MarketingHow WNBA Icons Sue Chook and Sylvia Fowles Modified...

How WNBA Icons Sue Chook and Sylvia Fowles Modified the Recreation


9 mixed Olympic gold medals. Six WNBA championships. Twenty-one All-Star appearances. One WNBA MVP. Sue Chook and Sylvia Fowles, two of probably the most adorned and prolific basketball gamers in WNBA historical past—and each amongst Adweek’s 2022 Most Highly effective Ladies in Sports activities honorees—every stated goodbye to their skilled careers just a few months in the past, selecting to retire on the high of their respective video games.

“What makes myself and Syl attention-grabbing proper now’s we’re actually one of many first crop of gamers which have had these prolonged, prolonged careers,” stated Chook, noting the WNBA is barely in its twenty sixth season. “We’ve been in individuals’s properties, on their TV units, on the Olympics for [more than] 15 years, and that’s not even together with school, when each of us have been family names.”

Nonetheless, regardless of their profession similarities­—each credit score Nike as an early supporter and are represented by Lindsay Kagawa Colas at powerhouse company Wasserman—their alternatives and expertise off the basketball court docket have been wildly divergent. Solely considered one of them has been a fixture in model spots for 20 years, earned a plethora of media protection and been given each future alternative to proceed as an business mainstay. In the meantime, the opposite is making ready for a second act in funerary arts.

Chook, 42, the primary total draft decide in 2002, hung up her sneakers after 18 seasons and 20 years with the WNBA’s Seattle Storm, main her staff deep into one final playoff run. No. 10 is a four-time WNBA champion, the league’s all-time help chief, a 13-time All-Star and a five-time Olympic gold medalist. She has partnerships with main manufacturers like Nike, American Categorical, CarMax and Capital One. The New York native is a part-owner of the NWSL’s Gotham FC, and based media and commerce firm Togethxr with three different elite athletes, which works to amplify the voices of ladies athletes.


Arguably among the best gamers to ever change the sport, Fowles doesn’t have the top-tier offers that Chook does. At 37, the second total 2008 draft decide retired after an elite profession with the Chicago Sky and Minnesota Lynx. The Miami native is a WNBA MVP, four-time WNBA Defensive Participant of the Yr and four-time Olympic gold medalist. She’s the league’s best rebounder of all time and the profession chief in area purpose share. But she’s spending post-retirement distant from sports activities, the place she’s learning mortuary science. 

“The world we dwell in, the world that the WNBA is making an attempt to thrive in, doesn’t actually admire [and value] the forms of individuals which can be enjoying within the league,” stated Chook. “[It] doesn’t admire individuals of shade, doesn’t admire the LGBT neighborhood. While you take a look at Syl, a Black lady on this world who stands at 6’6”, nobody’s taking a look at her and seeing her expertise.”

‘Pushed’ to succeed

Fowles was raised within the Victory Houses Tasks in Miami-Dade County, which she believes formed her into who she is now. “The neighborhood was dangerous, and also you’re seeing issues that youngsters shouldn’t see at these ages. But it surely’s a neighborhood. We took care of one another,” she stated, emphasizing that whereas residing was tough, she by no means wanted to scrounge for meals or go with out garments and sneakers. 

“Sooner or later, I knew I used to be going to achieve success as a result of I used to be pushed at a younger age,” stated Fowles. She partnered with Nike in highschool and was recruited by LSU after her standout Beginner Athletic Union (AAU) profession. The college retired jersey No. 34 in 2017.

“I don’t suppose I’d be the individual I’m as we speak with out Nike,” stated Fowles. “Nike gave me an outlet to supply so many issues for household. They gave me so many alternatives to supply for my journey staff. Nike has been an enormous a part of who Sylvia Fowles is as an individual.”

Whereas Nike is Fowles’ greatest partnership by far, she’s additionally signed a handful of different smaller-scale offers with Affalia, a Black cleaning soap, shampoo and hair firm; and child meals manufacturers Yumi and Recent Bellies, which is especially apt since beginning a household is a big precedence for Fowles, post-retirement.

“I’m making an attempt to suppose long run as a result of I need children, so I’m making an attempt to line all the pieces up of how can I get my children arrange?” she stated. “I actually don’t have sponsorships, and I do know loads of that comes by means of social media and followers.”

