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Kiah Stokes Discusses WNBA Strike & Whats Next for the Liberty

Basketball player about to take a shot/ JWS
Basketball player about to take a shot/ JWS

Kiah Stokes plays for the New York Liberty of the WNBA. A graduate of UConn, she won three national titles with the Huskies. She spoke with JWS about the Liberty’s struggles this season, how they’re building for the future, and the importance of the WNBA’s social justice platform.

You’re a verteran and a leader on the team. How have you rallied the team throughout what’s been a difficult season? 

It’s just tough because we don’t have a full roster. We had seven rookies, and then Sabrina [Ionescu] hurt her ankle so she hasn’t been around. It’s a lot of learning. I was fortunate that my rookie year we had great vets. We had Tina Charles, Swin Cash and Tanisha Wright. They know the game, they’ve been here, they’ve done everything that we want to do. I learned from them, but the biggest thing that I took from them is just to try to lead by example. So, coming to this team when I’m the second oldest person and third most veteran when it comes to years in the league, I wasn’t really ready in terms of being a leader. It was difficult for me, but the one thing I just tried to do was just play hard and do my job. And the coaching staff seems to like it. So I think I’m doing some things right.

This whole season has definitely been a learning process for everyone. Us older players call ourselves baby vets, because we’re vets compared to everyone else who’s a rookie, but in the league, this is my fifth season, Zahui’s in her sixth, I think Layshia’s in her seventh or eighth. But like I said, when I was a rookie, I had Swin Cash and Tanisha Wright who were 10 plus years in the league. So, we’re baby vets compared to them.

You have a new coach this season, Walt Hopkins, and a lot of new rookies. How has the team adjusted to the changes?

It’s been good. Our record doesn’t really show how good we can be, but like you said, it’s a new coach, new system, new everything. We’re in the middle of a pandemic. So, there’s a lot of things going against us. Everyone really wants to work hard. They show up every day at practice. It’s hard because we don’t have enough practice time to get the on court chemistry that we need. When you’re going against teams like Seattle who have been building this for years or Phoenix, although they have a new roster too, but they brought in superstars. But we’re getting there. The rookies, they’re super energetic, willing to learn. They’re easy to talk to. They don’t take things personally when you try to correct them or try to give them advice. I think that’s one thing that we’re super lucky on because a lot of teams have a lot of egos and we don’t have that, which is a very, very big blessing.

Now that you are almost done with the season, what are your thoughts on playing and living in a bubble?

Oh man, the bubble. I have a lot of complaints. I don’t know if I’m allowed to say all of them, but I will say the one good thing is we don’t have to travel for games, which has been amazing. My knees swell up when I fly, so I’m totally cool not flying. So that part has been really good. But it’s just hard because we can’t leave. We can’t do anything. We see the same people every day. It’s a lot. I don’t like being stuck in one spot. I don’t like Florida weather. It’s too hot. It rains all the time. I hate it.

But we still have a job, which I can’t say for a lot of people in America right now. So I’m trying not to complain, but it could be better, could also be worse. But this has never happened before. It’s all a learning process for everyone, and I know the league worked really, really hard to make this happen. I’m grateful for the opportunity and the job and just that we’re able to have a season. But bubble life is tough.

I talked to Sabrina when she went to see the doctors in New York, and I was just texting her, filling her in, just seeing how she was feeling. And she was like, “Bro, it’s so crazy. You don’t realize how isolated you are until you leave the bubble.” I was like, “Wait, what?” She’s like, “Yeah. You’re missing out on life.” I’m like, “Oh no.”

WNBA players joined the NBA in going on strike following the Jacob Blake shooting. I wanted to hear from your perspective how that all unfolded?

I guess it starts from the beginning. I think it was my rookie year or second year, us and Minnesota, we were the first teams to wear BLM tee-shirts to warm ups, and we got fined for all that. We’ve always been at the forefront of all that. And then like in the beginning of the season, Layshia Clarendon, she’s our oldest vet, and she is one of the head people on the social justice council, and so she is super passionate about this and her attitude about it makes us want to do more.

