Look at Those Hoopsters!

Look at Those Hoopsters!

    While the WNBA is considered a career advance for women
    with basketball career aspirations,
    all Brasileiras playing professional
    basketball in the US achieved various accomplishments prior to their
    debuts in the Women’s
    National Basketball Association.

    Mark Wells

    Brazil is a country known throughout the world mainly for three things: samba, Carnaval and soccer. One of my first
    memories of my introduction to Brazil was when Brazilian soccer legend Pelé came to the US to play soccer in the North American
    Soccer League in the late 1970s. While most Americans are familiar with the sport that is a national obsession in Brazil as well as
    countless other countries around the world, soccer never really took off as a major sport in the US, where basketball, football and
    baseball are usually the sports that Americans play in their adolescent years.

    While I played all three sports at one time or another in my childhood growing up on Detroit’s west side, the only
    time I played any soccer was when my gym instructors in school would make students play the sport during Physical
    Education class. Unlike for millions of youth outside of US borders, soccer (or
    futebol as it is known in Brazil and other countries)
    never really became an important part of our culture.

    Fast forward about two decades, three trips to the country and countless books about Brazil and now I find myself
    keeping up with Brazil’s soccer matches, which led it to become five-time World Cup champions. While Brazil and the world
    watch the exploits of Brazilian futebol "gods" such as Ronaldo, Roberto Carlos and Rivaldo, Brazilians have also captured my
    attention in my own favorite sport. What sport might that be? Well, let me develop the plot a little more first.

    As I explained in my first article for
    Brazzil back in June of 2001, my fascination with Brazil began on December 24,
    1999, and for the next year I began an obsessive search for information on "all things Brazilian". During my introduction to
    Brazilian Culture, I also began to pay more attention to the Women’s National Basketball Association games on television.

    The league had been in existence since 1997 and though I had seen a few games in previous years while flicking
    through the channels, I was now giving the ladies their much-deserved "propers". In the past two decades, baseball had fallen
    out of favor with me as far as my interest level for the game was concerned. Thus, after the NFL and NBA seasons would
    end, between the months of July and September, I was relatively sport free. The WNBA season, which lasts between the
    months of May and September, became the perfect "fill-in" for me until the start of the NFL season in the fall.

    Of course women have been playing basketball and other sports for an eternity but they had never had the chance
    to shine athletically in a professional sense on par with the men. Women had carved out their own places in sports such as
    tennis and golf, but if a female wanted to play basketball professionally, her only choice was to play overseas in various
    European and Australian leagues. With the support of the men’s National Basketball Association, the WNBA gave new exposure
    to veteran players such as current Phoenix Mercury Head Coach Cynthia Cooper.

    Cooper had been a star athlete during college and went on play pro basketball in Europe from 1986 until 1997. Since
    becoming a Houston Comet in the WNBA’s inaugural year, her list of accomplishments would impress any sports enthusiast. She
    was twice the WNBA’s Most Valuable Player, won the first four WNBA championships with the Houston Comets, was MVP
    of the Championship series all of those four years, earned All-WNBA first team honors all four seasons, made the All-Star
    game all four years, and was the WNBA’s leading scorer, single-game and season scoring record holder to that point. She
    retired after the 2000 season.

    Brazilian Stars

    So why am I writing about the WNBA in a magazine devoted to Brazilian Culture?

    Well, it was in 2000 that I became aware of a player named Janeth Arcain who was Cooper’s teammate on those
    four championship years in Houston. It wasn’t until halftime of a Houston game when the producers of the WNBA on NBC
    did a short feature on her life that I realized that Arcain was a
    Brasileira from Carapicuíba, state of São Paulo.

    "A Brazilian is in the WNBA!" I exclaimed to no one in particular. I only knew a few Brazilians at that time, but I made
    sure to spread the news of Janeth’s accomplishment. As I have been watching more WNBA games this year, I soon
    discovered that two more Brazilian women were playing in the WNBA for the Miami Sol team, Iziane Castro Marques and Claudia
    Neves. It was then that I began to wonder just how many
    Brasileiras were playing in the WNBA.

    After more research, I discovered that there have been eight Brazilian women playing in the league at one time or
    another. As trades and roster changes of professional teams are a frequent occurrence, below I have listed them with their
    physical statistics, place of birth and their current or last WNBA team.


    Claudia Neves
     Guarujá, São Paulo

    Iziane Castro Marques
     São Luís, Maranhão

    Janeth Arcain
     Carapicuíba, São Paulo

    Alessandra Santos de Oliveira
     São Paulo, São Paulo

    Adriana Moisés Pinto
     Franca, São Paulo

    Helen Christina Santos Luz
     Araçatuba, São Paulo

    Cintia dos Santos
     Mauá, São Paulo

    Kelly Santos
     São Paulo, São Paulo

    While the WNBA is probably considered to be a career advance for many women who have always had aspirations
    of continuing their basketball careers beyond the college level, all of these
    Brasileiras had achieved various
    accomplishments prior to their debuts in the WNBA.

    Here is a brief summary of career highlights of these talented

    Claudia Neves was voted the MVP of the BCN/Osasco Brazilian league during the 1997-98 and 1998-99 seasons. In
    1998 she averaged 17.2 points per game and was named the Best Brazilian Player in the
    Paulista (from São Paulo) League. She
    was also a part of the 2000 Olympic bronze winning Brazilian Women’s Basketball team in Australia. She also played
    basketball in Spain during the off-season.

