CHICAGO – WNBA All-Star weekend feels just as packed as the rest of the season. The festivities begin on the Orange Carpet on Friday night, less than 24 hours after six teams total played in Indianapolis, Phoenix and Los Angeles. It’s an early tip time on Sunday for the actual game, but then 10 teams are playing again Tuesday night.
And for the players here in Chicago, it’s by no means a break. They’ll do meet-and-greets with fans, work with partners on corporate activations and further promote the league at every turn. There’s also a Her Time to Play clinic and Nike Nationals is in town at nearby McCormick Place.
High school standouts like Judea (Juju) Watkins, the No. 2-ranked recruit in the class of 2023 by Just Women’s Sports, will play next door to today’s playing legends – Candace Parker, Sue Bird, Sylvia Fowles – and tomorrow’s superstars – Kahleah Copper, Kelsey Plum, Sabrina Ionescu and Rhyne Howard.
That handoff in stardom might be the most exciting part of this 2022 event. Breanna Stewart and A’ja Wilson, arguably the middle point in the rookie / veteran spectrum, conducted one final trade in the All-Star draft to swap their legendary co-captains of Bird and Fowles. In her final game, Bird will be with Stewart as she has all three of Stewie’s All-Star appearances. It just feels right. And Fowles is paired with Parker, a longtime friend and foe who came into the league with her in 2008.
For both Bird and Fowles, what else will players have in store for their final All-Star Games as both have announced they will retire when the season is done? And how will the young crew take that handoff? We saw last year how a determined emerging star can take over an All-Star Game. Arike Ogunbowale earned MVP in an upset of Team USA during the Olympic year format.
There are five players with double-digit years of WNBA experience in this game. And four are making their All-Star debuts. That’s not including the players who came close to the roster. Elena Delle Donne is in her ninth season of play and likely missed the mark because she isn’t available every game. Allisha Gray, one of the best 3-point shooters and rebounding guards this year, could easily have earned a spot. And Kelsey Mitchell was similarly in contention.
The thing about Mitchell is she’s with the Indiana Fever, the basement-dweller of the WNBA, who sinks out of consideration for fans. The Fever are the only team without a game on ESPN or ABC, channels with a wide reach that can be easily found by flipping through channels or a TV guide. Game placement does matter and viewership bores it out. The Fever are also the only team without a representative at the game, begging the question again on whether there should be a minimum of one per team given there are only 12.
The All-Star Game will air on ABC in the early afternoon time slot, another in for fans on an otherwise quiet July weekend. It’s coming from the home of the most recent champions, and ones that celebrated hard with their hometown heroes (Parker and Allie Quigley) as well as their adopted ones (the rest of the squad). Just like TV placement, city support matters.
It’s another prime opportunity to keep the momentum of the game going, even if we all feel we should be past it. Because this isn’t just a fun weekend slammed into a grind of a season before a FIBA World Cup that is a bigger deal for the women’s game than it is for the men’s. It’s a way to connect and show the talent as well as the personality of stars who deserve it, older to younger, veteran to rookie, established to emerging.
Fun notes ahead of the game:
– Four first-time selections: Sabrina Ionescu (Liberty), Kelsey Plum (Aces), Jackie Young (Aces), Rhyne Howard (Dream)
– Five times a Sparks player has won WNBA All-Star Game MVP, the most by any team (Lisa Leslie 3, Nikki Teasley 1, Candace Parker 1)
– Nine former No. 1 picks are among the 11 starters (including honorary All-Star Brittney Griner). The only non-No. 1 picks are Jonquel Jones (No. 6, 2016) and Sylvia Fowles (No. 2, 2008).
– In the league’s 26-year history, there have been 147 different players named All-Stars. The league previously had not made All-Star selections in Olympic years until 2021.
NBA 2K snubs Sylvia Fowles for cover
The NBA 2K23 cover is exactly the kind of thing people mean when they say there are biases at play when it comes to marketing and endorsements. It’s popularity contest and politics, as Jonquel Jones said.
The popular game announced its second-ever WNBA cover edition on Wednesday featuring Diana Taurasi and Sue Bird. It’s a great pairing since they’ve been linked for more than two decades dating to their time at UConn. Fans have been able to glimpse more of their off-court friendship in recent years, and they combined for a record five gold medals with Team USA.
You know who was on four of those gold-medal-winning teams? Sylvia Fowles, who as with Bird is also retiring after this season. That would have made it a perfect pairing. The Minnesota Lynx were not the only ones who immediately pointed out the continued problem that combines aspects like race, appearance, position and college affiliation.
It’s nothing against Taurasi and no one is arguing she’s a GOAT. Same with Bird. But Fowles is also a GOAT. She’s averaged more points (10.6) in international appearances than Bird and in line with Taruasi (11.4) while shooting 65%.
She doesn’t have as many WNBA titles as either Bird (4) or Taurasi (3), but she does have the Finals MVP award in both she has won. Fowles is a former MVP, unlike the guard duo, and four-time Defensive Player of the Year, making her one of only two WNBA players to win that many.
Debate is great in sports and the women’s game needs more of it in public spaces. But this goes beyond debate of who should get the cover. It digs deep into the issues – not all of which the WNBA front offices have full control over – of this society. If 2K ever expands to a WNBA legends cover (maybe by 2046 at this rate?) Then Fowles might have her shot. But for now, it’s another slight.
As for Taurasi and Bird, it’s a great accomplishment that’s long overdue. It was only last season Candace Parker became the first WNBA player on an NBA 2K league cover. Imagine the talent we could have been talking about if the game weren’t playing catch-up to put aging stars on the front.
Highlight of the week
But really, how ??
Washington Mystics forward Elena Delle Donne scored a season-high 26 points in the 85-66 win against the Atlanta Dream. Speaking of Delle Donne, the former MVP has a signature shoe with Nike. It was reported by Kareem Copeland of the Washington Post last week.
What you may have missed
Brittney Griner updates
What to watch this weekend
All games not on ABC or NBA TV are available on WNBA League Pass. Times have ET.
Friday: Orange Carpet (social channels)
Saturday: Skills competition and 3-point contest (3 pm, ESPN)
Sunday: All-Star – Team Stewart Vs. Team Wilson (1 pm, ABC)
First games out of the All-Star break:
Tuesday: Wings at Storm (3 pm, Facebook), Aces at Liberty (7 pm), Dream at Sky (8 pm), Mercury at Lynx (8 pm), Mystics at Sparks (10:30 pm)
Wednesday: Sun at Fever (noon, NBA TV)