Words: Elle Clay

Photography: Ming Smith

Crystal Dangerfield’s ascent from second-round draft pick to WNBA Rookie of the Year shouldn’t surprise anyone. She’s been pursuing her dream of playing professional basketball since the age of five, when she and her siblings learned strict discipline from her parents (both U.S. Army veterans). Inevitably, those early lessons are apparent in Crystal’s work ethic and resulting achievements.

Standing at  5”5’, Crystal developed an exceptional skill set that has hushed height-focused speculation. She lets her game do the talking. By the time she reached high school, Crystal was lauded as the best point guard in the country. An astute floor general, she earned a reputation for her exceptional basketball IQ. She’s known to review hours of tape, in order to prepare for her opponents; as she describes it, “The more prepared you are, the less mistakes you make.” Constant preparation got her a spot on the rosters of the McDonald’s All American, Jordan Brand Classic, USA Team Basketball and ultimately, to the powerhouse — UConn.

Upon arriving at the illustrious campus, responsible for shaping some of the best guards of all time, Crystal was back at square one. She had to learn the winning system that put 11 National Championship banners in the stands. An honor roll student, she embraced her education and zeroed in on the details of the game. Though her toughness was tested with two painful hip injuries that required surgery, Crystal’s resilience eventually landed her as UConn’s second-highest single season assist leader.

By the time the 2020 WNBA Draft rolled around, Crystal had more than proven her worth on the court. It was surprising when she was chosen as the 16th pick by the Minnesota Lynx. Expected to be a backup on the guard-heavy squad, Crystal was soon thrust into a starting role. Like she had done in college and high school, Crystal dominated the floor and surpassed all expectations. She delivered a stellar season and was not only crowned the WNBA Rookie of the Year, but the first to emerge from the second round.

Crystal’s passion and determination don’t end on the court. She’s committed to using her platform, in order to uplift her community and inspire the next generation. Welcome to the family, Crystal.

How does it feel to be a member of the Jordan Brand family?

I honestly can’t put it into words. I told them in my first meeting that it would be a dream come true. It’s a blessing. When you think of basketball, you think about MJ, all of the history, the great players and where the Jordan Brand came from. This brand sticks out the most to me. I love it.

You had a phenomenal season and earned the WNBA Rookie Of The Year honor. How did your upbringing prepare you for professional basketball? How did your parents’ values translate to your game?

They instilled a work ethic in me. Obviously, since they went through army training, they know what it takes — strength and discipline that’s both mental and physical. That discipline was instilled in me from a young age.

Speaking of strength, you’ve dealt with injuries, doubters who’ve tried to focus on your height and being drafted later than expected. How have you stayed determined through setbacks?

I just try to keep my focus on me. Those injuries [at UConn] were my first injuries ever. It was tough, and there were three that required surgery over four years. I had to be mentally tough and not get too down on myself. Other than that, I focus on proving myself right and making myself happy, no matter what the outside noise is.

You have this super high basketball IQ and have earned a reputation for really doing your homework — studying film, being an honor roll student and requesting one-on-one time with your coaches. How has that mindset of constant preparation helped you dominate on the court?

The more prepared you are, the less mistakes you’ll make, and the more comfortable you feel out there. That’s how I like to set myself up for a game. If you’re anxious, you’re going to make more mistakes and not get the job done. Jitters are fine, everyone has jitters. If you prepare yourself as much as possible, you’re going to play well.

“I focus on proving myself right and making myself happy, no matter what the outside noise is.”

When you have those jitters, when do they subside? When you get on the court? 

As the bubble went on this season, jitters never really set in until the playoffs. That’s when I was like, “Okay, this is for real. We’re going for a championship.” It’s obviously what you work for the whole season, but I was just out there playing my rookie season and living my dream — just hooping. Little Crystal was in my head like, “Hey, we’re out here, we made it. Let’s go hoop.”

In your experience, what are the most important features in a basketball shoe?

Mobility and comfort. Style is definitely close behind those two, but as a point guard, I need mobility so I can move around and be shifty. And I love to have that comfort. You don’t want your feet hurting right after a game.

What are your first impressions of the Air Jordan XXXV?

They look great. Every colorway I’ve seen catches your eye. That goes for Air Jordans, in general. The Air Jordan XXXVs are carrying that legacy. I like the Eclipse Plate 2.0, how it looks, performs and reflects in the light.

There’s a lot of swagger and confidence that comes with being a Jordan Brand athlete. How would you describe that? 

I don’t even know if you can! It’s the shoes, the brand and everything that it all represents. People who play basketball know what it means to be a part of this brand, so you have to carry that, it’s like a chip on your shoulder. We know where it all started and who carried the name, so it’s a responsibility, as well. That’s how I feel.

Do you have any favorite Air Jordans or MJ memories?

I have three favorite Air Jordans: the Top 3 AJ1s, the Bred AJ4s and the AJ11 Concords. The Concords were the first Jordans that caught my attention. I got to meet MJ at the Jordan Brand Classic. I also always loved Space Jam.

You played in the Jordan Brand Classic in 2016. Aside from meeting MJ, what else do you remember from that time? You mentioned that it was your first time being in New York City.

Brooklyn was great and playing at Barclays was really fun. I thought Terminal 23 was amazing — the facility as a whole. We practiced there. I got to meet Maya Moore for the first time, and we talked about what it’d be like at UConn. I had a great experience.

The Jumpman has grown to represent more than just basketball and even sports. What does it represent to you?

For me, it’s a dream. It’s where my love for the game and my love for shoes connect. It’s a space where I know I can look around and see other people who are going to inspire me. Hopefully, I’ll inspire them in some way, too. 

Jordan Brand has committed to a mission of “action over words” when it comes to supporting the Black community. You’ve done work with numerous charities yourself. Why is giving back so important to you?

In the Black community, we’re already at such a disadvantage. So we either level the playing field, or we help get there. We have to give back, be present role models and help smaller Black communities, too. During my senior year of college, I learned a lot about food deserts and food insecurity. It’s important to step outside yourself and give back once you’re in a place to be able to do that.

Learn more about our WNBA family members here.