There’s a level of messiness in looking back at history, one that the team behind the documentary “Unfinished Business” takes care with throughout its focus on the New York Liberty and WNBA. Its strongest moment — outside of a fun John Oliver loves Jazmine Jones cameo and Joan Jett with a voodoo doll at Madison Square Garden — might be looking back at the league’s early years.
It is no secret how the league, fans and media treated the 1990s-to-2000s era players and fans. “Family friendly” was the name of the game and that included ultra-feminine marketing and no room for players to feel safe about living outside that box. The documentary showcases the pushback to former Liberty forward Sue Wick publicly saying she was a lesbian when a journalist was forced to ask her, then beautifully transitions to the 2013 WNBA draft in which the Phoenix Mercury selected Brittney Griner first overall.
Griner shared her sexual identity with media outlets ahead of the draft, once she left Baylor, and added LGBTQ+ community pioneer to her blooming basketball legacy. The word “pioneer” has been thrown out a lot over the past few months while Griner remains “wrongfully detained” in Russia, according to the U.S. government. Her trial is scheduled to start on Friday.
It’s the visual of Griner as a true pioneer in “Unfinished Business” that is so hard, but necessary, to watch.
“It was and continues to be an incredibly emotional topic for players and even for us as filmmakers who obviously are a step removed,” producer Nicholas Ma said on Yahoo Sports’ “All In (Orange).” “I just want to say I hope that we and our government is doing everything they possibly can to resolve this and get Brittney home.
“We wanted to be really careful. We didn’t want to — she’s been such a vital force within the league, such a vital force among the players that we wanted to honor that, but we also wanted, we recognized the situation that’s in flux and that’s tricky. I feel so grateful that we were able to include that footage and dedicate the film to everyone that’s fighting for the W, but particularly to Brittney.”
The final frame of the film, which debuted at the Tribeca Film Festival in June, shows the Mercury’s court with the BG42 decal and a dedication. Griner’s part in the film is small and she is one of many stars, past and present, to take part in the story of the Liberty from 1997 to its 25th season in 2021.
“I also love the fact that we can cut from the story about Sue Wicks to Brittney and her coming out and then to Sami [Whitcomb] and Sami’s there with her wife and her kid,” Ma, who directed and wrote the hit “Won’t You Be My Neighbor,” told Yahoo Sports. “It’s amazing the work that the league has done quietly to normalize those experiences over a period of time. And really I don’t know if there’s any other sports league that has been as far along as they [have], so it hasn’t been an easy journey but credit to people like Sue and like Brittney who paved a path forward to fight the next fight.”
The documentary, directed and spearheaded by Alison Klayman, is all about the continued push not only for the Liberty to win an elusive WNBA championship but for the league to be given its rightful recognition and due. Its title is from the aforementioned voodoo-doll carrying Jett, who wrote and performed the song titled “Unfinished Business” for the Liberty in 2001 after they lost to the Houston Comets in a second consecutive WNBA Finals.
Liberty co-owner Clara Wu Tsai executive produced the film and Teresa Weatherspoon, Rebecca Lobo, Wicks, Betnijah Laney, Sabrina Ionescu, Michaela Onyenwere and Didi Richards are all centered. Their behind-the-scenes moments and on-camera interviews give insight not typically seen in women’s sports. It gives a glimpse into obstacles from 1997 to 2021 and the places of growth, but also continued pain points.
“I would love for this story to be extended, to let it give birth to even more stories,” Ma said. “I think to have people walk out being like, ‘I wish I could learn [more], I wish I knew more about all these characters,’ that’s great.”
In this week’s “All In (Orange),” Ma goes into how he became a WNBA and Liberty fan, what it was like to talk to Jett about her fandom and the messaging the film wants to convey.
Lynx rising, Aces falling ahead of back-to-back
It would be wise to keep an eye on the Minnesota Lynx this weekend with back-to-back games against the Aces in Las Vegas. The Lynx are a mere 2.5 games out of the eighth playoff spot and have won three of their last four. Their four losses since June 12 are by a combined 10 points to the Fever (4), Storm (2), Aces (1) and Sky (3).
They rank second offensively (91.2 ppg, 24.0 apg, 48.3 FG%) over the past two weeks trailing the surging Sky (93 ppg, 26.4 apg, 50.8 FG%). The Lynx have led the league in rebounding (40.8 rpg) while allowing opponents a league-best 28.8 in that span. Jessica Shepard is averaging a 12-point, 11-rebound double-double over five games. Moriah Jefferson is averaging 16 points, seven assists and 4.2 rebounds in the 3-2 run for Minnesota.
Meanwhile the Aces have lost three of four while allowing opponents 89.4 points per game the last two weeks, better than only the Fever (90.8) and nearly 15 points more than leaders Sun (75) and Liberty (75) in that span. None of the stats are solid for the Aces’ defense: 38.6 rpg, 26.2 apg, 4.8 bpg, 11 3-pointers per game, 47.1 FG%
“Basically, I thought they kicked our ass,” Hammon said following the 88-78 loss on Wednesday, pointing out the Storm’s 23 points off turnovers.
Hammon has cautioned this since the Aces’ historic offensive start. It will be about more than scoring down the stretch and into the playoffs and Las Vegas needs to step up to keep atop the standings. Their offense is still averaging 86.8 ppg, led by All-Stars Kelsey Plum (21.6 ppg, ranking second amongst players) and A’ja Wilson (20 ppg, third; 12 rpg, first). It’s down three points from their league-long average of 89.8, which leads the league.
Highlight of the week
The “Kelsey Mitchell should have been an All-Star” crossover:
And then off the court, kids camp day is great for the tipoff time, but goodness is the racket annoying. Kids looking in awe at autographs by W players, though? All on board for that.
Games of the weekend
The top five teams in the standings heading into Thursday night were packed in tight with 2.5 games separating the two first-place teams (Sky, Aces) from fifth place (Mystics). In between are the Sun and Storm. It’s hard to imagine this third and final game of the Sun and Mystics’ regular season series won’t largely impact the final standings and playoff picture.
The Sun took the first game, 79-71, on May 28 under the leadership of assistant coach Brandi Poole while Curt Miller was in health and safety protocols. And the Mystics won the second, 71-63, two weeks ago with Elena Delle Donne, who missed the first meeting for rest, leading the offense. The Sun won the boards, 41-19 and 43-30, but it was defense in the second meeting that made the difference for the Mystics, who have played three more games than the four teams above them.
And in obvious top-shelf beef of the week notes, the Sky host the Mercury again in another WNBA Finals rematch on Saturday. The Sky won Round 1, 73-70, around Memorial Day weekend when Diana Taurasi was thrown out before halftime. It’s not a great holiday without that spice.
What you might have missed
WNBA weekend TV schedule
Games are available on WNBA League Pass, unless aired by broadcasters as listed below (excluding Facebook and Twitter). All times ET.
Friday: Sparks at Wings (8 p.m., CBS Sports Network), Aces at Lynx (8 p.m., NBA TV), Fever at Storm (10 p.m., Facebook)
Saturday: Mercury at Sky (1 p.m., ESPN); All-Star draft (3 p.m., ESPN)
Sunday: Mystics at Sun (1 p.m., ESPN), Storm at Dream (3 p.m., NBA TV), Liberty at Sparks (6 p.m., CBS Sports Network), Aces at Lynx (7 p.m., Amazon Prime)
Monday: Mercury at Sparks (7 p.m., ESPN)