2019 was a landmark year for the professional NBA 2K League. Chiquita Evans made history as the first female player to be drafted in the NBA 2K League draft last March. With this past February’s 2020 draft, Wendi Fleming was hopeful to follow in Evans’ footsteps. Unfortunately, neither Fleming nor the only other two female players to qualify for the draft would go on to be selected. With Evans declining to return for another season, it looked as though the progress that had been made wouldn’t continue to be built upon. However, after receiving an invitation to participate in the USA Basketball E-National Team trials, Wendi Fleming proved that she was not one to be overlooked.
Wendi Fleming’s success at the USA Basketball E-National Team trials is significant for a couple of reasons. Among them is the fact that by making it onto the team, Fleming has become the only female player competing in the upcoming FIBA Esports Open II, and that goes not only for the North and Central American Conference, but for the entire tournament, globally. More than that, Fleming is the first-ever female competitor in the FIBA Esports Open, as a whole. To be fair, the first-ever FIBA Esports Open was only held this past June with the second iteration happening over the course of the past month or so. In fact, the North and Central American Conference just happened this past weekend, Dec. 19-20, concluding on Monday, Dec. 21. Even though the FIBA Esports Open doesn’t have a particularly long history, Wendi Fleming is already leaving her mark.
In an article by The Undefeated.com, Aerial Powers, a pro basketball player for the WNBA’s Washington Mystics, spoke a bit about the selection process for the USA Basketball E-National Team. Powers, who was on the selection panel for the team, said “The competition was so great that it was extremely hard to pick the seven… It wasn’t that the other players weren’t good, it was just that we had so much great competition.” Although Fleming made the cut for the national team, just a few months prior, Fleming found herself completely overlooked at the NBA 2K League draft.
Fleming, along with other female NBA 2K players, Hazel Childress and Ayleesha Harvey, had qualified for the draft and were hoping to make the cut. Just last year, in 2019’s draft, Chiquita Evans made history as the first-ever female gamer to get drafted. Hopes were high that at least one of them would be able to carry on the legacy that Evans had established, especially considering that Evans had decided not to pursue another season in the league. Yet, by the end of the draft, none of the three players had heard their names called. With regards to not getting drafted as she had hoped, Fleming, aka ALittleLady87, told The Undefeated, “I was feeling really confident going into it [so] I was definitely upset […] and discouraged especially since another woman didn’t make it as well.” Her fellow female gamers felt similarly, with Alexandria “Mz LJ” Jennings noting that, “I was more than disappointed. I was upset because the progress that was made the previous season with Chiquita had basically disappeared. It felt like one step forward and three steps back for women trying to make the league.” For Fleming, who boasts solid statistics and winning percentages—especially when contextualized amid the “rampant misogyny women players deal with when seeking to fulfill their dreams of becoming professional 2K players”— as well as a number of interviews that went well, going undrafted was more than a surprise.
As the months passed, Fleming continued to play NBA 2K, refusing to allow the snub kill her enthusiasm for the game. Lo and behold, by the time October came around, she would receive an invitation to attend the November trials for the USA Basketball E-National Team. That team marked the first time that USA Basketball would try its hand at esports. By securing one of the seven highly coveted spots on the team, Fleming was able to receive a fraction of the recognition denied her during 2020’s draft. Considering the USA team’s success at this past weekend’s North and Central American Conference, that validation should only continue to grow.
Despite going undrafted this year, Wendi Fleming has refused to let her enthusiasm for NBA 2K falter. Even though she still hopes to hear her name called in the draft in the future, she has managed to find success and make history elsewhere. With NBA 2K21 including WNBA teams in their game mode (as we wrote about previously here), along with the efforts of Fleming, Evans, and their peers, it would seem that the realm of basketball in the world of esports is slowly but surely becoming a more equitable place for it’s female inhabitants.