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

Have you learnt the actual Sophie Cunningham? The trustworthy reply is, most likely not. You understand of the Phoenix Mercury sharpshooter, who is understood for having a aggressive fireplace that, at instances, has typically been intertwined with a story that’s adopted her since faculty. Truly, means 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 prime 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 event. 

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 towards South Carolina through the 2017-18 season, followers booed her any time she received the rock. After which, within the second quarter, a scuffle ensued on the prime 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 received that stuff in faculty, too. We beat South Carolina a number of years in a row and rapidly 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 need to be the perfect teammate, I wanna be the perfect 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 take care of the noise that that is who she is, even off the courtroom. There’s been many, many cases of that occuring all through her profession, essentially 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) in regards to 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 that they had beef, which Kah squashed. “They count on us to be all good and comfortable and shit, like, that’s not the way it goes,” she advised us for the quilt of SLAM 236. “We’re the perfect at what we do. We’re tremendous aggressive.” 

After we requested Cunningham 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 feel that individuals see me and it’s so humorous that any time I get a brand new teammate that possibly, like, they’re aggressive, we form 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 courtroom and why can’t all of us hang around after? I need to change that narrative for females that it’s OK to compete, it’s OK to play bodily. It’s okay to go on the market, work onerous and sweat after which nonetheless be a pleasant human and a distinct particular person off the courtroom, too. Like, we’re not going towards highschool[ers] or something like that. These are the perfect individuals on the planet, so that you gotta deliver it proper.

I feel for me when Kah got here in, I didn’t assume two issues of it. I used to be simply so comfortable 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.” 

“At any time when Sophie performs, the extent of the sport goes up. And you realize, she’s completed that persistently yearly she’s been on our staff. And that’s why she’s so vital to what we do,” DT stated, per The Subsequent in 2022. Years prior, she gave Cunningham recommendation about remaining true to herself, too. “You’ve been enjoying this sport ever because you had been a child,” Cunningham as soon as recalled Taurasi telling her. “You understand how to play. I’ve seen you. You understand how to play, so simply go on the market and have enjoyable.”

Throughout the 2022 season, Cunningham dropped a career-high 23 factors towards the Liberty as a starter in July, after which just a few days later, adopted it up with a 36-point efficiency towards 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, pulling down photographs, or shelling out dimes—like she did in her win towards the Storm— her potential to adapt to regardless of the staff wants makes her a key element. 

And because the WNBA continues to develop, and new followers tune in to look at not simply the Mercury, however throughout the League, there’s a sentiment that moments of competitiveness are private, or that vets are concentrating on and/or jealous of the rookies. Cunningham saved 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 this point, and her pursuits off the courtroom as an analyst for the Suns, displaying out within the tunnel and extra. 

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

Sophie Cunningham: You understand, 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 essentially the most enjoyable years. I didn’t know if I used to be gonna go to a distinct staff a few these years simply because it’s identical to a lot drama was simply happening. And so, once we received this new possession, we received a complete new entrance workplace, we received a complete new teaching employees who’re completely simply phenomenal individuals and so they do issues the correct means 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 the whole lot and after I noticed, the roster that we received, I used to be like, All proper, we’re gonna be legit this 12 months. With that typically individuals’s egos get hit a little 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, possibly the three×3 staff. So, why would I not need to encompass myself with individuals who have been the place I wanna go? So, for me, my position does look a little bit completely different. I’m coming off the bench this 12 months, however after I let you know, it’s simply a lot enjoyable to be on this staff.

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

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

SC: Oh my God, we’ve a lot power. We’ve got a whole lot of personalities [and] everybody’s simply goofy. I do know that we play basketball, however after I say that we snigger 24/7, [it] most likely appears like an excessive amount of typically as a result of like, hey, I’ll want to love dial it in a little 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 a superb time.

WSLAM: Out of your perspective, how has your sport developed through the years and what have you ever realized? 

SC: I feel there’s a whole lot of speak about our League proper now, which I completely love…I feel we’ve a whole lot of eyes and a focus on our League, and I’m simply comfortable to be part of it throughout this time. I feel the highschool, faculty leap is very large, however the faculty to the professionals is even 20 instances extra that. So, I feel the primary couple of years, you form of have to seek out your ft. 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 form 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 means into the beginning lineup about two or three years in the past, so [I] undoubtedly was very persistent, was a whole lot of ups and downs. It was a thoughts sport at some factors. 

For me, I simply had to verify I stayed prepared and truthfully, I realized that from DT. She’s the last word professional, she’s the GOAT of our sport. Simply the best way that she goes about her on a regular basis exercise to turn out to be higher every day and typically that’s not doing something and it’s a psychological day. I feel I’ve actually really have realized from the perfect. And, for me, I’m seeing [in] my profession that the extra I stack the times the higher I turn out 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 model of play may be very particular and concentrating on one particular person. What’s your perspective on that?

SC: You form of hit it on the top as a result of to be trustworthy, I feel that there are a whole lot 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 aspect form of having Caitlin Clark’s again, too, which is form of shocking simply because they understand how bodily our sport has at all times been. However after I let you know that the narrative that we’re all towards Caitlin or the vets towards 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 feel that’s the predominant leap that individuals don’t perceive.

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

For me, I’ve at all times been a bodily participant. Coming into the League, I used to be really a little bit bit shocked of how bodily it was as a result of I assumed I used to be bodily. However after I let you know, it doesn’t matter how huge, how tall you’re, everybody is robust and bodily on this League and also you higher deliver it in any other case it’s gonna look possibly 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 simply guys have actually been round one another?

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

However after I say it’s me, Kah, DT. You have got [Natasha] Cloud. All 4 of us, we’ve a little 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 the perfect of us but. Kah’s been killing it. She has completely been killing it. She’s a canine and I’m simply comfortable that she’s on my staff to be trustworthy.

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

SC: You understand what? To be trustworthy, I do love vogue however I form of need to preserve it easy, too. The vogue vogue, it’s not my vibe. I feel I simply wouldn’t look good in it. I feel the rationale why we’re bringing the tunnel suits this 12 months—it’s been a piece within the course of. I additionally assume the extra money 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 wished them to be actually good as a result of – the quantity of eyes. I’m telling you, the advertising and marketing, it’s the greatest time to be within the W proper now. And so why would you not form of present out a little bit bit in these vogue suits?

WSLAM: We’re right here for it! You’re additionally actually into broadcasting as nicely. 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 a whole lot of passions and a whole lot of loves exterior of basketball. I feel that’s how I’m capable of take pleasure in basketball nonetheless as a result of I’ve that steadiness. I don’t go abroad, I make it up in advertising and marketing cash by way of 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 completed it in my life. I’ve at all times been on the opposite aspect of the digicam, however I’m like, I may 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 put up sport, interviewing among the guys and I actually liked it. It’s loads tougher than it seems to be, too. After I watch video games now I’m listening to the broadcaster.

I’m attempting to study this 12 months [and] I received to do in-studio and coloration 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 form of break down and be simplified, but additionally so sophisticated on the identical time. It was simply fascinating to me.

I received to form of turn out to be actually shut with our proprietor and our CFO and so I’ve gotten to truly study the enterprise aspect 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’d like to get into broadcasting [when] I’m completed. However then once more, I’d like to be an island woman by some means and receives a commission for that. I don’t even know what I need to do with my life [laughs]. So, we’ll see.

Photographs through Getty Photos.

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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