces else will come; the rookies basically. However it’s the physicality that individuals actually should get used to. And so for me, I don’t suppose anybody’s being focused. If something, I believe we have to give her a bit little bit of grace generally as a result of she has loads on her plate and plenty of eyes on her. However with that, I believe that is gonna be actually good for her. She’s gonna be nice. I believe the rookie class is gonna be phenomenal for our League as soon as they get that physicality factor type of labored out. It takes a bit little bit of time [but] they’re gonna be simply fantastic. 

For me, I’ve at all times been a bodily participant. Coming into the League, I used to be really a bit bit stunned of how bodily it was as a result of I assumed I used to be bodily. However once I let you know, it doesn’t matter how huge, how tall you’re, everybody is powerful and bodily on this League and also you higher deliver it in any other case it’s gonna look perhaps dangerous.

WSLAM: Talking of physicality, what has it been like teaming up with somebody as aggressive as Kah? Is that this the primary time that you just guys have actually been round one another?

SC: Yeah, it’s positively like the primary time that we’ve been round [each other]. We’ve at all times competed and I believe that any time you place individuals who compete at that degree and type of have that canine and that, that type of like shit about him a bit bit that it’s gonna be type of fascinating to see how they really staff up.

However once I say it’s me, Kah, DT. You’ve gotten [Natasha] Cloud. All 4 of us, we now have a bit little bit of one thing to us and so to truly put all of us on the identical staff, it’s been so enjoyable as a result of now we simply hype one another up. I really feel dangerous for groups like they haven’t even seen one of the best of us but. Kah’s been killing it. She has completely been killing it. She’s a canine and I’m simply glad that she’s on my staff to be sincere.

WSLAM: You’re simply as outspoken off the court docket, too. However you’ve additionally been displaying out within the tunnel this 12 months. Are you able to discuss your sense of fashion?

SC: You realize what? To be sincere, I do love trend however I type of wish to hold it easy, too. The trend trend, it’s not my vibe. I believe I simply wouldn’t look good in it. I believe the rationale why we’re bringing the tunnel matches this 12 months—it’s been a piece within the course of. I additionally suppose the more cash you get, the extra you’re capable of do what you need, too—[but it] being Yr 6 and simply final 12 months, they had been getting higher.

However this 12 months I needed them to be actually good as a result of – the quantity of eyes. I’m telling you, the advertising and marketing, it’s the finest time to be within the W proper now. And so why would you not type of present out a bit bit in these trend matches?

WSLAM: We’re right here for it! You’re additionally actually into broadcasting as properly. Are you able to discuss extra about how you bought into that and what it’s like showcasing your character and pursuits exterior of the sport?

SC: I’ve plenty of passions and plenty of loves exterior of basketball. I believe that’s how I’m capable of get pleasure from basketball nonetheless as a result of I’ve that stability. I don’t go abroad, I make it up in advertising and marketing cash via endorsements. After which, I used to be simply blessed with an awesome alternative that the Suns wanted a broadcaster. I’ve by no means actually achieved it in my life. I’ve at all times been on the opposite facet of the digicam, however I’m like, I might discuss to all for 10 hours. This may’t be that onerous. And so, I really ended up doing it two years in the past and that was extra simply in-studio, pre, half and publish recreation, interviewing a number of the guys and I actually liked it. It’s loads more durable than it appears, too. After I watch video games now I’m listening to the broadcaster.

I’m making an attempt to study this 12 months [and] I bought to do in-studio and colour commentating and I simply fell in love with it. To observe these guys carry out on the degree they do [and] to see the sport type of break down and be simplified, but additionally so sophisticated on the identical time. It was simply fascinating to me.

I bought to type of grow to be actually shut with our proprietor and our CFO and so I’ve gotten to truly study the enterprise facet of sport, too. I’m turning right into a nerd. I’ve by no means been a nerd…however I’ve actually discovered it fascinating this previous 12 months.

I might like to get into broadcasting [when] I’m achieved. However then once more, I might like to be an island lady one way or the other and receives a commission for that. I don’t even know what I wish to do with my life [laughs]. So, we’ll see.

Photographs by way of Getty Pictures.

Ethan Robinson
Ethan Robinson
Ethan Robinson focuses on basketball, covering the NBA and college hoops. With a Journalism degree from Syracuse University, he has worked with Yahoo Sports and CBS Sports. Ethan’s game previews and player interviews are known for their depth and accuracy.


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