August 9, 2020
A’ja Wilson and Napheesa Collier’s podcast is much more than spilling tea
'Tea With A & Phee' gives us 100% Wilson & Collier
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Do not, I mean, do not bring up banana bread.
The decadent dessert that could substitute as a breakfast, snack, or – in some cases – an entire meal nearly divided Las Vegas Aces’ A’ja Wilson and Minnesota Lynx’s Napheesa Collier in the first episode of “Tea With A & Phee.”
It was also another contentious point in a two-against-one battle when both Wilson and Collier spoke with me about their recently debuted podcast.
“I like bananas, like simple—you know what, we’re not going to have this conversation right now,” Wilson retorted.
That’s fair. Collier and I digressed. There were other things to talk about, tea to spill. The back-and-forth between Wilson and Collier on a conference call Thursday encapsulated the dynamic that we’ve heard in the first two podcast episodes: free-flowing, raw and, at times, hilarious conversations.
They join a wave of athletes creating and distributing content themselves. We’ve read their words in places like The Players’ Tribune, where Wilson recently penned a letter entitled, Dear Black Girls, but now we’re getting even more access. Podcasts like “Knuckleheads with Quentin Richardson & Darius Miles” and ESPN’s 30 for 30, which featured Seattle Storms’ Sue Bird and Phoenix Mercury’s Diana Taurasi’s tales from Russia, have put athletes front and center.
Bird and partner Megan Rapinoe started an Instagram Live series, “A Touch More,” during quarantine, and, as we’ve seen with the NBA’s single-site and the WNBA’s bubble, vlogs have given us an ultra-personal look at players’ experiences.
While we often praise a mind-boggling shot or look at a line on a stat sheet, here, Wilson and Collier are giving us something we haven’t necessarily gotten from younger players in the WNBA.
“It gives people a different point of view of who we are,” Wilson told The Next. “We’re the young group of the league and we don’t really get talked about because we haven’t had a lot of years of service underneath our belt. This allows people to get to know us.”
The design for Tea With A & Phee’s logo was done by East Coast-based designer Brittany Piotrkowski, wife of Susie, who helped launch the podcast.
Wilson, who is in her third season, and Collier, playing her second, were friends before they entered the league; if some circles are small, it’s not hard to imagine how undersized it can be on a player’s way to being one of the 144 athletes in the WNBA.
They met on USA Basketball’s U18 team and would later face each other in college. Wilson was a star on Dawn Staley’s South Carolina Gamecocks and Collier continued the long tradition of UConn Huskies making their way to the WNBA.
When Wilson was drafted in 2018, Rookie of the Year wasn’t on her mind. In the first episode, Wilson admitted she wasn’t hyper-focused on that goal. Collier, however, was. The exchange as the two detailed each of their rookie seasons, one year apart, made listeners feel like they knew them. We certainly had an idea. Wilson is often on social media platforms and has done various commentary on SEC Network. Her presence off the court is almost as big as it is on.
But Collier has never put herself out there, at least not like this. Would it be awkward, she thought. “How will I talk for 30-plus minutes?” was another question she asked herself before debuting the podcast on July 26. But when Collier, equipped with professional-grade microphones and other various equipment to deliver high-quality sound, sat across from Wilson, it melted away quickly.
“I thought it would be really weird but it’s so easy just talking to A’ja and it really is just like a conversation that we’re having,” Collier said.
It’s what makes the WNBA’s new source of tea so engaging. The conversations are coming from fairly new voices. There are 144 roster spots in the WNBA, and some rosters aren’t filled due to salary-cap restrictions. Still, some voices get lost. The two noticed there was a disconnect but it was Collier’s fiancé, Alex Bazzell, an NBA/WNBA skills coach, who gave them a solution.
Bazzell took this idea of a podcast to Collier, both thinking it would be a way to bridge the space both her and Wilson occupy. It would be something they could control, a safe space without any sort of obligation other than being themselves. Here they are friends and Black women; they are venting and sharing. Wilson candidly discussed not taking COVID-19 seriously when it first hit the United States. Collier gave us insight into her personal and professional life.
“We thought it was really cool just having our perspective as up and coming people in the league and having our voice because we are so new to the league,” Collier said. “What it would be like from our perspective and what we go through as opposed to like, maybe what a vent goes through and what our lives are like, and not only inside the bubble—it didn’t originate because we’re here—but just as people who were the last two Rookie of the Years and kind of our perspective on everything.”
Napheesa Collier (24) of the Minnesota Lynx plays defense against the Chicago Sky on July 30, 2020, at Feld Entertainment Center in Palmetto, Florida. (Photo by Stephen Gosling/NBAE via Getty Images)
Collier makes a quick trip to Wilson’s to record Monday’s edition. They have a long list of guests they would like to have on the eight-episode season. Beyoncé, if you’re listening, you’re a warmly welcomed guest. Michelle Obama, Maya Moore and Serena Williams too. This goes beyond basketball, although their first guest, Kevin Durant, is one of the NBA’s biggest stars.
East Coast-based designer Brittany Piotrkowski, wife of Susie, who helped launch the podcast, used her simplistic yet strikingly detailed style to help bring the podcast to life. Piotrkowki’s design, a faceless drawing of Collier and Wilson sitting across from one another with smiles, and of course, sneakers, eloquently shows the dynamic the two were able to create in the bubble. It’s one that needed some heat on their feet, Piotrkowski told The Next.
As the two record, following a rough outline but mostly going off the cuff, an unrestrained dialogue begins. They start to uncover things about themselves, about each other, and after 30 or so minutes send the unedited audio back to their team.
A’ja Wilson (22) of the Las Vegas Aces handles the ball during the game against the Dallas Wings on August 2, 2020, at Feld Entertainment Center in Palmetto, Florida. (Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via GettyImages)
The process is in their control the entire time. It makes all the difference, they both told me. Words cannot get misconstrued. Context won’t be lost. They’ll never say anything wrong, they’ll never be mean-spirited or accusatory; it’s just not in their nature. The fear of that happening subsides. There are no restrictions—although Bazzell doesn’t want to enter the conversation. Everything is by thoughtful design to keep Collier and Wilson center stage, center mic if you will. They’re allowed to be fully themselves.
“I think that’s a conversation that we want,” Wilson said. “We’re in control of it instead of having someone else control us and kind of going by the script. I think that’s the beauty of our podcast, you can come on here and spill your tea. It allows you to kind of get some things off your chest, and I enjoyed it a lot because, just being always looked at, you never really get to speak the truth.”
Collier added, “In an interview, you kind of have to, not necessarily be always politically correct, but you do have to be careful about what you say because you don’t have control over that content when it leaves your mouth. It really just allows us to be 100% ourselves without fear of what the repercussions might be.”