);
WNBA

Minnesota Lynx star Kayla Alexander is embracing her role as a role model

When you hear the name Kayla Alexander, it's easy to think of the Minnesota Lynx star whose hard work has allowed her to be one of the less than 150 players good enough to play in the world's best league.

It's easy to think of her time at Syracuse where she finished her career as the school's all-time leader in points and blocks, while also setting the single-season scoring record.

It's also easy to think of her proudly representing the Canadian Women's national team at major tournaments around the world.

But Kayla Alexander is more than just an athlete.

She's a role model.

Growing up in Milton Ontario, Alexander didn't start playing the game of basketball to be an example for others, she did it for the love of the game. Somewhere along the way she found herself with the opportunity to help shape the next generation.

"When you first start playing ball - and I started playing when I was a kid - I wasn't thinking about the impact I would have on other people," Alexander told NBA.com. "I was thinking 'oh this is a fun sport. It's fun to play'.

"As you get older you start to realize and reflect on your career and you're like wow, it was the community. It was the people, coaches and parents that poured into me and encouraged me throughout my journey and I was like well I want to be that for the next generation moving forward.

"I know some athletes may not like it but I don't mind being a role model because at the end of the day when I was coming up in the sport I had people to look up to...people to encourage me, and I want to be that for the next generation."

Alexander was lucky to find her love for sports at a young age, but the reality is not everyone is so lucky. In Canada, a recent study shows that more than 60% of young girls aren't participating in sports of any kind. It's an alarming stat that just doesn't sit well with Alexander.

Earlier this month, Alexander took part in a zoom call with many other Canadian female athletes including Gold Medalist Rosie MacLennan and paralympic sprinter Marissa Papaconstantinou to share their stories and the benefit of sports.

On Thursday, the 29-year-old took part in a panel hosted by TSN's Kayla Grey and organized by Right to Play Canada - an organization dedicated to empower and educate kids to rise above adversity through activity and sport.

Alexander hasn't passed up an opportunity to be a vocal leader for young girls and boys to look up to over the last few weeks, and this isn't new for her. She's felt the drive to do something - to use her voice to inspire the youth, and she did.

In 2019, Alexander published a children's book she co-wrote with her sister Kesia called "The Magic of Basketball". The book combined her passion for art, sports, education and writing which she hopes piques the interest of young kids and encourages them to want to play sports.

"I love art and I was trying to find a way that could combine my love of art, basketball and love for kids. I went to school for education and enjoy writing, so I was trying to figure out how I could combine those four things and create something that I was passionate about and enjoy," Alexander continued. "The idea hit me to make a children's book and with this book specifically, I just reflected on my own journey with the game of basketball and all the blessings and the magical gifts it's given me throughout my entire life.

"And it's things that I use both on the court and off the court throughout my entire life. When you take the time to think about it there's so much power in sports that I wanted to find a way to illustrate that and show that to young kids to encourage them to play sports too.

"You don't have to play it to be the next NBA all-star, you don't have to chase a scholarship either but even if you just play for fun you're going to learn so many intangible skills that you will carry with you for the rest of your life."

The book, which is written in rhyme, follows the main character Kayla - a Black girl - as she learns how to play basketball. Kayla's journey in the book doesn't stop at learning the game, she also learns the benefits of the game.

While the story ended up being based on her own journey, Alexander wanted to feature a main character that was Black. Through her research, she realized that there weren't many children's books where the main character looked like her. There was also a lack of female representation in kids' sports books.

"When you look at children's books, I did some research and I think it said like 10% or less is of main characters are Black," Alexander said. "Even less when you look at the number of indigenous people or Asian people.

"I said to myself, I need to change that, so I wanted to create a character that looked like me as a young girl so that someone who looks like me that's a 12, 10 or five-year-old girl or boy can open up a book and see a character that looks like them.

"I want the main character to be a girl because you don't see very often sports books for young kids where the main character who's playing a sport is a female.

"I'm trying to change the whole narrative about girls in sports and getting them excited about sports because there's just so much opportunity and gifts that come through playing."

You don't have to interact with Alexander long to hear how passionate she is about encouraging kids to play sports. To her, the list of benefits are endless, including perseverance, goal setting and overcoming adversity.

The WNBA off-season which was extended due to the global pandemic has allowed Alexander some time to continue spreading her message to get active.

If all goes to plan, Alexander will be joining her Lynx teammates in Florida for a 22-game regular season set to start in mid-July. It will be a welcome sight for many WNBA fans across the globe. A small hope that things are slowly getting back to what we once called normal.

There are still many concerns around the coronavirus, especially in the state of Florida, where cases continue to rise.

The world is also a different place since the murder of George Floyd at the hands of former Minnesota police officer Derek Chauvin.

Alexander is aware of it all, and hopes that the league can return safely and that the players can use their platform in a positive way to promote change.

"I'm torn. A part of me is excited that they're trying to create an opportunity and a safe environment for us to play, but the other part of me is a little apprehensive because I do have questions about safety," Alexander said. "Whether we like it or not there's still a virus out there, we're still living through a pandemic and it's sadly claimed so many lives already.

"So when we do figure out how to make the season take place it's going to be different, but as athletes, we've learned over the years how to adapt and pivot and make the best of the situation before us.

"At the same time in a positive way, we can use this platform, because if we have a season it allows us to be in front of eyeballs and we can use our platform for social justice.

"I know that many of the women in the league are very adamant and want to use their voices to bring awareness to what's going on in the world, especially what's going on stateside with the racial injustice.

"If we can use our season to help bring attention to that, bring about change, encourage and educate, I think that will be a positive that comes from a season being played."

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA or its clubs.

More from NBA.com

#Doncic
Doncic records historic triple-double
Benyam Kidane
#PlayoffRaces
Who owns tiebreakers in the standings?
Gilbert McGregor
#GasolIbaka
Best centres in free agency
Scott Rafferty
#SS
Soundsystem Live: LeBron and Lakers lock up 1 seed, Raps still contenders
NBA.com Staff
vanvleet-070420-ftr-getty.jpg
Think VanVleet guarding you is a mismatch? Think again
Scott Rafferty
raptors-bucks-022020-ftr-getty.jpg
Raptors broadcast schedule for seeding games
NBA.com Staff
More News