    Iziane Castro Marques has proven her scoring ability on the court from inside, outside and the foul line and is even a
    good bowler in her spare time. In the beginning of her WNBA career she had trouble understanding parts of her game
    because of the language barrier. As she had learned Spanish while playing in Spain, the coaches were able to better communicate
    with her in this language until Claudia Neves was also picked up by Miami. The two
    Brasileiras would often speak Portuguese while on the court together. Neves believes that Marques could become one of the best players in the WNBA as she
    gains more experience. As Marques led the Brazilian Paulista League in scoring at 23.3 points per game during the 2001
    season, the potential is obviously there.

    Janeth Arcain is probably the most well-known Brazilian playing in the WNBA. That is mainly the result of her being
    a part of the Houston Comets’ four straight championships between the 1997 and 2000 seasons. But since Cynthia
    Cooper’s retirement, Arcain has come into her own. She was named the WNBA’s 2001 Most Improved Player and is the only
    Houston Comet to play in all of the team’s games at this point in time. She led the Brazilian league in scoring for the 1995 and 1996
    seasons, won a silver medal with the Brazilian women’s team at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, a bronze in 2000 and was selected to
    start in the 2001 WNBA All-Star Game. During the 2001 WNBA season, Arcain was the league’s 4th highest scorer averaging
    18.5 points per game.

    Alessandra Santos de Oliveira was also a member of the 2000 Brazilian bronze winning Olympic team averaging 9.5
    rebounds per game and 14.4 points per game. She averaged 10.4 rebounds per game and 15.1 points per game for Brazil
    during the 1998 World Cup Championships, won MVP of the 1993 Sao Paulo Championships, and participated in the 1998 FIBA
    Women’s World Championship in Germany.

    Adriana Moisés Pinto joined the Phoenix Mercury roster this season after playing the last seven games of the last
    season. Last season, she led her Penta Faenza team into the Italian Basketball League playoffs and was a member of the Brazilian
    National team who played in Italy last year. She scored 13 points, dished out 2 assists and grabbed 5 rebounds in 22 minutes in
    her Phoenix debut.

    Helen Christina Santos helped lead Brazil to four South American Championships during the 90s and earned a gold
    medal at the 1994 and 1997 World Championships. She averaged 16.4 points per game at the 1999 Pan American Games and
    was part of the Brazilian women’s 2000 Olympic bronze winning team. She was also a champion in Brazil for Santo André in
    1999 and Arcor in 2000.

    Cintia dos Santos, like Iziane Castro Marques, also had problems with communication upon joining the Orlando
    Miracle, although she speaks fluent Italian along with her native Portuguese. Like many other women who wish to play
    basketball professionally, dos Santos lived and played overseas, in Italy, which she refers to as her "second home". Dos Santos
    spends 11 months of the year away from Brazil and was happy to join the WNBA because she says the league "has the best
    players of the world" and will improve her career. She played on the 1996 and 2000 Olympic Brazilian women’s silver and bronze
    winning teams and finished third in the WNBA in blocked shots for the 2001 season.

    Kelly Santos played for three months in the WNBA for the Detroit Shock before returning to Brazil to play for
    Vasco da Gama in hopes of winning a national championship. Santos says she didn’t have problems on the court in the WNBA
    but had problems off the court. Being alone in America was a difficult transition for Santos who was accustomed to being
    near her family. It also didn’t help matters much that she couldn’t speak English very well. But like dos Santos, Kelly
    appreciated her international experience because playing with the world’s best players would certainly have a positive influence on
    her game. Santos was also a member of Brazilian National Team that took home the bronze medal from the 2000 Summer Olympics.

    The WNBA had gained a reputation as being an international league that at one point employed 50 foreign players
    in a league that had 176 roster openings. Players from places such as Brazil, Africa, Hungary, Russia, Spain, Australia and
    other locations entered the WNBA for the opportunity to "play for pay". While NBA players earn contracts whose salaries
    can go well into the multi-million dollar range, the average woman in the WNBA earns about $55,000 per year, with the
    minimum salary for a player with one year’s experience being $32,500.

    The minimum salary for a rookie is $26,500. As these figures don’t necessarily promise a player a secure retirement,
    many women supplement their salaries in the off-season in a variety of ways, some basketball related, others not. One thing is
    certain; the WNBA will always face stiff competition for talent from European leagues where players can easily earn $100,000 per
    year tax free.

    With this competition, the cultural differences that foreign players must face and the call from their home countries
    to represent them in Olympic and world championship tournaments, there has been talk among WNBA coaches and
    executives of not making the effort to recruit more non-American talent.

    As Brazil’s showing in the past two Olympics have proven, there is a wealth of talent in the women’s ranks of
    Brazilian basketball that will surely continue to swell the number of
    Brasileiras in the WNBA. It is also worthy of note that while
    soccer is Brazil’s only national sports obsession, besides basketball, there also exists volleyball and baseball leagues operating
    in Brazil.

    It’s a shame that these sports aren’t marketed with the same enthusiasm as that given to Brazilian
    futebol. So what is the future for Brazilians in the WNBA? Only the future will tell, but for now, to Brazil enthusiasts who love the country and
    its people, when you aren’t tuned in to
    futebol, lend the Brazilian women hoopsters your attention for a minute. Even if
    you’re not a basketball fan, check `em out; you’re sure to be impressed. So, readers and writers of
    Brazzil, let’s take this opportunity to give them our support and extend a warm "Bem Vindas ao WNBA e à America!"

    This article was written during the Brazilian National Team’s march to their record fifth World Cup Championship…


    The Miami Herald
    The Official Site of the Miami Sol
    The Official Site of the WNBA
    The CBS Sports Line
    The Arizona Republic
    Terra Esportes
    CNN Sports Illustrated
    Confederação Brasileira de Basquetebol
    St. Petersburg Times
    USA Basketball

    Mark Wells is an Anthropology major at the University of Michigan and has a deep interest in Brazil and the African
    Diaspora. He can be reached at: Quilombhoje72@yahoo.com 

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