The WNBA's Kelsey Plum and the audacity of hoops


This story appears in ESPN The Magazine's May 29 issue. Subscribe today!
The rain comes down in buckets on a January night in 2014, a true Seattle driving rain, but she braves it. She doesn't have a choice. Her Washington Huskies just beat Utah in overtime, but she doesn't revel in the win, or in her assist that put them up by four near the end, or in the layup she banked to seal it. Two months into her freshman year, her team can't stand her -- or at least it feels that way. Her coach named her captain just before the season started because she checked off 24 of the 27 traits he wanted in a leader, but the older players resent her for it. So Kelsey Plum leaves the arena alone -- she can't find a teammate to give her a ride -- and walks 2.5 miles home. The rain mixes with her tears. She thinks, This is the bottom.
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THREE AND A HALF years later, Kelsey Plum rains T‑shirts on a San Antonio crowd already abuzz, with the Spurs charging toward a Game 5 win over the Grizzlies in the first round of the 2017 NBA playoffs. The shirts soar, improbably reaching the top of the AT&T Center's lower bowl. Fans roar their approval for their town's newest basketball phenom and her Aaron Rodgers-caliber arm.
Twelve days earlier, the San Antonio Stars had selected Plum, the NCAA's career scoring leader in women's basketball, No. 1 overall in the WNBA draft. So much is new to her on this introductory lap of the city -- the Spurs frenzy, the Alamo, the Mexican fare at Mi Tierra -- but the true novelty is this: Plum has never been an honest-to-goodness rookie before.