Natasha Cloud Walks The Walk, On And Off The Court
There are times in life where you know you need to do something different.
Early in her WNBA career, Natasha Cloud lost her starting role with the Washington Mystics for an entire season. She refocused her energy on becoming a defensive force and once again started for the Mystics, including every game of their 2019 WNBA championship run.
The same can be said for Cloud’s personal life. While she already felt she spoke up when something wasn’t right, the killings of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery prompted a social justice uprising around the country, and Cloud needed to increase the volume of her voice.
The cause was important enough for Cloud to step away from the Mystics during the 2020 season and its campaign to defend the WNBA title and instead work on her commitment to her communities.
“I didn't feel that I could be a champion on the court and the champion in my community at the same time during that season, because I am a Black woman in America,” Cloud said. “This directly affects me. It directly affects my wife. It directly affects our future children. And so for me, it was just understanding that this was much bigger than myself and that I needed to be ‘two feet in’ with my community. I wanted to be on the front line — and to be present is to be impactful.”
Cloud returned to basketball action last week by joining a USA 3x3 Select Team that is providing competition for the USA Basketball 3x3 Olympic Qualifying Team in San Antonio as it prepares for the FIBA 3x3 Olympic Qualifying Tournament from May 26-30 in Graz, Austria.
While her basketball skills still are returning to top form, her voice is plenty strong off the court. The first part of her decision to get more involved in the nationwide conversation on race relations that actually seemed to move the needle was to step away from the Mystics.
“It was the hardest decision that I've made thus far in my career and really my life,” said Cloud, whose choice was supported by her teammates and her coach. “There was a lot of sleepless nights that went into that decision.”
Just days after Floyd’s death, she wrote a passionate article for The Players Tribune. She marched in protests. She spoke at rallies. Currently, she is part of the recently released HBO documentary, “The Day Sports Stood Still,” which first deals with how athletes dealt with the COVID-19 shutdown and then the roles they played in last summer’s social justice movement. Cloud also got involved with When We All Vote (Michelle Obama and Janelle Monae are among the founders) and More Than a Vote (including many WNBA and NBA stars). Cloud also helped convince city officials to turn the Mystics’ home arena into a voting site.
Perhaps one of the noteworthy moments for Cloud was the day after her interview on CNN with Don Lemon. She was contacted by NBA star Chris Paul, president of the National Basketball Players Association and executive producer of the HBO documentary.
“He was like, 'I absolutely love what you did. I love what you said, how you said it. I love what you stand for, and I want to help you in every facet,'” Cloud said. “It was really cool, because I grew up watching Chris. I grew up as the point guard, and that was one of my role models, one of my idols on the men's side, and for that to come full circle — I mean, when he wrote me, I was like, 'Wait, you're in my phone?'
“It was such a surreal moment for me just simply because I've always appreciated him as a player and as a person, to align with someone that you know has the same morals and values as you and understands what you're going through makes a world of a difference and makes my job easier to be that voice for the voiceless.”
Cloud is not the only WNBA player to take time away from the game for a social justice cause. For example, two-time Olympic and FIBA World Cup gold medalist Maya Moore, who was selected first overall in the 2011 draft by the Minnesota Lynx and led the team to four WNBA titles, has not played since the 2018 season as she pursues criminal justice reform. It hasn’t been unusual for WNBA players to speak up around such issues.
“I don't think that we get the respect that we deserve in the fight for social equity and for social justice,” Cloud said. “People have really focused on this last year and how impactful the W was across every facet, but we're not new to this. This has been going on for years. The OGs before me were paving the way, so when I came into the league in 2015 as a rookie, immediately I knew that this is who we are, this is what we do. It doesn't matter what the issue is that is at hand. The W was always going to be at the forefront of it.”
As she resumes basketball activities at the USA Basketball 3x3 Olympic Qualifying Team camp, Cloud says she will continue to be a strong voice in the community as well as a key player on the court.
“I think in 2019, I gave a glimpse of what it meant to be an activist and a WNBA champion at the same time when I took on gun violence in D.C., and so the goal remains the same,” Cloud said. “I'm going to be a champion on the court and the champion in my community, and I think I'm better built for it right now than I would have been last year. I have all my ducks in a row with who I'm aligned with and people that will help me along the way and make sure that I'm staying on track, not only on the court but off the court.
“So, I am two feet in with trying to win a WNBA championship, but I'm also two feet in with still pushing for social justice and social change.”