As we continue in lockdown, I’ve been trying to find little ways to improve my life and put a smile on my face. To that end, I wanted a WNBA coffee mug to brighten up my morning. Despite literally every NBA team having a coffee mug for sale in the NBA store, there are no coffee mugs for sale in the WNBA store and no officially licensed ones available anywhere as far as I could tell.
This is a tale as old as the WNBA itself: A WNBA fan wants merchandise and finds the options are very limited. While the WNBA has stepped up its supply of jerseys and normal merchandise, the league hardly sells any nicknacks or novelty items. The lack of these products becomes clear when comparing the NBA store to the WNBA store.
For example, I can buy a Miami Heat Gnome from the team’s 2014 playoff run or these hideous Washington Wizards cheetah print flip flops in addition to the rest of the countless random items in the NBA store. Yet, the WNBA store is bereft of anything close to this loveable nonsense.
Like many of you, I knew that Ebay would be my best hope. Ebay has long been a refuge for WNBA fans looking for merchandise. I searched WNBA and started scrolling and scrolling and scrolling. I do this for hours fairly often and mostly come up empty handed. Not this time. This time, I came away with my new favorite coffee mug and I needed to find out more about it. Here’s the story behind the Jonquel Jones Hug Mug.
Why does this exist
The Connecticut Sun created the Hug Mug as a gift for season ticket holders before the 2018 season. The team gives its most loyal fans a gift each season, a common practice for professional teams. In a phone interview, Connecticut Sun VP Amber Cox explained that the organization tries to come up with unique ways to reward season ticket holders. So she’s always scouring the internet to come up with ideas.
“As is the case with most things, the best ideas are stolen,” said Cox. “I saw a Buster Posey hug mug for the San Francisco Giants and thought it was absolutely adorable just in terms of like waking up and having coffee with your favorite player, giving you a hug on your coffee mug.”
Thus, the Hug Mug idea was born. Cox and the Sun had to figure out who the mug would feature. The team had options with star Chiney Ogwumike coming back from injury and a trio of players coming off breakout All-Star seasons in Alyssa Thomas, Jasmine Thomas, and Jonquel Jones. But only one of them fit this particular project: Jonquel Jones.
“[The mug] fits her personality in so many ways because JJ has one of the best smiles I’ve ever seen and [at least pre-Coronavirus] she’s quick to give a hug to anyone,” Cox said.
While she liked the idea of the mug, Jones became a little skeptical while doing awkward poses and hugging the air for the photo shoot. After seeing her stylized image on the mug, JJ thought it came out great and represented who she is as a person.
“I try to be a cheerful person. I try to be happy and try to think optimistically most times,” said the now two-time All-Star center. “So to see myself on the mug, smiling and embracing the cup, it is a great representation of me and my attitude in life in general.”
As someone using it often, I can confirm that the hug mug has a cheerfulness to it. Basketball and hugging are probably the two things I miss the most right now. Getting some of both from a coffee mug puts me in a good mood to start the day.
Why does it matter
JJ’s Hug Mug or similar items will not push the WNBA to new heights. But the league needs to continue finding ways to foster connections between players/teams and fans. While social media is the best tool for that task, nicknacks like the mug can play a huge role in reminding fans who these players actually are.
“We spend a lot of time talking about how we can bring [our players’] personalities and their stories to life because every single story that we have is important,” said Cox who has been with the Sun since 2016. “[Stuff like the hug mug] puts the pieces together and helps connect the dots for fans to create a real connection with our players beyond just the basketball.”
“A lot of times, [fans] just see us on the court or they see us in the autograph sessions, but those are very limited experiences,” explained Jonquel Jones. “Anytime you have something that you feel is a good representation of who you are that fans can see everyday, you’re happy about it. Hopefully we can do some more stuff like that in the future because I do think it’s a good thing for the organization and for myself in terms of personal branding.”
To help spark the next great Connecticut Sun nicknack, I asked both Amber and JJ about what mugs for the rest of the team would look like. For Curt Miller, both immediately said his signature stomp would be featured. Amber suggested using a beer stein to fit his whole body, which I am very here for. Jonquel came up with the “Mean Mug” for Alyssa Thomas to capture her aggression. When I said it’s hard to imagine Thomas off the court because of how intense she is on it, JJ joked that “she’s pretty intense off the court too,” despite being a very caring teammate.
The Hug Mug isn’t going to change the league or the world around it. But it can make people smile and connect that happiness to the WNBA. As a fan community, we focus on the game and the bigger picture so much that it’s easy to miss the importance of a smile to this league’s growth. People want to feel happy when they watch sports and things like this mug can help make that happen. I hope the league and/or teams invest in more novelty items like the Hug Mug going forward. However, as Jonquel explained to me, there is one downside to the Hug Mug: you can’t put it in the dishwasher.
“I put mine in the dishwasher like the first time I got it and it came out armless,” said Jones. “I’ve got an armless one, a headless one. So next time, we gotta put a little warning on there.”