Breanna Stewart made charter flights a key part of her free-agency recruiting process, and the newly signed New York Liberty superstar doubled down on the issue in her introductory press conference at Barclays Center on Thursday morning.
The Liberty officially welcomed Stewart and Courtney Vandersloot to New York after the stars opted to sign with the team in free agency, signaling the start of a superteam era in the WNBA. Both players took significant pay cuts to play for the Liberty and meet salary cap requirements in 2023, with Stewart signing a one-year, $175,000 deal and Vandersloot signing on for two years at $189,000 in 2023 and $194,670 in 2024, according to Her Hoops Stats.
On Thursday, Stewart and Vandersloot made clear their desire to bring the Liberty their first championship in franchise history. In New York, they join Sabrina Ionescu, Betnijah Laney and Jonquel Jones, the 2021 WNBA MVP whom the Liberty acquired in a trade with Connecticut in January.
But they also cited the Liberty’s resources and shared values around the WNBA’s collective bargaining agreement as a big reason for their decision to join the team.
Stewart rallied support for charter flights during the free-agency process and reiterated her intentions on Thursday.
“It’s a conversation that needs to be had, a topic that needs to be talked about. When we talk about pushing the needle, raising the bar, it’s also that: player health and wellness … we wanna play our best to win, but also in front of fans,” Stewart told reporters.
“When talking to Clara and Joe [Tsai], they feel the same way. They’re fighting to elevate the standard. We’re hoping it’s not just a no, but can be a maybe and eventually a yes, when it comes to chartered flights.”
The Arrival. 🗽 pic.twitter.com/XfubZ82cGc— New York Liberty (@nyliberty) February 9, 2023
The Arrival. 🗽 pic.twitter.com/XfubZ82cGc
Liberty co-owner Clara Wu Tsai echoed Stewart’s comments and said the Liberty have been a primary advocate for resolving the charter flights issue and others like it.
“I just need to be a constant voice,” Tsai said. “I’ll get fined if I talk too much about anything related to the collective bargaining agreement … but I now believe it’s enough of a topic within the league and among the other governors that it’s going to be addressed by the commissioner.”
The Liberty were fined a league-record $500,000 for chartering flights for their players in the second half of the 2021 season. The WNBA does not allow teams to charter private flights for regular-season games under the current CBA.
“I believe the fine that we took and the statement that we gave spoke for itself. We spent three days together in Turkey talking about a lot of things,” Tsai said, referring to the Liberty’s visit with Stewart and Vandersloot during the recruiting process. “Hopefully they understood that it isn’t really this one issue, but it’s a number of things that we’re moving forward.”
The WNBA’s efforts to maintain competitive balance among its 12 teams have come under intense scrutiny in recent days. The Aces are currently under investigation for allegedly making under-the-table payments to players as incentive for signing with the team, The Next reported on Wednesday. Following the report, several WNBA team leaders called on the league to clarify salary cap rules and create a “level playing field.”