It's only their second season in North Texas, and the Dallas Wings are already working hard to make a lasting impact on their new home.
Partnering with Cigna, Dallas' newly minted Women's National Basketball Association team has worked to foster a love of basketball and healthy living across the greater Dallas-Fort Worth area, especially among aspiring young fans, through various open community events.
"We want to be good community partners, and in doing that push the message of healthy living forward," said Wings CEO Greg Bibb. "We're only just getting started, and we're excited about what the future holds."
The Wings' efforts are as straightforward and effective as getting out to a park to play their favorite sport on a sunny afternoon.
Take, for instance, a recent Friday, when the team gathered on a basketball court at Klyde Warren Park for an hour of basketball with 47 local young people. Family members sat in the nearby shade, documenting the event on their phones as their children played alongside the Wings team. Some grabbed a ball to shoot, some to dribble, others to pair up for passing.
Oksana Hunter, 7, wound up at the defense and agility station. She wore her hair slicked back into a top bun, held snugly in place by a bright red headband. "She wears a bun like Skylar Diggins. She wants to shoot like Skylar Diggins," said her mother Christina Macias. "That's her favorite player."
Oksana stepped up, next in line to play. Her partner, wearing a similar hair bun, was Skylar Diggins-Smith herself. Macias, along with husband Sterling Hunter, looked on as their daughter ran drills with her idol. The family had driven from Fort Worth to downtown Dallas for this moment.
"I want my daughter to feel like she can do anything and everything," said Macias. "So if there's anything that encourages her, especially the WNBA – I'm there."
"We've gone to every home game," added Hunter. "We love the Dallas Wings!"
While the team happily posed for photos with young fans after the clinic, fanfare was minimal when the Wings initially arrived at Klyde Warren Park in favor of more time on the court with the kids. The players smoothly joined in, jumping between stations and teaching the tools of their trade.
"If I was a kid who could come to downtown Dallas, have a chance to pick up some basketball skills and engage with some professional players, that'd be a pretty cool day," Bibb said.
The entire Wings roster – even Lightning, their mascot, who took on the high-noon Texas heat in a horse mascot suit – rolled out to the event.
The clinic was just one in a series of community-oriented events that the Wings put on with Cigna this past season.
The partnership was born of a mutual desire to reinforce healthy lifestyle choices across the Dallas-Fort Worth area, especially among young children, said Autumn Zank, Cigna's chief operating officer for North Texas and Oklahoma. "It's a great way to get kids physically engaged, to encourage them to stay fit and as healthy as possible."
The outreach doesn't end there, as the team plans to stay involved with the community throughout the off-season. They'll be visiting organizations that work with North Texas youth, and another major event like this clinic is in the works.
"Coming out to the community and giving back to the kids is something we really look forward to," said Wings forward Karima Christmas-Kelly. "It's the next generation out here. These kids are the future."
Along with inspiring young people to stay healthy, the Wings hope to serve as barrier-breaking role models.
"As women, we don't have a lot of visible basketball role models," said Nicole Smith, chief marketing officer. "To have a professional women's basketball team here in Dallas that's accessible to all these kids, young girls and young boys? It's amazing."
"Whenever I'd get frustrated, they (the players) would tell me to keep going," said 12 year-old Dana Davis after the clinic. Dana, a point guard who plans to play basketball long term, said she finds the Wings' outreach encouraging.
"Girls who want to play basketball, they look up to the Wings. I'm glad we have this team here."