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The star power of Skylar Diggins—and what she’s doing for female athletes everywhere

Skylar_Diggins_Ashley_sky_Walker-310_Today’s professional basketball scene has a short list of greats—LeBron James, Kevin Durant…and Skylar Diggins, the WNBA star has who’s been giving the sometimes-overshadowed league the attention it deserves (finally!) for the last two years.

A native of South Bend, Indiana (as well as a two-time All American at Notre Dame), and now a star player for the Tulsa Shock, 24-year-old Diggins is the only female athlete signed with Jay Z’s entertainment company Roc Nation, where she’s holding her own among the finest athletes, like the aforementioned Durant, New York Giants’ superstar Victor Cruz, and perennial MLB all-star Robinson Cano. Oh, and just last month, Jay announced that his first talk show will be hosted by Diggins. “But I still never see myself as a celebrity,” she said to us for this interview. Though she very much is.

Even those not into professional sports seem to know her name: Diggins has also been interviewed and photographed by Vogue and Sports Illustrated, partnered with Nikeadvocated for ending childhood obesity, and has a combined 1,159,000 followers on social media.

And if she feels a lot of pressure being one of the only female athletes in any game grabbing the kind of endorsements, press, and opportunities that their male counterparts get, well, that’s just fine with her.

“The product that women’s basketball players are putting out is amazing,” Diggins says. “It’s certainly a challenge that people don’t take women’s basketball as seriously as men’s, but it’s a challenge that we welcome. I’m more than willing to do my part to overcome it.”

Here’s how she’s doing just that, and inspiring lots of women (and little girls in gym class!) along the way. —Jamie McKillop

Skylar Diggins

What are some of the challenges you face as a female basketball player? Well, we’ve made a ton of strides and gotten over a ton of hurdles to prove ourselves as real athletes, and we have to continue to do that. There are so many women who blazed the trail for me. There wasn’t even a women’s league 20 years ago. There weren’t people in media outlets highlighting women’s basketball. And in some ways, there still is that traditional mindset that women shouldn’t play sports, because the WNBA is still fairly young. But we have to continue on that path, and create our own path where there isn’t one.

How do you deal with being treated like a celebrity? I see myself as the same Skylar. It’s bizarre to me when people ask for a picture. I still never see myself as a celebrity. I don’t travel with a ton of security. I love interaction. I’m very social, naturally. Being a basketball player, we’re one of the few sports where you can actually reach out and touch us on the court. I like being that tangible to my fans. It’s also why I’m big on social media.

How do you respond when people say women’s basketball isn’t as skilled as men’s basketball? Well, basketball is the only sport where we’re compared to the guys. Everyone says, “Oh, women can’t even dunk!” But a pick and roll in men’s basketball is a pick and roll in women’s basketball. And actually, I think women’s basketball has more fundamental players. I wish that more of the big sports outlets took our sport more seriously.

What’s your advice for young women who are just starting their careers? I work hard, and I try to be humble and relentless. Obviously I’m an advocate for healthy living, but also doing what you’re passionate about. You don’t have to play basketball. Whatever you wake up and think about and whatever you can’t see your life without, whether it be art, music, or sports, do it. Don’t take no for an answer. Go after it.

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(Photos: Skylar Diggins, Nike)