December 21, 2022
Watch DiDi Richards grow the game, one small shopper at a time
'We are going to go to her game and she’ll remember you'
GLENDALE, N.Y. — DiDi Richards woke up at 5 a.m. to serve as a guest host on Amazon Prime Video’s Bonjour! Sports Talk last Wednesday. At 10 a.m., she went to a hot yoga class with teammate Stefanie Dolson. She returned to straighten up her Brooklyn apartment and then ran over to Barclays Center to lift and work out. That’s enough activities to amount to a full day, but no, Richards had another place to be.
After a short nap, she was off to Queens for an engagement at a Dick’s Sporting Goods store. The event partnered the New York Liberty guard with seven young people from the nonprofit Grow Our Game, a girls empowerment group that teaches the tenets of leadership through basketball. Dick’s, which became the W’s official sporting goods retail partner in September 2021, provided each young person with a $150 gift card, and Richards was their personal shopper. The event is part of her duties as one of the WNBA’s 10 players on league player marketing agreements (PMAs).
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The event was an example of how WNBA players and the league are using PMAs to achieve multiple goals and the symbiotic relationship that it was designed to form. The WNBA is eager to keep its brand and players in the conversation during the offseason, and players can earn six figures while staying stateside and expanding their individual brands. But what brought Richards to Queens was the combination of two of her loves: young people and fashion, clothes and shopping.
“Anything that shapes the future, I think that’s what I’m into,” Richards said about why she was interested in participating in the event. “And to see their smiles, it’s kind of what I live for. So whether they’re tormenting their parents or whatever they’re doing is making them happy, I’m here for it.”
While Richards was en route, the parental tormenting had already begun. A child in an oversized orange WNBA hoodie was bouncing around the store. “Is DiDi here?” she kept saying. While she and her parents waited, the trio took photos in front of the Dick’s backdrop toward the back of the store. “Give me some personality,” her mother said while the child posed. Then the roles switched and the child took photos of her parents. “Say Liberty,” she said.
After taking photos to distract from the built-up anticipation, Richards finally arrived. “Hello, my little people,” the Liberty guard bellowed. “Are we going to shop ’til you drop?”
Before the shopping began, Richards made sure to learn the name of every child who had come out to see her. She introduced herself to each one, including the one in the orange hoodie. Richards bent down and gathered her name. She said her name, and Richards questioned whether she had heard it properly.
“Tehani?” The child shook her head up and down, but her eyes were wide open and she was overwhelmed by the moment. The energy that she exuded moments before had melted into a puddle of nerves. “You’re so beautiful. I love that name,” Richards said.
After the introductions, pleasantries and a group photo in front of the Dick’s backdrop — where Richards instructed all the children to pose with peace signs — it was off to the races. The group began its shopping at a giant wall of Crocs. Richards is a big fan of the comfortable foam clogs. She wanted a pair and assisted a young girl named Scarlett, who was also interested in the same-colored Crocs. The clogs were bright pink and spunky, matching both Richards and her new friend’s personality.
Once Richards realized that all of the children didn’t vibe with Crocs like she does, she changed course and guided them toward the kids’ clothing section. As the group moved from one section of the store to the next, Richards repeated the names of her new friends to herself. It was her way of memorizing what’s important, and that’s how she saw this group of young people. They matter.
When the group arrived at its next stop, Richards immediately tried to assess what each child might like. She asked two of them what their favorite colors were, and one pointed to a poster showing a model in a cerulean tank top.
After some more perusing of the athletic apparel section, Richards found a matching pink sweat suit that she believed would look adorable on Scarlett, the child who was vibing in the pink crocs.
“Scarlett, I want you in this,” Richards said, like she was about to curate a runway of littler people. “Scarlett’s about to be stepping.”
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Richards was faced with the task of showing up for all the young girls. There was only one of her but around seven of them, and Richards intended to make sure that every one of them felt seen and heard and was given the appropriate amount of attention. Richards shifted her focus to two other young people who weren’t pink people like she and Scarlett were. “Where’s Malia and Milan at?” Richards shouts. “They might like this black sweatshirt.”
But also, where was Skylar? Scarlett’s older sister had run off from the group with an objective in mind that didn’t include shopping for herself.
