Angel Reese on Double Standards, Making History and the Future of Women’s Basketball

LSU basketball star Angel Reese opens up about life after her team’s historical championship win.

In April, when Louisiana State University (LSU) and the University of Iowa played for the NCAA Women’s Basketball National Championship, the world witnessed a title match that became so much more than just a final game. In many ways, it was symbolic of the compelling state of women’s sports, and the decades of work and advocacy that it has taken to get to a place of respect and interest. The game drew a record-breaking average of 9.9 million viewers (peaking at 12.6); a handful of the young players had inked NIL (name, image, and likeness) deals and spent the season stacking their bank accounts; and the trash talk on the court sent so many spectators and pundits into a tizzy that it became the subject of tweets, online debates, and think pieces for weeks to follow. If you compare the moment to a storm, there’s no debating which player was in the eye of it all: LSU’s standout forward and the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player, Angel Reese.

When I talk to Reese via Zoom in July, the 21-year-old rising senior is in the midst of a whirlwind summer. “I never know what’s going on,” she tells me, laughing. “I’m just here to get in the car and go.”

Angel Reese wearing a green dress.

Angel Reese sits in a chair wearing a green dress.

Angel Reese wearing a green dress.
The night before, she was at the ESPYs, rubbing elbows with celebrities — and winning Breakthrough Athlete of the Year. Before that she was in Leon, Mexico, playing for Team USA in the FIBA AmeriCup. Following our conversation — which takes place right after she wraps her Teen Vogue photo shoot in Los Angeles — she is off to Variety and Sportico’s Sports & Entertainment Summit, where she will formally launch an eponymous foundation that is dedicated to empowering young women.

An aptitude for basketball runs through Reese’s veins. Her mother, Angel Webb Reese, played in college and professionally, and younger brother, Julian, took to the sport from a young age and now plays at the University of Maryland. Growing up, daughter Reese lent her athleticism to volleyball, softball, cheerleading, and track. Her mom encouraged her and her brother to pursue all sports, but “she didn’t make us pick,” says Reese. “We just picked on our own, and I loved that she let us do that.” By high school, though, basketball had edged out the other options. “I’m super competitive, so having a brother, I always wanted to beat him in basketball.” Plus, “I thought I was pretty good.”

And she was. Reese often played with older kids and on boys’ teams in her recreation league, and she had exposure to WNBA talent. “I used to go to the Washington Mystics games all the time, so I would always see great players,” she says, naming Candace Parker and Maya Moore among her favorites.

After four years playing varsity at Baltimore’s St. Frances Academy, Reese received scholarship offers from 24 Division I programs as a five-star recruit, ultimately committing to the University of Maryland. Though her freshman season was marred by a fractured foot, she still helped the team win a Big 10 title and make it to the Sweet 16 after she recovered. Following a decorated sophomore season with multiple 20-plus point games, she transferred to LSU to play under legendary coach Kim Mulkey.

“The Southern hospitality, that’s real,” Reese says. “Down South, in Baton Rouge, they love me. I’m 17 hours away from home, but I never feel away from home.”

Angel Reese wears a dress and holds a basketball.

She quickly bonded with teammate Flau’jae Johnson, known for balancing her starting position alongside Reese with a flourishing rap career. “When I first met Angel, I was like, ‘Dang, she a beast!’” Johnson says via voice memo from vacation in the Bahamas. “I think we really became close on the court. She respects my work ethic and what I bring to the game and my energy, and I respect how she carries the team. As a friend, she’s real supportive. She’s the type to always be there for you, always show you love, and build your confidence.”

Early last season, as Reese, Johnson, and the rest of the LSU Tigers began winning their way to a national championship, Reese’s mother learned that a fan had nicknamed her daughter “Bayou Barbie.” Reese swiftly — and smartly — trademarked the moniker, which is a fitting one given her affinity for all things beauty. The six-foot-three-inch college senior usually gets her nails done every two weeks, but just ended an extended stretch between manicures for today’s shoot. “This is my first time having them done in 20 days,” she tells me, looking at her hands and smiling. “I’m so happy.”

Angel Reese holds her hands to her face.

Angel Reese holds her hands to her face.

Her hair, which she loves to switch up, was in box braids while she was playing in Mexico, and a high, cascading ponytail for the ESPYs. Today it’s long and wavy, parted in the middle. Regardless of the style, she says, “my edges always have to be done.” And so do her lashes, which she orders from Amazon and does herself. “I’m not paying $200 every time I have to get my lashes done,” she explains, quoting a price she was shocked to learn one of her Team USA teammates pays. “I try to save as much money as I can.”

And Reese is making a considerable amount of money. Through partnerships with brands including Coach, Amazon, and Mercedes Benz, she has become one of the highest-earning college athletes, with an estimated NIL valuation of up to $1.6 million. Her dream is to play in the WNBA, but, she says, “WNBA players don’t make as much money as they should. Being able to grow this now, while I’m in college, and doing this now can help me when I go to the WNBA.”

Still, for every deal Reese signs, there are several she turns down as she works alongside her mother, financial advisor, and manager to determine which opportunities are best for her growing brand. “Everything I post on my Instagram or TikTok is stuff that I actually like or stuff I like to eat or stuff I like to do or wear,” she says. “All money isn’t good money. I had to realize that early on.” When she splurges, it’s usually on handbags, extending to her off-court wardrobe of crop tops, miniskirts, and sneakers. “Whatever outfit [I’m] wearing, I want to wear sneakers.”

