Odes to women's basketball teams Baylor and Notre Dame

ESPN Illustration

In honor of National Poetry month, poets Janae Johnson and Jessica Jacobs write tributes celebrating the women's basketball teams of 2019 national champ Baylor and runner-up Notre Dame.

Twelve Strings, by Janae Johnson

If It All Comes Down to This, by Jessica Jacobs

Twelve Strings

Janae Johnson

A Tribute to the 2019 NCAA Women's Basketball Champions: Baylor University Bears


By the time you've reached the NCAA tournament

Accolades are like oxygen

Memories of past selves

Flood each news feed

& it's quite easy to forget

The daylong AAU tournaments

Lemon-Lime Gatorade lunches

Portable hoops tipping from a healthy gust of wind

Geometry classes just lookin like a flex offense

Sneakers torn to the last color of socks

A sea of 'boy players'


To the tune of an assiduous spin move

'Cause they never saw it coming

Back when every non-sports dream

Competed with an almost confettied arena

Colored with fans who love to shout at referees

Just to hear their own voices

Echo themselves alive

To witness this Big Dance

& shimmy

You betta believe everyone

Who's made it this far

Can play

But few folks

Can say

They've cut the net


Anyone versus Kalani Brown AND Lauren Cox

Will be a mismatch

& though they are too mannered to laugh

At you

To your face

I imagine their arms chuckle a bit

At the audacity of any player

To enter the paint

Without compromising the shoulders position

Without contorting the wrist

Without wincing the right eye just a tad bit

A once picturesque follow through release

Now, yanked back into submission

Each opponents rebound

Snatched, held & kissed

Consider it a gift


Don't look at the legacy too closely

It will distract you from this team

This roster of both brand new & polished

Crosscourt chest-passes, untouched

Sprawly offensive rebounds

Challenging every shot with reckless abandon

On this team

When one bruises

The others

Are ice-in-hand


To heal


Yo Chloe Jackson is fast

Like, running water

Like, a twitter feed

Like, Questlove on snare drums

Like, how didn't her hair even move?

Like, remember when Superman flew to another city?

& still had that lil dangling front curl?

Like, how did she win the race to the end of the court, while dribbling?

Like how did she learn a new position?

As a point guard?

On a national championship team?

In just one year?

That's... fast


Every time the camera cut to Kalani Brown's mother, Dee

We, the children of Pre-WNBA

Were reminded of continuum

A rarity of Black Mother

& Black Daughter


Let alone

Split-Screened on national television

& tied by southern hoops

& coached by the same woman

& each

Earned a name of their own


While the men were complaining that there weren't any dunks

they missed how quickly

Didi Richards can cut to the rim

to change the entire complexion

Of a zone defense


Baylor never forgot

How worthy Notre Dame was

How bulletproof Ogunbowale entered every quarter

How reckless & hungry

they stayed



That sometimes

When you got necessary shooters

& necessary heart

You don't need height

When most of your team knows what a national championship tastes like

You can almost bet your body

There's no going back


When the 3rd Quarter of the national championship game

Came to a close

Lauren Cox fell to the ground

Clutched her left knee

From the television screen

You could hear the collective

Sucker punch of wind


From Amalie Arena

To Waco, Texas

Sure, we've seen these injuries before

& have heard what Cox continues to overcome

Her body rolled enough

On the slick floor

For even the non-hoop fans

To know

how significant

Her presence continues to be


After the injury, Coach Kim Mulkey say:

I could cry right now

but i gotta go to work


In the fourth quarter

Each point was grit-mouthed

Earned ungraciously

The quick release of a jump shot

held a degree of difficulty

Often undermined

By a machismo eye

I whisper to myself

We needed this game.

This is good.

For Women's Basketball

...Regardless of what happens


Coach Kim Mulkey say:

When you lose a big time player

in the middle of a national championship game

You're not supposed to win...


A split second after the final buzzer

White jerseys flood center court

Confetti raining from ceiling

Brown, 50-yard dashes into Cox's arms

& everyone breathes


Each player & coach

take turns

Spinning at the twelve net strings

Head above rim level

like they're looking from heaven


What the ball has been watching

this entire time.

Janae Johnson is a black queer poet, community organizer, teaching artist, and full-time educator. Hailing from California, she is the 2015 Women of the World Poetry Champion as well as a 2015 National Poetry Slam Champion. Janae's poetry has appeared in outlets such as ESPN, PBS Newshour, Blavity, and Kinfolks: A Journal of Black Expression. Janae holds a M.Ed. in Educational Leadership and facilitates writing and performance workshops for all ages.

If It All Comes Down to This

Jessica Jacobs

NCAA Women's Championship: Baylor vs. Notre Dame: 82-81


The final shots open every

article: Bounding Baylor from dead-

heat to the lead, Chloe Jackson's drive

down the lane for a layup

off the glass; Arike Ogunbowale's first

free throw missed -- how she doubled over

in disbelief. The buzzer's scream. Confetti falling

for the other team. We so badly want to believe

history pivots on these actions and the few

who make them, that these final moments are all

that matters -- as though everything

were won or lost by famous names

in this clock twitch, this

finger snap of time.


But history is so much

deeper: What about Jackson's jumper,

the first points on the board; or Ogunbowale's

tying shot? Or earlier? Once, each was a girl

following an older brother -- to soccer,

then to the court. Did it begin with crackerjack

kids on travel teams, or boys on broken asphalt

and bent-to-hell rims, boys who tagged

their sisters in? Or was it earlier still? That winter

in Massachusetts, in 1891: Boys shivered

on the football field, so a man

nailed two peach crates to a gym balcony

and handed the boys a ball. After

every point, a janitor scaled a ladder

to remove it -- until they sawed

the bottoms out, and Basket Ball

was born. Down the road, a women's gym

up a set of stairs so shallow a co-ed

could climb without tipping

her uterus (this, how doctors believed

hysteria was born -- team sports

and normal stairs, too taxing

for a lady's lady-parts). Inside,

a woman once so weak she fainted

while playing piano, now a teacher

who put up baskets of her own

and welcomed women to the game.


What if we drop the fiction

of beginning and end, the fantasy

of the tourney-winning shot? What if instead

we bring ourselves to each moment

as though each were a moment

of glory? If we place this championship game

beside the daily others, let our backyard, backlot

clunker shots ring in harmony with every net-kissed,

finger-flicked other? What if we make this girl, the one

snugging up her too-big shorts, the one fitting her toe

to the line in her driveway, in the park, in the city

rec center, this girl charting the arc of the ball

in her mind before willing her body

to trace it, what if we make her

MVP of this moment? -- this moment,

the one that matters most, just like

the ones before it and the ones

that will follow.

Jessica Jacobs is the author of the poetry collections Take Me with You, Wherever You're Going and Pelvis with Distance, winner of the New Mexico Book Award in Poetry and a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award.