While Richards continued to shop for her new friends and look for Skylar, a parent decided to FaceTime Chiene’ Joy Jones, the founder and head coach of Grow Our Game. The parent told the group to come over and say hi. Jones couldn’t attend the event because she had to officiate a basketball game. “Thank you. This is amazing,” the parent said to Jones on FaceTime. “The girls are ecstatic. They are keeping [Richards] busy.”
While the children had many options when it came to the athletic wear, shoes and even different types of basketballs — such as the official WNBA ball made by Wilson, the Round 21 WNBPA Legends ball and the Round 21 WNBPA Voices ball — there was something missing from the Dick’s in Glendale. Not a single piece of New York Liberty paraphernalia was available for purchase. The Sabrina Ionescu jerseys that are typically displayed at Dick’s stores across New York State were sold out, and the store employees weren’t sure when any Liberty gear would arrive. While the New York Liberty’s official team store in Brooklyn had many more jersey options during the WNBA season, Dick’s still hasn’t had jerseys of any Liberty player other than New York’s former No. 1 overall pick.
Then it was time to find Skylar once and for all. After the group kept shouting, Marco-Polo style, to try to find her, Richards realized why Skylar went on her own in the first place. She was shopping for Richards and came back with different options for the WNBA player.
An idea came to Richards: “You guys should pick out one thing for me to wear.”
And so the other children followed suit. A fluffy purple Nike coat, matching gray sweats and a black WNBA logo tee were just some of the clothes that the young people picked out for Richards. The next step was to find a fitting room. Richards wanted each child to see how the outfit they picked out for her looked.
Before Richards went to change, she took a picture with each child and the outfit they had picked out for her. Each time she’d come out, she addressed the young person and asked them whether they liked how it looked. She found a way to make each child feel special.
“I’m actually buying this shirt,” Richards said to Tehani. The top was a mock-neck Nike tee with a herringbone pattern. “You really outdid yourself here, you know that? You’re going to be a future stylist, okay? I love it.”
Moments later, a child who had just arrived to the event approached Richards for the first time. The girl, who was holding an outfit for the WNBA player to try on, was nervous to ask for a picture. Once she worked up the courage to ask, Richards replied that it would be her honor.
But all of a sudden, Richards took a beat. She was about to go into the dressing room and try on another outfit, but she paused. Her emotions rained down on her. She cried and let out a release. Apparently, she had been having some difficult mental health days, and the couple of hours she spent with the young people gave her a new energy and a renewed outlook. “You guys just made my whole day,” Richards said with tears in her eyes.
Her vulnerability didn’t seem to rattle the young people. If anything, they just wanted to spend more time with her. Following the mini-fashion show, Skylar started showing Richards her handles while dribbling a Wilson basketball. Richards, naturally, played defense on the young baller, trying to swipe the ball from her hands. “This is something they are going to remember for the rest of their lives,” Tehani’s mother said as the children were taking photos with Richards.
But also, that afternoon is something that Richards will remember for the rest of her life. Although her schedule is mapped out by the hour, as of late she’s been having a tough time and has found it difficult to garner the motivation to do what she must. What brought her some much-needed happiness on a 30-degree day in Queens was how much these young people appreciated simple pleasures.
“I was having this moment where I didn’t even want to come, and then I was like, I couldn’t even do that to them because they’ve been waiting to see me,” she said. “And … it was all worth it at the end of the day to see them happy and to see them pick out things or to pick out something for me and for me to wear.”
When Richards checked out and bought some of the athletic wear the girls had picked out for her, one of the girls was waiting for her near the register. She wanted one last goodbye. Another hug and then a selfie. “We are going to go to her game and she’ll remember you,” her mom told her.
There was a different level of symbiosis on display that afternoon into the early evening. Sure, more people got to know who Richards is, and the result will be getting more folks in seats during the WNBA season. That is one of the overarching purposes of PMAs. But an event that was once just penciled into Richards’ busy day became something more meaningful, something that helped Richards in more ways than just expanding her brand.
Written by Jackie Powell
Jackie Powell covers the New York Liberty and runs social media and engagement strategy for The Next. She also has covered women's basketball for Bleacher Report and her work has appeared in Sports Illustrated, Harper's Bazaar and SLAM. She also self identifies as a Lady Gaga stan, is a connoisseur of pop music and is a mental health advocate.