Editor’s note: Seattle Times reporter Jayda Evans will have a weekly conversation with a newsmaker in the WNBA. This week she speaks with third-year Chicago coach Pokey Chatman, whose Sky (17-8) is leading the Eastern Conference for the first time since the franchise’s inception in 2006. Chicago is the only team in the WNBA that hasn’t made a postseason appearance.
WNBA Talk: Chicago Sky coach Pokey Chatman on her time in Russia, changing her name
Seattle Times reporter Jayda Evans chats with Chicago Sky coach Pokey Chatman, whose team is leading the Eastern Conference.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Q: I’ve always wanted to ask about your name. Your mother named you Dana, right?
Chatman: I was a fat kid. You couldn’t tell from my cheeks? I was a chubby little kid poking around like Porky the Pig. My family, everybody started calling me “Pokey.” But it’s my legal name now. Being at LSU, everybody called me “Pokey,” so I’m signing autographs that way. Then I signed some tax documents as “Pokey” and the government thought “Dana” and “Pokey” were two different people. It was easier for me to pay a few hundred bucks and change my name. Some people don’t even know my real name.
Q: You’ve had some big comebacks to win without leading Rookie of the Year candidate Elena Delle Donne, including a franchise-record 25-point deficit to beat Connecticut on Sunday. How is Delle Donne’s left foot sprain?
Chatman: The good thing about it is it was a mild sprain, but we’re not going to rush her. I’m going to be extra cautious. The problem is keeping Elena patient. She thinks it’s a conspiracy and we just don’t want her to play. No, baby, it’s not that! That’s just a kid who’s hungry and wants to play. We laughed about it. But we’re not going to rush. The good thing is (center) Sylvia Fowles has really established herself (averaging 20.6 points, 11.8 rebounds and 2.2 blocks her past five games).
Q: So, tell me about Russia. It passed an anti-gay-propaganda law, and Olympians are taking all types of stands with the track competition in Moscow and the upcoming Winter Games in Sochi. You coached in Moscow for the past six years and had Seimone Augustus, who is a lesbian, on your team. What’s it going to be like for the lesbian players when they return this offseason?
Chatman: Maybe we lived in that sports bubble but we (her Russian team, Spartak) were pretty high-profile in Moscow. And a lot of teams in the city of Moscow had a lot of success. When that group was arrested, that was shocking to me. I never felt that angst and pressure when we were there. I should say this, nothing surprises me, but I never felt that oppression with players that were out. I’ve never heard any stories or anything negative. So, from that standpoint, it surprised me.
Q: What would be your suggestion to the out athletes who do plan to return this offseason?
Chatman: Everyone is really like, “Wow, what’s this really going to look like?” It’s getting a lot of attention now, but I can’t even comment on that because it’s sort of unfathomable to me in this day and age, if you’re here in America, to go back to that kind of (inequality). I can’t even comment on the ridiculous nature of it all.
Q: You won’t see how players handle themselves, however, because you opted not to sign a contract for a seventh season, right?
Chatman: I thought I’d only be over there for three years but really didn’t realize how much I’d enjoy the coaching experience. Our first year was Sue (Bird), Lauren (Jackson), Diana (Taurasi), Tina (Thompson), it was like, “Am I on ‘Candid Camera?’ Am I being punked?” I thoroughly enjoyed it. ... But I’d have five days off in the spring and 10 off in the fall. It’s a lot. I’m 44 years old and feel like I’m living out of a storage unit with two homes I don’t get to stay in.
Q: And you coached the Slovak national team, too. You’ll focus on the Sky this winter?
Chatman: With the new ESPN deal and the WNBA attention growing, I think there are some things I can do marketing-wise in Chicago. Elena will be around, too, so the timing was right. But I’ll keep a base in Louisiana. I’m a Southern girl.
Jayda Evans: 206-464-2067 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @JaydaEvans