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WNBA

Breanna Stewart Goes Coast To Coast

SEATTLE, WASHINGTON - MAY 27: Breanna Stewart #30 of the Seattle Storm looks on against the New York Liberty in overtime at Climate Pledge Arena on May 27, 2022 in Seattle, Washington.
Steph Chambers/Getty Images

When Candace Parker decided to sign with Las Vegas this offseason, she left one and only one scenario in which the Aces could be upstaged. This is the one scenario: Breanna Stewart, the best player in her sport, announced today that she will join the New York Liberty as a free agent. She leaves Seattle after five seasons and two championships.

The challenge: A starting lineup of Chelsea Gray, Kelsey Plum, Jackie Young, A'ja Wilson and Parker. New York's answer: Stewart; another MVP in Jonquel Jones; and Sabrina Ionescu, who enjoyed a long-awaited breakout season last year. If anything, the "WNBA superteam" idea always felt kind of redundant. With more than 12 star players and no more than 12 teams, the WNBA is set up in a way that consolidates star talent already. The league's natural order is to pair up Brittney Griner and Diana Taurasi, or Sue Bird and Breanna Stewart. In their approach to team-building, Vegas and New York may simply be taking the status quo to an extreme. But they still very much change the league's competitive landscape. Entering last season, you could make the case for five or six contenders. That's impossible now. Of the teams in last year's semifinals, one (Aces) has improved and three (Sun, Storm, Sky) have been gutted.

Vegas, the team with fewer adjustments to make before next season, likely remains the championship favorite. But Stewart should be a fine fit with Jones; both are versatile enough scorers and defenders to coexist on the court. The Liberty still have some flexibility to make another roster move. (Perhaps even for Courtney Vandersloot, who could shift Ionescu to the shooting guard role she's quietly excelled in throughout her career.) For now, they've made the best roster move a team can make. What Parker brought to the Sky two seasons ago—the veteran calm, the championship experience, the all-purpose skill—Stewart brings to the Liberty. The oldest WNBA franchise never to win a championship could soon shed the label.

Stewart's announcement video showed her wearing a Liberty shirt underneath a practice jersey that read "I want to do my part to make the world a better place." I won't put too much weight into athlete sloganeering, but Stewart does seem to have a stronger face-of-the-league consciousness than she did even a year ago. (Maybe she was inspired her former teammate Sue Bird, who did that informal spokeswoman work for years before she retired.) Stewart told ESPN's Malika Andrews in an interview today that she was drawn to the New York media market and the platform it could give her. "I want to go to the place where I can continue to help this league become better, to continue to raise the standard," she said.

She tweeted last week about wanting to solve the league's travel woes and reportedly brought up the issue in her free agency conversations. Her new team's owner, Joe Tsai, belongs to the faction of WNBA owners pushing for leaguewide charter travel, which is currently prohibited by the collective bargaining agreement. In 2021, the league fined Tsai $500,000 for chartering multiple private flights for the team. But already, by choosing to play basketball in the time zone I, personally, live in, she has made the world a much better place.

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