Nearly a year ago, as the country sat still with shelter-in-place protocols in the rising phases of the coronavirus pandemic, Erica McCall found herself questioning whether she belonged in the WNBA.
McCall, who had a stellar four-year college basketball career at Stanford under the winningest head coach in women’s college basketball in Tara Ann VanDerveer, had just been waived by the Indiana Fever after three seasons, the same team that drafted her in the second round of the 2017 WNBA draft.
The former two-time, All-Pac-12 performer—who compares herself to the Warriors’ Draymond Green because of his energy and impact—did not handle the news well.
“I was really down,” McCall says.
For McCall, it was not simply about being cut by Indiana; it was also about understanding her role in the WNBA and how she could best flourish.
“During a lot of my time in Indiana, I was worried about things that I wanted to do outside of my game to impress other people than playing my own game,” McCall says.
With most gyms closed due to COVID-19, McCall got creative in keeping herself in shape for her next WNBA opportunity. But while McCall changed her diet and ran three miles daily, she focused on having a positive mindset.
“There is always a bright side of things and positivity is something that I live by,” McCall says. “My faith was transformed during quarantine because it forced me to trust God a lot more and to know that he would give me the strength to get through this.”
After nearly three months away from a team, McCall earned another chance. The Atlanta Dream signed McCall off waivers shortly before the start of the abbreviated WNBA season in the Wubble (the WNBA’s version of the bubble) at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. But, after one game and 17 days later, the Dream released her.
For McCall, again, the word change had become second nature. This time, relying on her strongly built faith during quarantine paid off.
She remained in the Wubble, and the Minnesota Lynx signed McCall off waivers on July 30. The Lynx, despite losing three of their last five regular-season games, finished in the top eight teams to secure a playoff spot.
But after Minnesota fell short of a WNBA Finals appearance and with the Lynx’ new additions, “Bird”—the nickname she is often referred to with her last name resembling a bird call—is headed to the nation’s capital.
Washington, the 2019 WNBA champ, features a roster full of talent and returns its most important players in Elena Delle Donne and Tina Charles, who did not play in 2020. The Mystics also recently re-signed Natasha Cloud after she opted out last year to focus on social justice reform, in addition to having Alysha Clark and Myisha Hines-Allen. McCall’s signing could be a key piece for Washington as the Mystics look to compete with Chicago and Connecticut in the Eastern Conference.
Well before McCall landed an opportunity in Washington or even Minnesota, she relied on her faith and her not-so-fun training sessions with her brother, Justin McCall.
Working with Justin—a 6' 6" guard and forward at Cal State Bakersfield—helped her remember just how strong she could be under pressure.
“I hate working out with guys, but there was no one else I could practice against,” McCall says. “He is fast as lightning, but when I realized I could hang with him, I realized I belonged in the league.”
McCall also stays close with her mother and father, Sonya and Greg, as well as her sister, three-time WNBA All-Star and Connecticut Sun guard DeWanna Bonner. Sonya was a track athlete at Northern Arizona University, while Greg was a player at CSUB and is currently the women’s basketball coach at the university.
“My mother just inspires me and constantly pushes me to get better, and my father is my rock because he reminds me how hard I worked to get where I am and where I’ve been,” she says.
Bonner and McCall, although not twin sisters, share the same birthday: Aug. 21.
“She has inspired me my entire life,” McCall says. “All the knowledge, all of the love, I never take having a sister for granted.”
Meanwhile, Bonner says her sister’s strength is her inspiration.
“Her path has been so different and she still pushes through,” Bonner says. “She goes with the flow and never complains. I give her my words of encouragement, but it is so humbling to see her in every situation.”
When McCall landed on her feet with Minnesota, her trajectory looked as though it was moving upward. After defeating Phoenix in the second round of the playoffs, the Lynx met the Seattle Storm in the semifinals with hopes of earning a spot in the WNBA Finals. For McCall, it was a position that she never experienced before.
In her three seasons in Indiana, the Fever never made the playoffs. In a span of nearly two months, McCall was on the brink of potentially getting to the finals and competing against Bonner.
However, things did not go as planned. Seattle swept Minnesota, and Las Vegas defeated Connecticut 3–2 in the semifinals to earn a spot in the finals against the eventual champion Storm. With the Lynx season completed and free agency looming, it put McCall back in a familiar spot to figure out what was next.
McCall knew there was a possibility of not being on the Lynx’ roster for the 2021 season. Minnesota was looking to add more scoring, rebounding and defense after its exit from the playoffs.
The Lynx added two of the league’s most talented wing players in three-time All-Star Kayla McBride and Aerial Powers in free agency. Minnesota also signed forward Natalie Achonwa to help the WNBA’s career-leading rebounder, Sylvia Fowles, and power forward Damiris Dantas in the post.
Despite Minnesota re-signing McCall, the Lynx traded her to Washington on Feb. 5 in exchange for a 2022 third-round pick. McCall saw her experience in Minnesota as another building block for her future.
“I knew that when Minnesota picked up so many great pieces that I might fall toward the end,” McCall says. “In previous times in my career, I worried about things that I wanted to do outside of my game and impressing other people, but Fowles helped me stay confident and gave me tips on learning the game by doing the things I do well.”
As McCall’s new journey in Washington begins, she plans to fully embrace the city and everything it has to offer.
“That city is the history, the people and the culture. I remember playing there when I was in Indiana and the fans there were amazing and I am excited to potentially win a championship,” McCall said.
Coach Mike Thibault plans for McCall to be a focal piece in the rotation for Washington.
“She is a young, versatile post player who we felt like had untapped potential,” Thibault said. “She is a great rebounder and I’ve always told a post player that if the coach did not run a play for you, but you are willing to run the floor, get offensive rebounds and set good screens for teammates, you can get eight to 12 points a night.”
While McCall—who is currently playing overseas in Hungary—cannot wait to play for the Mystics, the forward said having a coach believe in her ability reaffirmed her belief that she belongs in the WNBA.
With a new team and new teammates to embrace, McCall turns her focus to becoming better against the best in the league, one of which she considers to be Delle Donne.
“Elena was my toughest opponent,” McCall says, laughing. “Now, she is my teammate so I do not have to worry about playing against her.”
Playing in Washington not only gives McCall a chance to play for a playoff contender, it gives her dad the opportunity to watch her and Bonner play more now that they are both in the Eastern Conference.
“My dad was smiling for two days straight,” McCall says.
As for Bonner, hearing the news of McCall signing with the Mystics made her reflect on their birthdays growing up and how they would be closer to each other moving forward.
Bonner grew up in Alabama while McCall grew up in California. Bonner’s summer trips to California to see McCall were a blast.
“We would take pictures and get dressed in our new Jordans growing up; it was cool,” Bonner said.
But, when it comes to the business of the basketball court, the two sisters will not take the competition lightly. McCall finally got a win in the WNBA against her sister last year for the first time.
“It took me three years to do it and she would always harp on how she was winning three straight years,” McCall says.
While Bonner is happy for her sister’s win, she laughs and says, “She still has to catch up.”