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Crina Mustafa

Edmonton's WNBA Canada Game: A Marker of the Growth and Success of Women's Basketball in Canada



May 14, 2024

“Hometown kid,” Kia Nurse walked out to the middle of the court at Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alberta, with a microphone in her hands. She was about to speak to a sold-out arena (16,655 people) ahead of the second annual WNBA Canada Game.

“This is a really special time for women’s basketball, so you better get on board now,” Nurse said to the crowd, who erupted at her presence.

Nurse is a two-time Olympian with the Canadian Senior Women’s National Team (SWNT) and has been in the WNBA for seven years, suiting up for the LA Sparks this season. The WNBA Canada Game began last year in Toronto and took place in Edmonton this year, with the LA Sparks and the Seattle Storm going head-to-head.

The connection to Canada was strong, with Edmonton being a special place for Kia Nurse. Her brother, Darnell Nurse, plays for the Edmonton Oilers in the NHL. Last weekend, she saw him and his family before the game. Nurse trains in the city with Canada Basketball nearly every summer and won the 2015 FIBA Americas Women’s Championship in Edmonton.

The city of Edmonton has partnered with Canada Basketball for nearly 12 years, supporting the development of basketball players from the youth to the senior national team level. The SWNT is set to begin its next training camp in Edmonton in June.

On the other side, for Seattle, the Storm’s head coach, Noelle Quinn, is the lead assistant coach with Canada Basketball for the SWNT, travelling with Nurse just this past February to Sopron, Hungary, where the team qualified for this summer’s Olympic Games.

The Canadian connection and expansion of location and talent were clear. This WNBA Canada Game represented the growth and success of women’s basketball in Canada.

“It’s growing,” said Coach Quinn. “A lot of the Canadians have come and played collegiate basketball, which is great because they get a taste of the physicality and basketball in [the US], even if it’s just a flight away,” she said. “Being around Canadian athletes, they play extremely hard, and they show the world that they’re just as good as any other athlete from around the world.”

Canada ranks among the top ten in FIBA standings across many different age groups, including developing younger talent. The SWNT is currently ranked fifth in the world.

“The crop of talent is there; it’s growing,” Quinn said. “We have a lot of really young talent; Victor [Lapena] is doing a great job of finding that chemistry and cohesion that our [SWNT] team needs, so I’m excited to see what we do in Paris.”

Aaliyah Edwards was the latest Canadian to be drafted into the WNBA, a player who has been with Canada Basketball at both the youth and senior levels. Edwards had an impressive career at UConn, a storied women’s college basketball team. A record number of fans watched the 2024 WNBA Draft in Canada, surpassing the previous record set in 2022 by +111%.

We're seeing more and more Canadian players move up from the youth level and make it all the way to the international and professional stages. There is also an emphasis at the grassroots level, which Kia Nurse brought attention to before the game on Saturday.

Nurse, who founded “Kia Nurse Elite,” an AAU program that has featured the likes of Aaliyah Edwards, Yvonne Ejim, Toby Fournier, and more upcoming Canadian stars, said, “The grassroots level is the most important because that’s where it all starts.”

Nurse mentioned that there are so many opportunities today that didn’t exist in the past, and that is precisely why games like the WNBA Canada Game series are markers of the growth and success currently happening in Canadian women’s basketball.

“The more grassroots [opportunities] that we have, the more opportunities that these young ladies have to get into the game and learn life skills and then that kind of funnels them into our national team program as well and continue to get us toward that podium finish,” Nurse said.

The second-ever WNBA Canada Game was a success in Edmonton, a city rich in women's basketball history. The weekend consisted of various activations, court openings, and a sell-out crowd. By expanding to more locations across Canada, there has been an explosion of talent and eyes on the game.

The broadcast reached fans worldwide in 195 countries and territories on television, social media, and digital media, including WNBA League Pass. In addition, more than 200 local youth and adult basketball players in Edmonton participated in basketball clinics in conjunction with the game. Viewership for the 2024 WNBA Canada Game presented by Tangerine increased by 65% compared to the 2023 WNBA Canada Game in Toronto.

With the WNBA season and the 2024 Olympics approaching, attention on Canadian women’s basketball talent is booming. More young Canadians are playing professionally and on the national stage, where basketball fans can continue to follow their journeys throughout the summer. 

All twelve teams in the WNBA are set to hit new records this season in attendance, broadcast viewership, and fan engagement. With a thirteenth team (the Golden State Valkyries) already announced for 2025, the league continues to grow.

The 2024 WNBA season tips off on Tuesday, May 14. Canadian fans can watch Kia Nurse, Aaliyah Edwards, Bridget Carleton, and Laeticia Amihere battle it on their teams before heading to Paris in July.