In her ultimate season, Fowles lastly started to interrupt out into mainstream media, a story that induced conflicting emotions for a participant who remained humble her entire profession. She additionally put a few of the blame on the WNBA itself, noting the league tends to advertise solely a small group of its high gamers.

“Give me credit score the place credit score is due,” she stated. “I’ve been constant since I received on this league. I’ve been on the high of my sport since I received on this league, however to cowl it inside my final yr? The place have been you all these different years? It begins with our league as a result of now we have some dope-ass girls within the WNBA.”

(L. to r.): A’ja Wilson, Sylvia Fowles, Sue Chook and Breanna StewartJeff Haynes/NBAE/Getty Pictures

Constant would be the excellent phrase to explain Fowles. After battling again from a knee harm that sidelined her for 5 video games in 2022, she made her eighth All-Star look this yr (her first again in 2009) and led the league in rebounding as soon as once more.

However even the yr’s elevated media protection didn’t be a focus for the larger manufacturers which have flocked to different WNBA icons.

“Race performs a component. Social media performs a component,” Fowles stated. “What else do I’ve to do? I’m not disrespectful. I don’t get in bother. What else are you able to need from an individual, which is to do their job?” (As a comparability, Chook’s Instagram following is at 706,000 whereas Fowles’ is round 73,500, although Fowles doesn’t use hers as a lot.)

“It’s not an equal platform. You possibly can work your tail off and you are able to do all these nice issues and nonetheless don’t get as a lot as your counterpart. I needed to be taught to have thick pores and skin. I’m simply one thing that they don’t need, and that’s completely fantastic. Everyone has a picture that they need, and I’m not that. I needed to get to that time to know that it’s larger than me,” she stated.

And for these few manufacturers which have reached out, Fowles’ staff doggedly retains away those that don’t match her values. “They know what I’m going to say no to,” she stated. “It needs to be one thing I’m very enthusiastic about, and that I again 100%. I’ve been bugging [my agents] Lindsay [Kagawa Colas] and Tracy [Hughes] about signing with a Black firm for years. I don’t desire a deal to only say I’ve a deal; I need to have the ability to say I replicate what I’m with.” 

Fowles’ altruistic nature comes by means of when she chooses to signal with a model. “It needs to be one thing pushed in direction of children, in all probability girls, starvation, training, and people are the issues I search for after I’m signing offers,” she stated.

Advocating for change

Chook has traveled a a lot totally different path, post-retirement. Two months after chants of “Thanks, Sue” reverberated round Local weather Pledge Enviornment in Seattle as Chook exited for the ultimate time in her profession, she has been approached with talking alternatives, supplied extensions to present partnerships and extra model alternatives. 

When Adweek informed Chook what Fowles stated about her lack of brand name offers, she took a deep breath. 

“It’s actually unhappy to listen to her say that,” Chook stated. “It’s not due to who she is and what she’s achieved. When individuals activate the TV, they see the expertise, however society doesn’t see expertise first. They simply see pores and skin shade; they simply see sexual orientation. That’s what within the final couple years, all of us within the WNBA have been making an attempt to vary. As a result of it’s not proper. It’s not honest. It’s not correct. And there’s so many individuals like Sylvia Fowles who might have been giving a lot to a model and simply by no means had the chance based mostly on discrimination.” 

Chook is aware of she has the platform to advocate for change and doesn’t hesitate to make use of it. She got here out as homosexual in 2017 and is at present engaged to soccer star (and fellow Most Highly effective Ladies in Sports activities honoree) Megan Rapinoe

“I had been homosexual for a really very long time,” Chook stated, including that her staff, her brokers and coaches all knew. “I felt like I had gotten to that time the place I used to be like, do it’s essential say it, like what’s the massive deal?”

It wasn’t till conversations with Rapinoe that Chook realized the significance of publicly popping out to advocate for many who can’t safely accomplish that. 

Griner was detained on the airport in Moscow in February. Natalia Kolesnikova/AFP/Getty Pictures

The WNBA’s Darkish Cloud

Whereas the WNBA neighborhood celebrates the tip of Chook’s and Fowles’ storied careers, it is usually targeted on the harrowing plight of Phoenix Mercury star Brittney Griner, a WNBA champion, two-time Olympic gold medalist and the primary overtly homosexual athlete endorsed by Nike, who has been wrongfully detained in Russia since February for possession of hashish oil. In August, she was sentenced to 9 years in jail, and final week was transferred to a Russian penal colony. Her present location is unknown.

