“I said to myself, ‘I can handle it, I can still play basketball. And I want to show girls that it’s possible to be a professional athlete,’” said Tatiana Calderon, a journeyman who plays for a Columbus team called NBASGoga, or Team Awesome.
Calderon, 27, is the story line for the new TV documentary series by WGBH, called “Professional Women’s Basketball.” The six-part series takes a close look at teams for local players that operate independently from the NCAA.
WNBA teams are year-round operations, and Calderon, who lives in Burlington, Vermont, says that’s where she started playing basketball. She dreamed of playing at Division III University of Vermont, but physical-education classes not only did not accommodate her big frame, but her state couldn’t find a local university interested in helping her transition to a college team.
Calderon grew up in the Dominican Republic, and after graduating with a journalism degree from Dominican University of Pennsylvania in 2011, she headed back home and became a part-time reporter for El Nuevo Día, the paper that covered the Dominican government. (It’s where she met Carolina Lago, her partner for the past two years.)
But Calderon was sure the path back to college was behind her. She was happy in Burlington, where she’d begun working for the city government. But she thought that was a temporary switch, and that she could go back to journalism school. She turned her attention to radio as a program director at 100.9 FM, and she did interviews with public figures, like former Vice President Joseph Biden and current Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy.
She wanted to go to a school that would give her the best chance to take another big leap in her basketball career. And when NBASGoga introduced itself at a professional showcase in Providence, R.I., she saw a way to continue playing in an arena that featured men’s teams. Calderon started working with the men, and she got enough to buy her own team when the fee kicked in.
“My story is very compelling because at the time she left, nobody really knew what women basketball was,” said Yamil Lager, the president of NBASGoga. “I mean, [WNBA head] Laurel Richie just came out a couple of years ago, with the all-girl team called the Dreamout, for now the Washington Mystics. It’s kind of the thing to go to now. And every year we’re seeing more girl teams. There are a couple of them, but they’re not a big deal because there’s a lot of boys teams there.”
The NBASGoga also pays full time as a full-time journalist for WMUR in Manchester, N.H., and Lager says he didn’t want to force Calderon to make a choice about basketball and journalism because “at some point she has to make a decision, and at some point it’s got to be the right time.”
So Calderon focuses on basketball, living in Vermont and the team, which features other local players, like Morgan Lococo, who grew up in the Washington area and has played at Notre Dame. That connection with colleges and universities provided the resources the NBASGoga needs, Lager said.
The documentary series shows Calderon, who is also a professional wrestler, shooting hoops with the CEO of the movie “La La Land,” Damien Chazelle, and showing the hip-hop artists Common and Janelle Monae how to hit a hook shot. Calderon also gives a tour of the team’s locker room in conversation with a couple of fans who were into their Portland team.
Lager says that the NBASGoga is still a relatively new organization, and that there’s a chance they could get other women into the NBA and WNBA — making them relevant on the same terms as their male counterparts. Calderon said she hopes more women see her story and have the courage to try to launch a professional career.
“It’s a way to understand that,” Calderon said. “Not only does it do because they can get a basketball player, but they can understand, ‘Oh, yeah, that’s not so bad.’”