Bethany Donaphin, WNBA

Bethany Donaphin Makes The Plays For WNBA Players

Donaphin has married the two things she is most familiar with--business and basketball--to become a playmaker for the women of the WNBA.

Bethany Donaphin, a former WNBA player who also worked for Deloitte and the National Basketball Association, has been navigating the worlds of corporate America and basketball since she retired from the league following the 2008 season.

Donaphin is currently the Head of League Operations for the WNBA and is responsible for overseeing all on-court basketball affairs, including rule changes, evaluating referees, and applying analytics and innovation to benefit the women’s professional league in the future. 

As Andscape reports, Donaphin, who holds the distinction of being the first New York Liberty player from New York to play for the team, has married the two things she is most closely familiar with–business and basketball–to become a playmaker for the women of the WNBA. 

“As [the WNBA has] driven a business transformation, I’ve gotten to utilize both – having been a player, having been on NBA basketball outside, having been in business school, and having worked as a strategy consultant,” Donaphin told Andscape. “I like that various parts of my background get married into what I do day to day.”

When Kathy Englebert was named the league’s commissioner in 2019, Donaphin was assigned the responsibility of creating a pipeline for former WNBA players to become head coaches in the league. Donaphin quickly assessed that the best way to create a pipeline for the former players, who, according to Englebert, tend to be Black women or other women of color, was to mandate that teams have at least one former WNBA player on their coaching staff. 

Englebert believed that mission would involve anywhere from 5-10 years of work before it bore fruit, but Donaphin accomplished it in a fraction of the time. By 2022, according to the TIDES Racial and Gender Report Card, 58.3% of head coaching positions and 64.7% of assistant coaching positions were held by women, and 50% of the league’s head coaches were women of color, while 61.7% of assistant coaches were women of color. All of those statistics represent a massive increase from 2019, when Donaphin started her mission. 

Donaphin explained her motivations to Andscape, saying, “[It’s important] for me to be an advocate for things that players care about in the league office, particularly because our league is full of women of color and people I see myself in and people I hope see themselves in me.”

She added, “For all those reasons, it’s a true honor to be in this role.”

New York Liberty forward Breanna Stewart, the reigning league MVP, encapsulated how the players feel about Donaphin’s role within the league.

“She listens,” Stewart told Andscape. “She lets us know what’s possible and what’s not. Obviously, she’s working on the W side, but, as a former player, understanding the things that we’re wanting and asking for, then being able to communicate that to both sides…She is the bridge between the players and the league.”

Although some have speculated that Donaphin would be a good commissioner for the league, she is content to play point guard for the league’s players.

As Donaphin told Andscape: “Where I am is exactly where I’m supposed to be. … If, at some point, an opportunity to do more presents itself, we’ll see, but I don’t really think about that. I think about what’s needed of me in the moment, where can I have impact that’s unique to me because of what I bring to the table and because of what my background is. I don’t try to be anybody else.” 

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