Griner, 32, like many different American gamers, competes in a Russian league through the WNBA low season. Not like the NBA, the place stars like Steph Curry rake in $48 million yearly, there are solely 14 WNBA gamers making north of $200,000 per yr. Abroad contracts are sometimes much more profitable than home salaries, together with for Griner, who made greater than $1 million enjoying for UMMC Ekaterinburg.

The neighborhood has been fiercely advocating to convey Griner dwelling since she was first detained. Each WNBA court docket final season featured a BG42 decal, and through July’s All-Star sport, every participant wore No. 42 through the second half in her honor. On Nov. 9, President Joe Biden informed reporters he was “decided” to convey Griner dwelling, and stated he has been involved together with her spouse, Cherelle.

“We need to be sure she will be able to nonetheless really feel all of the love that folks have for her,” stated Chook. “That is completely devastating. You possibly can’t consider a worse state of affairs. We’re making an attempt to make use of our voices, so hopefully BG can hear and really feel it.”

“Each time I stroll in a room now, all people knew precisely who I used to be, who I cherished, what I stood for, and there was one thing actually highly effective in that for me,” Chook stated. “Though the motivators have been different individuals, I used to be in all probability impacted probably the most. There’s simply a lot energy in that. And that’s the place it’s essential notice whenever you’re residing your genuine life, and also you’re displaying up that approach on the earth, not solely does it encourage others to do the identical, it lets you be your full self. And that’s the place the inspiration lies.”

That authenticity interprets into the varieties of brand name partnerships Chook seems to be for. 

“You need to have partnerships the place your values are aligned,” she stated. “Once I consider a model like CarMax, the business I did final yr with Corona, even a few of the Capital One spots, what’s been actually superb about working with these manufacturers is that this skill to focus on the feminine athlete by utilizing a bit of little bit of humor.”

American Categorical was considered one of Chook’s first model companions, and one she factors to as most supportive of the WNBA early in her profession, outdoors of Nike. 

“Nike has been there since day one, they usually’ve been with me my complete profession. By no means wavered within the help, supported us within the WNBA lives, in our Nationwide Workforce lives, even in our abroad lives,” Chook stated, including that when Russia invaded Ukraine earlier this yr, Nike was one of many first entities to try to get WNBA athletes enjoying in Russia dwelling safely.

“We’re in a spot in girls’s athletics the place we’d like manufacturers,” Chook stated. “We want these company sponsorships for leagues to outlive, we’d like them for people to have the ability to construct their very own manufacturers, however you need to be strategic in the way you do it. Issues are 100% altering. We nonetheless have an extended method to go, and it’s going to take all of us and all of the totally different views. I’m positively nonetheless going to have my foot on the pedal.”

However Chook is aware of she will be able to’t simply depend on manufacturers to result in these vital adjustments in sports activities. She not too long ago invested in Gotham FC, New York and New Jersey’s Nationwide Ladies’s Soccer League staff, and launched media and commerce firm Togethxr alongside athletes Alex Morgan, Chloe Kim and Simone Manuel.


“You need to take motion as nicely. There are moments when you may step into the second and have impression as an investor or beginning an organization,” she stated. “This was a approach for us to place our cash the place our mouth is, and to try to construct this firm that will have the ability to inform the tales that don’t get the sunshine that they deserve.”

As Chook launches her new companies, checks out a broadcasting profession and experiments with entrance workplace alternatives like working with the Denver Nuggets lately, Fowles quietly—and, she stated, fortunately—works on her mortuary science diploma.

“It provides me time to concentrate on myself,” Fowles stated. “I feel that’s what attracts me to mortuary science as a result of it’s humbling. What am I complaining about? Life is a lot less complicated than we make it.”

However, as Chook famous, Fowles’ impression has certainly helped change the sport for the higher, paving the way in which for the subsequent era of superstars. That features 26-year-old A’ja Wilson, the 2022 WNBA MVP and Defensive Participant of the Yr, who’s signing the model offers that Fowles couldn’t, a feat Chook believes is because of Fowles’ indelible legacy.

“There actually hasn’t been a participant like her, the methods wherein she was in a position to dominate and the way in which she was in a position to do it persistently,” stated Chook. “I hope Syl feels actually pleased with the truth that she helped change that narrative.”


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