Commentary: Kansas City’s Newest Dream Team

May 13, 2016

Credit http://ballcharts.com/

Flipping through the channels this time of year, you might catch one of the 27 rounds of the NBA playoffs. But around here, basketball season pretty much ends with March Madness.

Or, maybe not.

This weekend, this city of the Royals and Chiefs, and once Monarchs and Kings, welcomes some new sports nobility to town: The Kansas City Majestics are the first professional women’s basketball team in 20 years to call KCMO home.

Okay, so it’s not the NBA or the WNBA, but the latest franchise in the WBCBL, the Women’s Blue Chip Basketball League—not exactly the big time. Starting with their first home game this Sunday, the Lady Eagles—as they’re known on the court—will play their inaugural season at Belton High School. Tickets are $5, which would get you all of half a small beer at Kauffman Stadium.

And of course, “pro” or even “semi-pro” might be a stretch, as the Blue Chip is a developmental league and “non-salaried.” Each team’s independently owned and operated, and makes its own agreements with players, which sometimes include part-time jobs through related youth programs. But it is a patent pipeline to the pros in a way that, say, the NCAA likes to pretend it’s not. In other words, there are no amateurs—the athletes are here for more than “the love of the game.” Every year, a small but growing percentage of Blue Chip vets are signed to pro contracts, usually on other continents—not that getting paid to play your favorite game in France or Australia isn’t a dream come true.

Winter tryouts drew recruits from as far away as California and Florida, and the final Lady Eagles roster includes players from North Dakota to New Orleans, along with Big 12 and SEC alums.

Most, however, are from Kansas and Missouri, with an unexpected chance to keep competing close to home.

This is a Kansas City story. Head coach and co-owner Sarah Campbell and her assistant coach, Lisa Braddy, are both natives—products of the Boys and Girls Clubs and standout players at Mizzou and KU, respectively. In the mid-’90s, they were teammates on KC’s last pro team, the Mustangs of the Women’s Basketball Association. After playing in Europe, Campbell coached high school and college—and now co-owns the team with former UMKC forward Jade Tinner.

Twin sisters Jalissa and Sharniece Lewis from Warrensburg both made the team. Danielle Bennett, of Peculiar, Missouri, was last seen swishing three-pointers for the Georgia Bulldogs in the NCAA Tournament. And there’s KC native Tanisha Smith, a Lincoln Prep alum who starred at Arkansas and Texas A&M. She was drafted by the WNBA’s Seattle Storm and played professionally in Sweden—but came home to help out when her mother fell ill. The Majestics are her chance at a comeback.

Coach Campbell promises an up-tempo game, the kind that earned her three-time WBA MVP honors as a player. So if you can’t make it Sunday, you might want to circle June fourth, when defending Mid West division champs the St. Louis Surge come bolting into Belton.

’Cause this could be the feel-good story of a different kind of dream team, where hopes and passions get a new start, or at least one last stop. It might not be “majestic”—but then, the best sports dramas are all about potential and desire. And for fans, that’s worth rooting for.

Victor Wishna is a regular commentator on KCUR's Up To Date.