Basketball

Drake wants pro women's basketball in Canada — and key sport influencers do too

One week after Bridget Carleton called for a professional women's basketball league in Canada, Drake stumped for a WNBA team in Toronto. Both would be a good way to promote the sport in the country, Carleton says.

Olympian Bridget Carleton recently tweeted call for pro women's league in country

Canadian Minnesota Lynx forward Bridget Carleton, seen above in September, said on Wednesday she'd support both a WNBA team in Toronto and a domestic professional women's league. (Andy Clayton-King/The Associated Press)

Last week, Canadian basketball player Bridget Carleton tweeted that she's "officially started manifesting a Canadian women's professional basketball league in the near future."

On Wednesday, Drake wrote on his Instagram story: "@WNBA I need a Toronto team."

It's probably a coincidence — unless manifestation truly works.

And besides, Carleton's wish was for a full pro league, while Drake called for one WNBA team.

"I mean, I'll take both," Carleton said in an interview with CBC Sports on Wednesday.

WATCH | Bring It In Panel discusses likelihood of WNBA in Toronto:

Drake wants an WNBA team in Toronto, is it only a matter of time? | Bring It In

30 days ago
Duration 7:40
Last week Toronto-born recording artist Drake, posted on his Instagram story saying that he needed a WNBA team in Toronto. Host Morgan Campbell is joined by Meghan McPeak and Dave Zirin, to discuss the growth of basketball in Canada and why this might just be the perfect time for the WNBA to expand north of the border. 7:40

Carleton, 24, starred for Canada at her first Olympics in Tokyo, but the team failed to advance past the group stage. The Chatham, Ont., native also played in all 32 games for the Minnesota Lynx in the 2021 WNBA season, starting 10 and averaging 4.8 points per contest.

She's currently back home in Ontario ahead of a national team training camp in Toronto next week.

The return home is an opportunity to breathe for Carleton, who estimates she had three-to-four days off after Tokyo before returning to Minnesota, and then another four or five days after the WNBA season ended before heading overseas to join her Israeli club Ramat Hasharon.

"It's hard. We're away from our families for months on end and missing holidays, Christmases, birthdays, weddings, like anything you can name. It's hard being away from family for that long. It's just mind blowing to me," Carleton said. 

"In 2015 I graduated high school and since then I played, I counted like six games in Canada, which is shocking."

Carleton played in France last season, but chose to return home mid-campaign amid the weight of the pandemic and a heavy lockdown in France that prevented her from exiting a one-kilometre radius around her home.

One pro of playing in France is the abundance of Canadians across the Ligue Féminine de Basketball. Not only does that provide familiarity in unfamiliar surroundings, but it's a chance to build a national-team rapport ahead of big tournaments like the Olympics.

That effect is even greater for French players in the league, who play with and against each other throughout the winter months. France is ranked fifth by FIBA (Canada is fourth), but won bronze in Tokyo.

"For us Canadians, we're all throughout the world. We're dispersed kind of everywhere. We have players playing all over the world. Obviously NCAA as well. But I think that's kind of what sparked that thought and more recently, why that has kind of been on the forefront of people's minds," Carleton said.

WATCH | Canada eliminated from Olympics following loss to Spain:

Canada falls to Spain, women's basketball quarter-final spot in doubt

4 months ago
Duration 1:29
With a 76-66 loss to Spain, the Canadian women's basketball team will now have to depend on the results of other games if it hopes to secure a spot in the quarter-finals. 1:29

It's not only Carleton and Drake stumping for more professional women's basketball in Canada. Her tweet was met with support from Canada Basketball COO Mike Bartlett, Canadian Elite Basketball League commissioner Mike Morreale and more.

Former national women's team coach Lisa Thomaidis said last month a pro league was key in developing talent.

National men's team and Toronto Raptors head coach Nick Nurse also joined the chorus on Wednesday when asked about Drake's post.

"All of us living up there know it's a golden age, the number of people playing, the amount of talent pouring out of a lot of cities up there — both boys, girls, men, women, everything. And I think the women should be represented with a WNBA team. I would imagine it'd be wildly successful," Nurse said.

Carleton said her initial tweet was prompted by the CEBL's addition of a ninth team, in Montreal.

The CEBL is only three seasons old, but its impact is beginning to become more and more profound. Four players with the Hamilton Honey Badgers last season are now on NBA G League teams, and the 2021 champion Edmonton Stingers are set to begin play in the Basketball Champions League of America — basketball's answer to CONCACAF Champions League — in December.

The recent and rapid rise of basketball in Canada means a women's league could play a similar role for upcoming talent in the country.

Financial hurdles

It would also help keep talent like Carleton close to home more often.

"I need to be playing more than six months out of the year, both financially and for my basketball career and being the best player I can be. … I can't just take six months off. And so I have to go overseas, I have no other option for me to stay in North America," she said.

Finances might be the main reason that no pro league or WNBA team has come to Canada as of yet. For all the CEBL's success, it's unclear if the league has turned a profit — it's an experiment that's going well, but remains in the early stages of growth.

In the WNBA, the 2019 purchase of the New York Liberty was estimated between $10 and $14 million US. An expansion fee wouldn't be cheap either, though commissioner Cathy Engelbert recently said adding more teams was "on the horizon."

Fourteen-year WNBA veteran Alana Beard recently announced she was teaming with the African American Sports and Entertainment group to try to bring a team to Oakland, Calif.

There are easy ways to imagine an ownership group coming together in Canada — Drake and MLSE could combine forces, for one.

But nothing is imminent, at least publicly.

For now, Carleton will briefly reunite with teammates in Toronto for the first and only time before World Cup qualifying in February.

"Mainly just a way for us to connect and be together and kind of set our priorities straight, because we saw the effect on what happens when we're not together for a long period of time."

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