Sports Journalism Blog

By Madie Chandler | @madie_chandler

Sports Capital Journalism Program

INDIANAPOLIS — The NBA All-Star Saturday Night court awaits the arrival of a pair of basketball’s most prolific shooters set to reenact Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs’ iconic Battle of the Sexes tennis match. The 2024 iteration of the event boasts the same head-to-head format as the 1973 challenge, but the net of this court hangs 10 feet high, and instead of a partition between athletes, it unifies them.

Fifty one years after the original Battle of the Sexes, these competitors will follow standard 3-point contest rules, with both shooters hoisting from the NBA 3-point line.

One brings layers of accolades – an NBA veteran of 15 years, a two-time Most Valuable Player, with four NBA championship rings. Another is still green, playing just four seasons with the WNBA’s New York Liberty but boasting a 44.8% success rate from 3-point land last season. She 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.

He is Stephen Curry, who has watched 3,642 of his NBA 3-point attempts fall through the net, good for a career 42.7% from beyond the arc, and the NBA’s all-time 3-point record. She is Sabrina Ionescu, who didn’t even shoot from 23 feet, 9 inches until Friday.

“I just practiced yesterday, so that’s my only practice that I had off of a rack,” Ionescu said with a confident smile. “…I’m always shooting the basketball…So I haven’t particularly practiced for this in any other way.” The WNBA’s 3-point line stretches just over 22 feet from the basket – nearly 17 inches closer than the NBA line that will be used in her competition with Curry.

“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 added.

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.

Stephen Curry and Sabrina Ionescu’s 3-point challenge is as much of a marquee event as the AT&T Slam Dunk challenge later in the evening. 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 hope to achieve through the night’s contest, as well as nurturing inspiration in the next generation of players.

“The end goal isn’t to win or lose this match,” Ionescu said. “It’s just to be able to understand what it means to be able to do this and have someone like Steph respect me enough to want to come out here and beat me.” Ionescu added that Curry shouted some playful boos in her direction during her practice session.

“Me and Sabrina talked about how cool of an opportunity it is to do something that’s never been done before in our game,” Curry said. “And for her to have a presence on this stage is going to do a lot to inspire the next generation of young boys and girls that want to compete and see themselves in either one of us.”