Sports Journalism Blog

By Madie Chandler | @madie_chandler

Sports Capital Journalism Program

INDIANAPOLIS — The NBA’s All-Star Saturday Night hosted two of basketball’s most prolific shooters in Stephen Curry and Sabrina Ionescu as the pair reenacted their own version of Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs’ iconic Battle of the Sexes tennis match. The 2024 edition of the event boasted the same head-to-head format as the 1973 challenge, but the net of this court hung 10 feet high, and instead of a partition between athletes, it unified them.

More than 50 years after the original Battle of the Sexes, the first challenge between NBA and WNBA players followed standard 3-point contest rules, and both shooters took shots from the NBA 3-point line. Ionescu, who said she didn’t shoot from 23 feet, 9 inches until Friday, made her first seven shots and nine of the first 10. Her final score of 26 was good enough to tie Damian Lillard’s winning score in the traditional 3-point contest earlier in the evening. Curry missed two of his first three shots but made nine of the last 10 for a score of 29, beating Ionescu by three points, and out-scoring all competitors in the NBA’s 3-point contest.

Curry brought layers of accolades – an NBA veteran of 15 years, a two-time Most Valuable Player, and winner of four NBA championship rings. Ionescu, playing just four seasons with the WNBA’s New York Liberty but boasting a 44.8% success rate from 3-point land last season, led her team to the WNBA finals for the franchise’s fifth time in 26 years, and holds the WNBA single-season 3-point record.

Curry, the NBA’s all-time 3-point leader with 3,642, a career 42.7% shooter from beyond the arc, and holder of the NBA’s all-time 3-point record, accepted a challenge raised by Ionescu.

TNT’s broadcast of the event questioned Ionescu’s decision to shoot from the NBA line, citing her status as a WNBA player with experience at the closer mark in league play. “That decision to move to the NBA line was something that I wanted to do from the beginning to just continue to push boundaries and equal the playing field…no matter how challenging or difficult that decision seems, I’d rather go down fighting for what I believe I’m capable of doing,” she said.

Curry and Ionescu were less concerned with the result of the event, and more focused on propelling the game of basketball forward, noting the challenge’s impact on the next generation of players. The progress in the promotion of women’s sports and in bridging the gap between the men’s and women’s game is something both competitors hoped to achieve through the night’s contest.

“I think it’s going to show a lot of young kids out there, a lot of people who might have not believed or even watched women’s sports that we’re able to go out there and put on a show,” Ionescu said after the event. “So it was really exciting to finally be able to do this.”

Curry, father of two girls, understands the importance of elevating women’s sports. “I think the media has changed the conversation for little boys and girls watching us play,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what gym you show up to, don’t discount who’s to your left and to your right. If they can shoot, they can shoot. We can compete and have fun.”

Curry admired Ionescu’s willingness to embody what it means to be a role model in women’s basketball as she took time to take photos with his daughters and “make them feel special,” he said, while playing college basketball at Oregon. Both athletes stress the importance of dissolving barriers that limit the growth of women in sports.

The third event of NBA All-Star Saturday Night, at Lucas Oil Stadium, took its place alongside the tennis match in another football stadium, the Astrodome in Houston. On September 20, 1973, King defeated Riggs, a 55-year-old former top men’s player, 6-4, 6-3, 6-3. More than a half-century later, animosity was replaced by admiration.

“I knew, no matter how the buildup was, there would be no stage that would be too bright for her,” Curry said of Ionescu following the event. The mutual admiration lifted the significance of the competition and stole the focus of the evening. Conversations shifted from WNBA vs. NBA debates and instead became centered on a future of basketball fandom where the women’s game holds the same space as the men’s league.

“This is something, if you’re supporting basketball in general, you’re supporting women’s basketball, it’s something that you continually do, and you find new creative ways to have invested in the game,” Curry said.

“It might be something we need to do more often,” Ionescu said.

More than a half century after the Battle of the Sexes, it didn’t matter that Ionescu didn’t defeat Curry in a 3-point shooting challenge, it just mattered that she was there.