WASHINGTON — Nearly an hour into the White House ceremony honoring the LSU women’s basketball team, President Joe Biden stepped away from the teleprompter and went off script as he walked toward Angel Reese.
“Later this afternoon I’m going to be with the Connecticut team, the men’s team, and your cousin wants to have a one-on-one,” Biden said, referring to UConn guard Jordan Hawkins, whose team was honored hours later. “And I put my money on you, kid.”
That seems to be a theme these days — putting your money on Reese, one of the most sought-after players in all of college sports. Just over a year after she transferred from Maryland to LSU, joining a team with nine newcomers and an unknown future on just how everything would gel, her status — when it comes to national recognition — has probably been elevated more than any player who has ever won the NCAA tournament’s most outstanding player award.
Male or female.
Reese has laid out the blueprint for college athletes on how to capitalize on name, image and likeness (NIL) deals, which have taken the world of college sports by storm. Her current NIL evaluation of $1.4 million ranks second among female athletes, and sits at 10th overall among all college athletes. And it’s rising.
The impact of Reese’s decision to continue her college career at LSU has been immense.
Her decision helped the team to win its first national basketball championship in school history (and the trip to the White House for Friday’s ceremony, which was briefly delayed when LSU freshman Sa’Myah Smith had to be taken away in a wheelchair after fainting on the crowded platform behind the president).
Her style and flair contributed to the most watched women’s basketball game in history (the title game against Iowa peaked at 12.6 million viewers).
And her ability to go against the norms of what’s expected of women athletes (“I don’t fit the narrative,” Reese said during the season in a message that resonated with a nation of female basketball players) has resulted in the interest in women’s basketball this past season becoming nearly equal to the men’s game (the men’s final averaged 12.34 million viewers, a decline of 17% from the previous year; the women’s final registered an 87% increase from the previous year).
Welcome to the season of Reese, the Bayou Barbie, who is currently riding a sudden wave of popularity that is unlike any we’ve ever witnessed.
Here’s a look at how Reese arrived.
Yesterday’s price is not today’s price
Just over a year ago, Reese — while still at Maryland — signed a NIL deal with Outback Steakhouse. She was featured in an ad campaign alongside her brother, Terrapins forward Julian Reese.
When last season started you could have found Reese taking drive-thru orders at Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers, a popular fast-food chain founded in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where she and other LSU athletes had secured deals.
Reese’s meteoric social media increase, which took her from 110,000 Instagram followers in January to nearly 2 million followers today? That began after she blocked a shot while holding her shoe in a Jan. 19 game against Arkansas and staring down guard Samara Spencer afterward, and her “I don’t fit the narrative” Twitter rant that followed, which more than tripled her followers in a matter of weeks.
The luxury brand Coach took notice and struck a deal that allowed Reese to give her teammates stylish handbags as gifts.
The social media explosion that followed LSU’s title win over Iowa — the WWE wrestler John Cena-inspired hand gesture and the pointing to her ring finger in the closing seconds of LSU’s championship game win — has elevated her status.
Reese announced this week that she’s a new brand ambassador with Mielle, a Black-owned brand that sells hair and skin products. Earlier this month she struck a deal with Mercedes-Benz of Baton Rouge that put her behind the wheel of a luxurious car.
That goes along with her growing list of NIL deals that includes Bose, Jan Sports and Caktus AI (which bills itself as an affordable AI assistant designed for students).
Of all the NIL basketball players who played during the NCAA tournament in March, Reese reportedly banked the top commission.
With a social media following of 4.1 million and rising, Reese ranked 10th in NIL evaluations (one of two women in the top 10, according to the On3 Valuation index), and has the top NIL evaluation in women’s college basketball.
Even as the brand value of her deals continues to rise, a woman still has to eat. Reese’s 21st birthday celebration was fueled by her paid partnership with Wingstop.
Expanded circle of friends and admirers
Yes, the Kardashian clan has been known to associate with a wide circle of athletes. But it’s likely that, until recently, they had never heard of the Bayou Barbie.
But there were Kim Kardashian and Reese taking a selfie together this month at the Disney Upfront 23 — upfronts are events held by networks that showcases talent before the launch of an advertising sales period — held in New York.
Selfies with Kardashian and sharing the stage with New York Liberty star Breanna Stewart at the upfronts, that’s all a part of Reese’s new celebrity-filled life.
How have her associations changed since arriving at LSU and winning a national title?
She’s tight with LSU legend Shaquille O’Neal (she calls him Uncle Shaq) who proclaimed her “the greatest athlete to ever come out of LSU” on his podcast.
She did a TikTok dance with Memphis Grizzlies guard Ja Morant.
She’s FaceTimed with rapper Lil Wayne, and even volunteered to appear in the video of the musical collaboration between the New Orleans native and LSU teammate/rapper Flau’jae Johnson.
And during an appearance on The Breakfast Club radio show/podcast, alongside Johnson, Reese said that Drake, Future, DJ Khaled and French Montana had all reached out to her following the national championship.
“They just congratulated me, it’s all congratulations,” Reese said.
College basketball’s top star will travel
Where has Reese been since the national championship?
The question should be where hasn’t Reese been.
Of course Reese has been in and out of Baton Rouge, where she was an attraction at the LSU spring game last month, where she took pictures with Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow and watched one of the players do one of her TikTok dances after scoring a touchdown.
Reese was in Los Angeles earlier this month as a guest on The Jennifer Hudson Show with teammates Johnson and Alexis Morris.
She followed that a few days later with her 21st birthday celebration in Atlanta at Revel nightclub, a trendy spot where Ne-Yo, Rae Sremmurd and Omarion have been known to pop bottles.
She sat in the stands at a Miami Heat playoff game a week after this Twitter post:
And she’s traveled to New York, appearing at the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue release party (Reese and LSU gymnast Olivia Dunne are the first college athletes to appear as Sports Illustrated swimsuit models), the Disney upfronts and a visit to the Meta office in Manhattan.
Seems to leave zero time for the basketball star to hoop, right?
Actually, that’s wrong.
Reese was in Colorado Springs, Colorado, two weeks ago practicing as a member of the USA team that will represent the country at the FIBA Women’s AmericCup that starts on July 1 in Mexico. Representing the United States will be a first for Reese, who outlined her journey after making the team.
LSU’s visit to the White House on Friday was the completion of a full-circle moment for Reese after she said that neither she nor the team would make the trip after first lady Jill Biden suggested invitations be extended to both LSU and Iowa following the national championship game.
That invite from the first lady was controversial because only championship teams are invited to the White House. Eventually the invitation was extended to the only deserving team, LSU.
In the end, it was all love between Reese and the Bidens. Reese presented the LSU No. 46 “FLOTUS” jersey to Jill Biden and fellow captain Emily Word presented the No. 46 “POTUS” jersey to Joe Biden and each player hugged the first family.
“I assume I’ll be seeing you next year, and the next year,” Joe Biden told LSU coach Kim Mulkey.