-- "Yeah, watch me score!" Celi shouts as we walk out into the late afternoon sunshine on 7th Avenue. The sidewalk at Madison Square Garden (now an imaginary court for my daughters and their friend Alexia) is full-tilt. Five-year-old Celi whips a fast-paced, crossover dribble with an invisible ball.
Miriam, her little sister, is clumsily copying every move in a striped dress and New Balance sneakers.
They fly around what feels like center court with Alexia, who wears her hair pulled into a high ponytail with multi-colored rubber bands. Already they look prepared for tipoff, poised to pass the ball, dribble, fade -- they look like a team, their three bodies zipping and whooshing toward one another, toward winning.
Today we'll be attending our first, live WNBA game.
We arrive just in time for the inaugural 1997 Liberty team reunion, and the crowd's buzzing with memories. New York Liberty versus the Phoenix Mercury, and although new to the game, I'm amped to see Swin Cash, Tina Charles, Diana Taurasi and Brittney Griner in action. The New York Liberty is greeted with cheers from Maddie, the team's furry mascot, whom my youngest instantly loves.
From tipoff, the game explodes at a breakneck pace. Phoenix starts strong, but by the second quarter the home team has closed the gap. The girls join the chorus of "Let's go Liberty!" and "Defense!" My husband and I explain rules of the game to Celi and Miriam, point out players, show them how and why to jump out of their seats and when to quietly wiggle outstretched fingers during a free throw. They listen, they laugh, they dance during timeouts and see themselves on the giant GardenVision screen.
In the fourth quarter, Diana Taurasi sinks three free throws, forcing overtime. We live at the edge of our seats. In the end, the Phoenix Mercury inch past the New York Liberty, 104-97. It didn't stop our excitement.
"When can we go again?" Celi asks, her voice raised two octaves on a basketball high (with salty popcorn, hot dogs, and loads of M&M's).
After the game, we are invited by the Liberty to visit the locker room. We meet Swin Cash, whose name not only means "astounding woman," but who is astounding in all ways. She asks Celi for a hug and Celi moves right in -- as if she too knew that she was getting the chance to hug a WNBA legend.
Swin is retiring this year, and it felt supremely special to be sitting with her, so grateful for all she has done with for young people with Cash for Kids, and how much she has done for women and body image with her new campaign: #StrengthHasNoGender. We talked to her about icing her knees and how to take precautions with the body, and how to protect all that power. Then we met Tina Charles, who scored a mind-bending 26 points in the game.
She is fierce and committed on the court, and in the world as well: She recently committed to funding five four-year full secondary-school scholarships for girls in Africa through Connect To Learn, and with Hopey's Heart Foundation, dedicated to the memory of her late Aunt Maureen.
These women make a difference in real and substantial ways.
What a thrill to see them in person. Even Miriam, who was without a nap, gave a big thank you to Tina, obviously realizing she too was in the presence of greatness.
On the way out, we got the chance to meet Amanda Zahui B., who was once called basketball's marvelous mystery by the Star Tribune. There is nothing mysterious about how marvelous she is.
An international player originally from Sweden, at 6-foot-5, she towered over all of us.
We all looked up and smiled as she introduced herself to us as Z, a new player to the WNBA, coming from the Tulsa Shock and now making a name for herself with the Liberty. She reached out to shake Celi's hand and one of her tattoos read: "Soul is a feeling not a color ."
As we posed for photos, I couldn't help but think how special it was to meet all the players and witness women making history.
We are home now and feel electric with energy. We saw these women rock their bodies, saw them huddle and make jump shots, saw them hug and high-five. We saw them become family on the court, and we saw how they welcomed us, their new fans, as family in the locker room.
We just bought tickets again for September. We are ready for the rematch, ready to watch these teams meet up again in New York City, and we know all the women from the New York Liberty are ready as well. We have the tickets and now we are starting to know the game even better. We love the players.
Our daughters are already trying to be them, and I can't think of any better role models, can't think of anyone I'd rather them look up to. What an honor it was to meet women living so powerfully in their bodies, training, working, hustling, honoring them -- and women who live so brilliantly in their worlds, starting foundations, nonprofits, donating their time and their financial support.
They are living full-court in the world, and I can't wait to follow their flames.
Ellen Hagan is a Kentucky-born writer, performer, and educator. Her latest collection of poetry "Hemisphere," was published by Northwestern University Press, Spring 2015. Ellen's performance work has been showcased at The New York International Fringe and Los Angeles Women's Theater Festival. She is the recipient of the 2013 NoMAA Creative Arts Grant and received grants from the Kentucky Foundation for Women and the Kentucky Governor's School for the Arts.