The 26th WNBA season opens tonight, and as the league begins its second quarter-century, it is poised to be even more popular and significant than ever. While it is still a fraction as popular as the MNBA, it is starting up with more momentum than ever for the women’s game (see the record-breaking Final Four numbers from earlier this spring, budding “superteams” in crucial markets, actual controversy with its defending champions and, yes, the return of a hero to a somewhat normal life.
The New York Liberty kick off their season in Washington with the trappings of a trio of superstars that their Barclay’s Center co-tenant Nets attempted without any of the drama. Sabrina Ionescu will be joined by newcomers Breanna Stewart, a UConn alumnus and two-time WNBA champion late of Seattle and Jonquel Jones, a four-time All-Star center who has starred for their “arch-rival” Connecticut Sun. Jones will square off against the Mystics’ star Elena Della Donne, attempting a comeback after a couple of injury-riddled seasons. The game is so big that it will actually air on a broadcast channel, WWOR/Channel 9, which used to be the Friday night home of the Knicks and occasionally the Nets way back in the day.
Meanwhile, in Indiana #1 draft choice Aliyah Boston will make her debut against Jones’ former team. Boston gained prominence with a South Carolina team that went unbeaten in 2021-22 and whose upset during the 2023 March Madness helped set the stage for the record-breaking ratings that Caitlin Clark and Angel Reece delivered. Boston is debuting for a team that won only 5 of 36 games this year, but she will be the first of this new generation of stars to begin play, and in a basketball-crazy state the sky’s the limit for her. Besides, it’s not like the Pacers have been all that great of late.
And finally, across the country the revamped Los Angeles Sparks, seeking a return to relevancy, will be tested early by the Phoenix Mercury, who will welcome back Brittany Griner to league competition after her storied captivity in Russia and her brave journey back to health and playing condition. Even the partisan (and likely sparse) Sparks crowd will no doubt be giving her a standing ovation tonight. I’d like to think the Lakers, who sorely need inspiration, let alone a win, might stop by to cheer her on.
Tomorrow afternoon, the defending champion Las Vegas Aces will open up their title defense with an ABC tilt in Seattle, but will do so without their coach, Becky Hammon, who is currently serving a suspension, as the Las-Vegas Review Journal’s Andy Yamashita reported earlier this week:
(C)oach Becky Hammon was suspended for two games without pay for violating league and team workplace policies. The WNBA also rescinded the team’s 2025 first-round draft pick after finding the Aces violated rules about impermissible player benefits.
The Aces had been under investigation since Jan. 21 following the decision to trade two-time All-Star and two-time Sixth Player of the Year Dearica Hamby to the Los Angeles Sparks. Hamby published a statement alleging the organization had bullied and discriminated against her because of her recent pregnancy.
The Aces’ statement voiced the organization’s continued support of Hammon, saying the WNBA’s findings “are inconsistent with what we know and love about her.”
“Becky is a caring human being who forges close personal relationships with her players,” the statement said. “We stand behind Coach Hammon as she continues to lead the Las Vegas Aces.”
And eventually Hammon will return with her own superteam, with Candace Parker joining incumbents Aja Wilson (the one on the cover of the Ruffles Double Cheese Twists bag) and Kelsey Plum. And the defacto role of villians.
All of this comes on the heels of a record-breaking crowd of nearly 20,000 for an exhibition game in Toronto last week, and growing rumors of sorely needed expansion. At the moment, there are only 132 jobs for professional women’s basketball players (there is yet no G League equivalent) and with the growth of the game it is expected that more quality players than ever will be capable of playing.
I’m hardly the target demo or gender, but I’m excited. I hope you might be able to be, too.