LOS ANGELES — Maya Moore is ready for Rio.
While a long list of her male counterparts have opted out of Team USA duties, and stories about the Zika virus and Brazil’s financial crisis dominate headlines, the Minnesota Lynx forward is motivated to add a second gold medal to her collection.
“I’m very excited just to be able to share that special time with everyone from our coach to down to the four of us,” Moore told Yahoo Sports after Minnesota’s 72-69 win over the Los Angeles Sparks. “It’s going to be a really special time that we will take with us for the rest of our lives.”
Moore and Augustus said they have no hesitations about the Zika virus, which can cause serious birth defects and other medical problems. Despite assurances from the World Health Organization and government officials that the risk of spreading the virus is “very low,” many top athletes including Serena Williams, Hope Solo and Pau Gasol have expressed trepidation about the trip.
“We’ve just kinda been taking the cue from our staff at USA Basketball and we know that they have our best interests in mind,” Moore said. “They’re not going to put us in any situation that isn’t manageable. They’ve been informing us of what the risks are and information that they have. I’m just planning on playing basketball.”
Augustus also praised USA Basketball and its commitment to doing “whatever is necessary to keep people safe.”
Beyond the external issues surrounding the games, fatigue and injuries are also key concerns. Because of the WNBA’s limited salary cap, the game’s best spend their offseason playing overseas, where they can earn up to 12 times as much as they do stateside. This results in a grueling, 11-month schedule made tougher by the traveling and stress associated with a high-level international competition.
“We just try to be as efficient as possible and get our rest and nutrition and do all the strength training that we need to do to maintain and just go and play like we normally do,” said Moore, who missed the final minutes of Tuesday’s win with a thigh injury.
This year’s competition comes right in the midst of another record-setting season for the Lynx. The victory over the previously undefeated Sparks improved Minnesota’s record to 13-0, the league's best ever start.
Minnesota’s Olympic contingent will press pause on their pursuit of their third title in four years following their July 22 game against the Seattle Storm. They’ll then suit up for Team USA, starting with a four-team exhibition tournament and ending with a potential two weeks of play in Rio. WNBA action will resume again on Aug. 26, six days after Olympic competition ends.
“This year, our trainers did a great job of communicating with the trainers overseas as far as limits and minutes and the things we need to do with rehab and recovery,” Augustus said. “[Reeve] has been doing a great job as far as limiting our minutes here and giving us those off days and days when we need to sit out a practice.”
Despite the schedule stress, the Olympics offer plenty of benefits. Most importantly, playing on the international stage allows Team USA to introduce a new generation of players, like Breanna Stewart and Brittney Griner, to a worldwide audience at a time when the WNBA needs growth. Just four of the league’s original eight franchises remain in tact and, last year, average attendance fell 3.4 percent to the lowest mark in league history.
“It’s definitely something that’s going to build and help and create and stimulate and give us momentum,” Moore said. “You have the best players in the world on the same team for a month. It’s just gonna be fun basketball, being able to play with each other. It’s a great time for the fans of the WNBA all around the world to really enjoy the game.”