“It’s just kind of like a funny memory,” Gabby Williams says, “like my life came full circle.”
Williams is talking about muscle cars: those she saw at the “sideshows” she attended with family in Oakland and those she now endorses for Ford. “Everyone just goes and, like, spins muscle cars around,” Williams explains. “And it was always the girls watching the dudes, and I never once thought that, like, it was very rare when a woman was driving it.”
And when a woman did commandeer the steering wheel, the crowd would go wild because of the novelty. “But why do muscle cars have to be for men?” Williams asks. “Now, we have this muscle car that’s, like, built by women, built for women.”
The Chicago Sky forward is talking about the Ford Mustang Mach-E, an all-electric vehicle. During a break between EuroLeague Women group play and the start of the quarterfinals in late-January, Williams took the time to discuss by conference call the killer season she is having playing with Sopron Basket in Hungary, how overseas competition is improving her game, her new superstar teammate in Chicago and the excitement she has about partnering with Ford to smash gender barriers.
Hooping in Hungary
With 12 teams and 12 roster spots apiece, WNBA teams benefit from uncommon bench depth and the league’s 144 rosters spots are notoriously difficult to claim and keep. Until the league expands to additional cities, many of the players assigned to role positions in the WNBA must wait until their overseas seasons tip off to flash their dominant, superstar qualities.
Williams is no different.
With a rather regal per-game stat-sheet flush of 16.5 points, 4.2 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 2.2 steals per game, she helped Sopron power through EuroLeague Women’s group stage of play undefeated. Sopron is also undefeated in the Hungarian Cup and, after a 73-66 win on March 6, Williams was named Player of the Week.
Sopron will complete its regular season on Wednesday (March 10) before tipping off a week later in the EuroLeague Women quarterfinals. Sopron enters the EuroLeague Women postseason with a 6-0 record, and as the only undefeated team from Group D.
Williams sees big benefits from her overseas contributions.
“(Sopron) has been a great fit for me, and really helped me get my confidence up,” Williams says, “(and) learn properly how to play 2-3 since, you know, I’m playing two positions (in Hungary) versus four. It’s giving me a chance to really focus on what I want to get good at. And I have gotten in better shape.”
All of this bodes well for the Sky’s chances in the 2021 WNBA season. Williams is eager to bring her improvements back to Chicago and the revamped Sky, where — courtesy of a blockbuster free agency signing — she’ll be playing alongside Candace Parker. With the future Hall of Famer and former champion on their side, Williams is excited for the Sky’s chances in the 2021 WNBA title chase.
Muscling into the mainstream
“Why do these things have to be gendered?” Williams asks. “I mean, it’s a car. It takes you from one place to another. What does this have to do with your gender?”
And how does it happen that a car whose first buyer was a woman, a school teacher named Gail Brown, come to be known as “the working man’s Thunderbird”? Historical patriarchy: a system, along with racism, that Williams, a graduate of the University of Connecticut and the fourth-overall pick in the 2018 WNBA Draft, understands well.
“Being a black female athlete means constantly facing discrimination and that is why I could not be more proud to do what I do everyday (sic),” her Instagram post states. “Not only do I get to compete for my team, but I get to compete for women everywhere trying to break through barriers in the male dominated world of sports.”
Years after the sideshows in Oakland, Williams no longer is on the outside watching men and the rare woman spin muscle cars. She is endorsing one, the Ford Mustang Mach-E, and through the affiliation helping to shatter norms that assign muscle cars and sports to men and the delicate, less sweaty things of life to women. Not only is Williams endorsing this Ford model, she — and the other WNBA players who have landed a slew of deals since the 2020 season of social justice — are exemplifying the power of Black women in particular.
The shirt Copeland is wearing (above) was designed by Sydney James, a fine artist and muralist based in Detroit, who calls the “Madonna of Muscle” artwork she created for the #ShowSomeMuscle campaign representative of “a leader, entrepreneur and hustler in the Detroit community — one whose image exudes so much more than physical strength.”
James could be speaking of herself, Copeland and Williams, the latter of whom wants the recent surge in visibility of WNBA players to be a starting point, not an ending one. She never had high hopes of big endorsement deals during her step up from collegiate basketball to the pros, but now she wants to see this tide continue. Women, who make up 50 percent of humanity, add value when given the opportunity.
“People are realizing, just, that women make everything better,” Williams says. “I’m hoping other people see this and other companies see this and see what it is doing. To be a part of a campaign like this, with a company like Ford, is something I could have never dreamed of.”
Calling her teammates, and all the WNBA players in the 2020 season’s “wubble” her primary sources of inspiration, Williams wants her followers to share about how they show strength by sending a direct message, posting about their triumphs using the hashtag #ShowSomeMuscle or adding a comment to one of her posts, with a mind to the potential to encourage someone else. Williams believes her status as a professional women’s basketball player will inspire other women to go after their dreams, even if doing so means going against the grain.
“It’s never easy,” Williams states, “but that’s what makes us women so tough and that’s how I #ShowSomeMuscle.”
Hear the full interview with Gabby Williams when it drops later this week at The Hard Screen, available on Spotify, iTunes and anywhere you listen to podcasts. She discusses why her mind wasn’t on her endorsement potential as she departed the NCAA for the pros, the reasons she believes there has been a recent surge in WNBA players being signed to endorsement deals, feeling she had no choice when it came to the WNBA’s 2020 season of social justice, Gen Z deserving a major shoutout, and more!