The New York Liberty already have Sabrina Ionescu and Jonquel Jones. Here’s why a Breanna Stewart Liberty move would benefit the entire league.
UPDATE 2/1: Breanna Stewart announced that she is signing with the New York Liberty in free agency.
The thing about momentum is that it doesn’t sustain itself. You can build up some steam and coast for a time, but sooner or later, you need another push.
The WNBA has entered the 2023 free agency season with a ton of momentum, fresh off its most-watched playoffs in 20 years and 11 months removed from a $75 million raise and billion-dollar valuation. Meanwhile, in-arena attendance is creeping up back to pre-pandemic levels and regular season TV ratings were their best in 14 years.
Now, with the Commissioner’s Cup adding more excitement to an expanded regular season and evolved playoff format — and with league expansion maybe on the horizon — the WNBA could be about to add a critical missing piece. One that could add sustained interest through the dog days of summer.
Breanna Stewart, one of the best players in the game, has been a rumored New York Liberty target for over a year, and the move could be about to happen. That brings us to an unquestionable reality: If Stewart does, in fact, sign with the New York Liberty, it would be one of the most important transactions in WNBA history.
Let’s make one thing clear off the bat: This is not meant to say that Stewie needs to come to New York for the sake of the league or that her decision should be about anything other than what is best for her and her family. There will be plenty of intrigue around this season no matter where she plays, and with Jonquel Jones calling Barclays Center home, the Liberty are going to be a factor no matter what.
But let’s face facts: A WNBA Big 3 of Stewart, Jones, and Sabrina Ionescu playing in New York would elevate this league more than anything else that can happen in the next few months.
This isn’t a pipe dream, either. As ESPN points out, the Liberty actually cleared cap space with the Jones trade and have more than enough to give Stewie a max offer. And they may not even be done moving salary.
So, until we’re told otherwise, let’s dream about this potential super-team, shall we?
The Original Big 3
Think back to the early days of the WNBA. The biggest draw in the league was the Houston Comets’ Big 3 in Tina Thompson, Sheryl Swoopes, and Cynthia Cooper. Not only did they win championships, they put butts in seats. Every year from 1998 to 2002 they drew enough fans to have led the 2022 WNBA in average attendance.
Come late summer, the Comets were routinely in the WNBA Finals. They won the first four championships and became the league’s first dynasty. They became the bandwagon outfit that you either loved or loved to hate.
And even as their championship star started to fade, Houston provided the perfect foil to up-and-coming powers like the Lisa Leslie-led Los Angeles Sparks and eventually Diana Taurasi‘s Phoenix Mercury.
More important than Houston’s dominance on the court, the original Comets teams provided inspiration for a generation of WNBA players to follow. That includes Nneka Ogwumike, who grew up going to Comets games, and Elena Delle Donne, who told Boardroom: “I’d watch [Swoopes] and lace up my shoes and go outside to the backyard and start trying to be Sheryl.”
The New York Moment
The Comets’ opponents in three of their initial four WNBA finals series? The New York Liberty. Those Liberty teams were undeniably excellent, led by the likes of Becky Hammon, Vickie Johnson, and Theresa Weatherspoon. They just never quite had enough to overcome the Houston juggernaut. Still, they drew massive crowds to Madison Square Garden, even outdrawing the Comets.
Today, New York calls Barclays Center home. It’s an NBA arena that the franchise hasn’t been able to fill quite yet. But the Liberty brass gives them a chance, unlike the multiple WNBA franchises that play in sub-5,000-seat arenas or force their teams into different arenas for playoff games to accommodate the NBA preseason.
So now consider the Liberty, who went 16-20 last season and exited early in the WNBA Playoffs, with this trio:
- Sabrina Ionescu: The former No. 1 pick who has become the face of the franchise and played up to that level after finally getting healthy last season.
- Jonquel Jones: The 2021 WNBA MVP, who reportedly requested specifically to be traded to the Liberty. She’ll move to a pro-sports city after toiling in local obscurity in a market in which every single basketball player in Storrs was better known than she was.
- Breanna Stewart: A player with GOAT potential who has earned her own namesake sneaker with Puma and can carry any team she plays on.
You think New York basketball fans would be excited about that? Even without Stewart, one of New York’s most famous fans is eager to watch this team at Barclays Center.
We’ll let the analysts break down who plays where and how each potential MVP can maximize their skill sets. What we know for sure is that people will pay to see it; Liberty fans have come out in droves before, and never in the franchise’s history have they had the chance to compile this much star power.
The thought gets even better when you put it into the context of the current WNBA. The 2022 champion Las Vegas Aces remain positively loaded, led by Kelsey Plum, A’ja Wilson, Jackie Young, and Chelsea Gray. They’re the known quantity — the defending champs with the most popular coach in the league in Hammon. The Liberty being their eastern counterpart would provide a great 1-2 punch, four must-see national TV games, and a potential Commissioners Cup final for the ages. And that’s all before the playoffs even start.
Yes, this could be the combination that brings that elusive first championship to the Liberty. More importantly, it can reignite a fanbase and maybe help lift a league. Now to get this piece published before Courtney Vandersloot comes aboard and every “Big 3″‘ reference needs to change to “Big 4.”
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