'I think it really united us more': Dream players find unity through statement

Through statement about the Black Lives Matter movement, the brand-new roster came together and found unity

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Atlanta Dream center Elizabeth Williams (1) looks to pass during the WNBA game between the Atlanta Dream and the Connecticut Sun at Mohegan Sun Arena, Uncasville, Connecticut, USA on June 21, 2019. Photo Credit: Chris Poss

Last Tuesday, as players across the WNBA made their feelings known about Atlanta Dream co-owner and U.S. Senator Kelly Loeffler’s comments on the WNBA’s social justice plan, the Dream players were quiet — at least on social media.

But internally, every player and every member of the staff was having conversations about how to react. Loeffler’s comments hit most players in a deeply personal way, and they wanted to respond accordingly.

“It was tough,” center Elizabeth Williams said Saturday. “We’re in this time right now, we’re in a huge social justice movement. So, to hear those words, it was obviously uncomfortable and hurtful. For me, I don’t really understand why she wants to associate with the WNBA if that’s how she feels.

“Obviously, I’m not a political person and I know that she’s trying to use us for political reasons, but at the end of the day, all we can do is focus on ourselves [and] what the Black Lives Matter movement is really about, which is fighting for those whose voices go unheard.”

Because Loeffler’s comments came out only one day after the players arrived at IMG Academy, they were still in the quarantine period and thus separated from each other. While some are living together in groups of three or four, the whole team couldn’t gather to discuss what they wanted to do.

So they turned to the most apt solution in 2020 — a team-wide Zoom call.

“We thought it was really important as players to make a statement,” Williams said. “We had a call with all the players and all the staff. The staff was really supportive and said whatever we want to do that they would support that. For us, we thought it was important to make a statement that reflected us and reflected everything that the W has stood for and is standing for even while we’re in the bubble.”

The statement, which the players released on their personal social media accounts as well as the official Atlanta Dream accounts on Friday evening, made the player’s feelings abundantly clear.

While meeting with media on Saturday, Dream coach Nicki Collen was asked about her response to her players’ statement, and she was quick to make it clear that she stands with her players.

“I just strongly believe [that] good leaders are also servant leaders,” Collen said. “This was something that our players very much wanted to do on their own and certainly didn’t need my support, but certainly I think it helps for them to know that I do support them. At times, you feel a little bit in a situation where there’s only so much you can say, but I thought their message was incredible. Honestly, I was incredibly proud. I thought they very much took the high road.”

For a team that has 10 new players on the roster, coming together to discuss their feelings and craft the statement served as a unique sort of bonding exercise, especially in the early days of the quarantine period when the team couldn’t gather together. Collen has commented throughout the time in Florida that the team chemistry has come together much more quickly than she expected, and she’s pointed to the players making the statement together as a facilitator of that chemistry.

“There was never any lack of unity in our team, but it’s for sure those difficulty moments that bring you closer together and make you stronger as a unit,” guard Blake Dietrick said Saturday. “I think for sure we’ve become even closer over this period, even though we’re in our own apartments and having a Zoom call for everything, but we’re making it work.”

Added Monique Billings on Tuesday: “I think it brought us together a lot because we all put a piece into that statement, and we were all good with it and supported each other through it. I think it really united us more.”

And as basketball has come back into focus for the Dream now that they’re in training camp, Collen and her players are seeing the effects of the team bonding through writing the statement in the chemistry on the floor.

“[Williams] been a really good voice for this group,” Collen said. “Obviously, dealing with them getting together and writing the letter in support of each other and the Black Lives Matter movement, it kinda started with that with Elizabeth. It’s just kinda carried through to how she’s leading our group.

“For the most part, our chemistry is good. I think we’ve got nice players with good character and are here wanting to be good and wanting to get better. We’ve just gotta figure out what it’s gonna take for us to be a really good basketball team.”