Sue Bird, Geno Auriemma, Dawn Staley and others pay tribute to ESPN's M.A. Voepel ahead of HOF award

M.A. Voepel has been courtside for 29 consecutive women's Final Fours and all but two WNBA Finals series. He will be awarded the Naismith Hall of Fame Curt Gowdy Media Award on Friday. Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

Pick any women's Final Four since 1993. Or just about every WNBA Finals in history. From chronicling how UConn and Tennessee transformed into the greatest rivalry in women's college basketball to capturing the evolution of the WNBA, ESPN reporter M.A. Voepel has been a constant courtside presence, documenting the growth of women's basketball at all levels.

"What he's done in his career, is shown up. He always shows up," Seattle Storm guard Sue Bird said. "You know it's a big game when he's in the building."

On Friday, Voepel will be honored with the Naismith Hall of Fame's Curt Gowdy Media Award, which is given annually to recognize outstanding contributions to basketball. Several members of the women's basketball community shared their thoughts on Voepel's impact on the coverage of the sport.

Dawn Staley, South Carolina women's basketball coach

Voepel has worked for ESPN since 1996, the same year he covered a gold medal run from Staley and USA Basketball at the Atlanta Olympics as well as the first of three consecutive NCAA championships from Chamique Holdsclaw and Tennessee -- before any of today's college players were even born. The year before, Voepel was on hand when UConn won its first national title, and has been courtside for all 10 that followed.

"Michael was at the foundation of women's sports coverage when it wasn't the popular thing to do. His compassionate storytelling brought athletes into our lives before we had other ways to make that connection, and it was invaluable in planting the seed for fans and for future athletes," said Gamecocks coach and two-time NCAA champion Staley, whom Voepel covered during her All-America career at Virginia. "His authentic interest in people -- not just the athlete they represent to the public -- continues to elevate women's sports."

Sue Bird, Seattle Storm star

In Voepel's ESPN story ahead of the 2017 WNBA All-Star Game in Seattle, Bird revealed she was gay and dating U.S. Soccer and Seattle Reign star Megan Rapinoe. Ahead of the final game of Bird's career earlier this week, the point guard said Voepel's constant presence builds trust with players.

"With that trust, you're able to have better interviews," Bird said. "What comes from that is great stories, great coverage. It's been a big part of the WNBA for sure, just being able to push this league forward.

"He's been really instrumental in getting those stories out and telling them in the right way."

Cathy Engelbert, WNBA commissioner

In the WNBA, that has included issues as much as individual profiles.

Over the past few seasons, Voepel has documented the league's progress on LGBTQ+ issues and its commitment to social justice, as well as helped readers better understand the league's collective bargaining agreement and salary structure and upcoming prioritization.

"Over 26 seasons, much has changed for the WNBA, and through it all, M.A. has been there masterfully telling every story along the way," Engelbert said. "M.A.'s impact on the women's basketball ecosystem is unparalleled."

Geno Auriemma, UConn women's basketball coach

Auriemma appreciates both Voepel's authenticity and devotion to women's basketball.

"There's not been an overabundance of people who've given themselves to the sport. Some people have covered the game, but that wasn't their primary passion, their primary focus," he said. "For Michael, I think that was something that endeared him to a lot of coaches. Here was someone who was dedicated and committed to growing awareness for the game and was looking for the good in the game. Someone who would shine a light on ... stories that I think people wouldn't normally get in the run of the mill coverage of women's basketball.

"I always enjoyed my conversations with Michael. I knew it would be a conversation that was real, genuine, from the heart. It wasn't, 'Hey, someone asked me to do this interview, but I don't really want to do this interview. I'd rather be covering some other sport.' I'll always be indebted to Michael for that and I know an awful lot of other coaches will be as well."

Kim Mulkey, LSU women's basketball coach

Count Mulkey among them. After winning three national titles at Baylor, Mulkey left to take over at LSU, and Voepel was on hand in Baton Rouge to capture the start of a new era last fall. Mulkey granted unprecedented access to Voepel, who spent multiple days with Mulkey's family and program to write what became one of the most distinctive pieces of the 2021-22 season.

"M.A.'s knowledge and dedication has helped push our game forward through in-depth storytelling and reporting," Mulkey said. "Throughout the years, M.A.'s coverage has been thorough, thoughtful and fair."

Michelle Smith, longtime colleague, former ESPN writer

Smith has worked side-by-side with Voepel for nearly three decades, and called her peer "my personal standard for covering the game of women's basketball."

"When something big happens in the game, his take is the one I want to see first," Smith said. "He has honored the game with his coverage, and the game is honored by having such an ethical and universally respected person as its chronicler."


Added Auriemma: "Everyone talked about Curt Gowdy as being the consummate professional, one that everyone knew you were going to get the truth about what the topic was and there was no hidden agenda. I think Michael represents that completely and is the perfect recipient for the Curt Gowdy Award."

ESPN's Kevin Pelton and Alexa Philippou contributed to this report.