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Natasha Cloud partners with Athletes Unlimited in hopes of providing more offseason options for WNBA players — and bringing basketball to Philly

Cloud wants more WNBA and professional basketball players to consider a new basketball league instead of playing overseas.

Natasha Cloud is one of the WNBA players expected to play in the AU basketball league.
Natasha Cloud is one of the WNBA players expected to play in the AU basketball league.Read moreJessica Hill / AP

Natasha Cloud has horror stories from playing overseas.

Cloud played in Turkey after her rookie season in the WNBA. On top of the grueling process of ending one season and transitioning right into another, the playing conditions overseas often don’t match the WNBA.

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“The courts were so bad and slippery, I slipped, fell and tore my hip labrum,” Cloud said. “That could’ve been the end of my career.”

So Cloud was interested when Athletes Unlimited reached out about a women’s basketball league in the United States. The new AU basketball league, which begins on Jan. 26, will feature WNBA players Courtney Williams, Odyssey Sims and Jantel Lavender among the 44 players who will participate. Tryouts will be held on Dec. 11 and 12.

Another selling point for Cloud was her familiarity with the success of AU softball. It was a no-brainer for Cloud, whose wife, Aleshia Ocasio, is one of its star players with AU softball.

“I think this league has established itself already with softball, volleyball, lacrosse,” Cloud said. “Now it’s kind of coming into basketball.”

Playing overseas does have its advantages, namely salaries. But Cloud is focusing more on her mental health, too. Not only did she suffer the hip injury, but playing overseas took her away from her family for months at a time.

The biggest factor, Cloud said, is longevity. The AU basketball season will be a month long. Meanwhile, WNBA players aren’t getting many breaks, with some players leaving right after the WNBA season ends and returning shortly before the start of the next season.

“We have the ability to stay at home, get adequate treatment and play at elite facilities,” Cloud said, “that we don’t have to worry about the floor and not getting proper treatment and care.”

Since this is year one of the AU league, Cloud expects more players to get involved as the league grows.

“We’re going to have an elite level of play,” Cloud said. “But we wanted to make sure that we’re presenting opportunities to everyone and not allowing the politics that sometimes come with the WNBA to factor in.”

AU basketball in Philly?

The league will be based in Las Vegas, but that could change in the future. Cloud for one has been adamant about growing the game in Philly.

“I’m always going to push to bring things home to Philly,” Cloud said.

Recent success stories show that Philly is long overdue for having a professional women’s basketball team. The area has produced a long list of talent.

Cloud is a Broomall native who attended St. Joe’s and became a WNBA champion in 2019. Betnijah Laney played high school ball at Smyrna in Delaware, but she has local ties across the region. Kahleah Copper starred at Prep Charter before becoming one of the nation’s top recruits. Both players earned their first All-Star game appearances this season, and Copper added a WNBA title and Finals MVP.

When Cloud is not cheering for her own team, these are the players you see her rooting for.

“I want these young women out here to see themselves in us,” Cloud said, “and I want them to be able to see themselves up close and personal. We’re so proud of where we come from. Philly basketball molds you differently, it builds you differently.”

Future plans with Converse

Cloud made history when she became Converse Hoops’ first woman athlete. She has proven to be an ideal fit for a Converse brand that is reestablishing itself in the basketball community.

She also became the first WNBA player to have a player exclusive Converse shoe this summer, when she debuted the All Star BB Evo “Petal to the Metal” PEs.

Now, Cloud is teaming up with Converse with plans to do community work in Philly during the holiday season.