Angel Reese wears a purple outfit outside.

Angel Reese wears a purple outfit outside.

Angel Reese wears a purple outfit outside.

Angel Reese wears a purple outfit outside.

The unapologetic confidence that has helped make Reese a star is palpable, even through a computer screen. She smiles often and talks at a rapid-fire pace. Her responses don’t seem calculated and she doesn’t appear to be worried about saying the right or wrong thing; rather, she speaks freely and openly. Her Instagram captions are a master class in loving thyself: “face card got no spending limit,” “being young & sexy is so fun!,” and “I love being a Black queen” (which she wrote in all caps) are just a few.

She has maintained this self-assuredness in the face of criticism that teems with misogynoir. During that title game, Reese waved her hand in front of her face and pointed to her ring finger. Despite the fact that a white opponent made a similar gesture earlier in the tournament — and that men’s basketball is rife with much more offensive trash talk — Reese was immediately derided by some for being unsportsmanlike. The double standard is glaring, and Reese has been dealing with it since she was a preteen in Maryland.

“I think I just had to have thick skin at a young age,” she says. “I was put on a platform, I was always going viral for basketball. I don’t want to say [my confidence] was natural, but [you] have to have thick skin going into this industry. The best of the best, they get credited, they get critiqued, they get negative comments about everything.”

Angel Reese sitting in chair wearing a denim skirt.

Of course, there has always been an obvious double standard between men and women in sports, and Reese is among the athletes who are comfortable calling it out. “I think we don’t fit into the box,” she says of herself and her peers. “It’s been normalized for girls just to play nice.”

University of Michigan guard Laila Phelia has watched and admired Reese’s dogged approach to the game since the two were in middle school, and played with her on Team USA in Leon, where the two were roommates. “I met Angel in eighth grade at a Blue Star 30 camp in Las Vegas,” Phelia says over Zoom from Cincinnati. “She was dominating the court, and that always stayed with me. I didn’t know her that well in eighth grade, but I do remember watching her play. She’s always played with so much fire and so much heart. It was amazing.”

Since returning from the AmeriCup, where the team placed second behind Brazil, “everyone” has been asking Phelia about Reese, she says. Amid all the talk about individual prowess, Phelia is quick to point out Reese’s strength as a team player: “She’s an amazing teammate. She encourages each and every one of us to be at our best. Her having that confidence in me helped me so much. I loved being out there with her.”

When Reese and Phelia weren’t practicing or playing, they were often making content for Instagram and Tik Tok, where Reese has 2.4M and 2.5M followers, respectively. Prior to winning the national championship, Reese says, she was on social media often — scrolling, reading comments, and responding to DMs. “Now I get on social media, I post, and I get off,” she says. As much as she appreciates the tremendous amount of virtual support, the apps are also rife with negativity, which can be overwhelming. “Mentally, sometimes, I do need to just take a break, have some time to myself and enjoy the moment and enjoy life. I had to learn that maybe a month after we won the national championship.”

Angel Reese wears a black and white outfit against a white wall.

Angel Reese wears a black and white outfit against a white wall.

Recently, enjoyment abounds for Reese. Since leading LSU to the first women’s basketball title in the school’s history, she has appeared in the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue (“It was amazing — I love wearing bikinis,” she says); vacationed in Jamaica with her newish boyfriend Cam’ron Fletcher, who plays basketball for Florida State; and was featured in Lotto and Cardi B’s “Put It on Da Floor Again” video. “If I was a rapper, I don’t think I could live that life,” Reese says, laughing. “I didn’t finish until 3 a.m. It was a crazy long night, but oh, my God, it was so much fun.”

She also had a great time at the White House, a trip she debated taking after First Lady Jill Biden suggested the Iowa team should be invited too. “I didn’t know how the experience was going to be, but it was fun,” Reese recalls. “Meeting [President Biden and the first lady Dr. Jill Biden] was amazing. They were super congratulatory of us. I enjoyed my experience there.”

The fame that accompanies all this fun, Reese says, has been an adjustment: “I don’t feel like I’m a celebrity, but I think a lot of people look at me as a celebrity now because of the impact I’ve had on not just women’s basketball, but sports in general, and Black women. Things have changed for me.”

Being on campus got to be a bit too much after the championship, so now she opts for online classes. That her life outside of basketball would become internet fodder was unexpected. “I didn’t think I was going to be on Shade Room every time I post something,” she adds with a laugh.

Angel Reese wears a black and white outfit against a white wall.

 

As much as Reese relishes seizing the opportunities presented to her, she’s very clear about her focus. “School’s first, basketball is next,” she says. “I wouldn’t be here without school and basketball, so that’s my priority.”

In addition to going into the WNBA, she hopes to earn enough to help her mother retire. “My mom is my rock,” she says. “Everything I do is just for her and my brother.”

Julian has a similar outlook, which he shares via email: “Basketball, school, and being a supportive sibling are all things that have been a part of our lives since we were very young. So, to be honest, it isn’t hard balancing them as their importance has been instilled in us by our mom our entire lives.” He could not be happier for his sister — or more encouraged by her. “Seeing Angel grow her brand and evolve into the person she is today not only makes me proud to be her brother, but it inspires me to work even harder in school and on the basketball court.”

Today, Reese’s life is probably best summed up by another one of her Instagram captions: “season ended in April & i been still scoring since then.”

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