So when we all decided as a league to dedicate this season to Breonna Taylor, it was kind of a no brainer. And we’re lucky that there was a pandemic because there were no sports on TV forever. So, we knew we were going to have a platform. Off course, we get all the hate and the “Nobody watches you” comments. We don’t really care because the people that follow us understand what we do, and we’ll talk to anyone who will listen. And the fact that we’ve had a lot of games on TV and even us sitting out the game after the shooting, it just brings awareness. And I think that’s our whole thing is just bringing awareness to what’s going on. And it’s frustrating, the majority of our league is Black women and I’ve said this a million times, but the Black woman is the most disrespected woman in America. She’s sometimes forgotten about. So, we just want to keep bringing awareness and just the fact that there was another shooting with the police in the middle of the season. It’s tough and it’s draining.

And then that’s when it hits you, that we’re fortunate we have our jobs and we’re in a bubble and we’re safe here, but what if our family member was in that situation or what if a sister or a brother, or my father — it could be anyone that you know and love. It just hits home and it’s tough. So, while we’re here, yes, we want to win games, we want to work hard, we want to fight for the title and get the ring, but at the end of the day, life is bigger than basketball. So, we’re just trying to use our platform in any way we can just to bring awareness and demand justice.

How much discussion was there between players before sitting out games? Or was it a somewhat spontaneous decision?

There was a small discussion, and then once Milwaukee sat out, we were like, “Oh, it’s for sure. This is what we’re going to do.” It was tough though because our season is so short in general so we didn’t really think of the logistics of everything, like, okay, if we sit out now do we get the game back? Is it a forfeit? But at the time, we weren’t worried about that. We were worried about what’s right and what’s wrong. We just want to be seen and heard.

What has it been like being in the bubble while all of this is going on in the outside world?

It’s tough. It’s really hard because I feel like I can’t help in the ways that I want to. Just using our platform is all we can do right now. We had a meeting, and there were talks about players wanting to just go home after this because it’s draining emotionally and mentally and physically, but we decided if we’re here and we’re playing, we have a platform. We’re going to try to just do what we can, stay relevant, stay on TV, stay in the media. We need to keep the conversation going, because once the conversation dies down, people tend to forget about it. Especially in a hard time, everyone has short term memory and one day something goes viral, the next day everyone forgets about it. So we just have to stay relevant and keep the conversation going.

What more can the league do in order to amplify social justice messages? 

Besides having someone run for president? In all seriousness though, we’ve done a lot of voting initiatives because that’s how we can affect change by electing officials that we know and trust and believe in. People in their local markets are just reaching out, just trying to find people, make sure they vote, and know how to register.

I think we did a program here within the bubble to make sure all the players are registered to vote because there’s this stigma, “Oh, my one vote doesn’t mean anything,” but if a million people feel the same way then we’re out of luck. So, we’ve definitely just tried to reinforce how important voting is. Not only for president, but for your local officials, the Senate seats, because it’s a chain reaction, and that’s one thing that they really, really focused on because yes, we want to bring attention and awareness, but we need people in the positions who can actually make change. And that was the biggest thing I think that the league has done. And I think they will continue to do it as well.

What are you personally focused on during the rest season both on and off the court?

Off the court, just the same things with social justice. Just trying to have my voice be heard. On the court, I’m just trying to improve my game. It’s a contract season for me. So, I try to do my part to stay around in this league, but it is tough. And this season hasn’t been how he wanted it to go, especially record wise, but it’s one thing I just had to expand my game because the game is evolving.

And what would you say the team’s focus is for the last few games of the season? 

To perfect the little things. In film, the eye in the sky camera is the worst thing invented, because it shows literally every single mistake. You think in a game you’re doing things right, but then on film you’re like, “Oh, I should have been one more step this way. Or I should’ve cut now instead of then.” So we’re just focusing on the little things and our coach, he’s been great. He’s very positive and he understands the situation with the seven rookies and a pretty young team, but it’s just trying to do what you’re good at and do what you know how to do and just perfect that.

2023 MVP Breanna Stewart Drops 31 Points in Liberty’s Huge Win Over Fever

breanna stewart and jonquel jones of the new york liberty celebrate win over indiana fever
Stewie and the Liberty dominated the court throughout Thursday's Fever home opener. (Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)

The New York Liberty dominated Indiana on Thursday night, winning by a whopping 36 points in the Fever's home opener. 

A sold-out crowd of 17,274 was in attendance to watch as star rookie Caitlin Clark finished the 102-66 defeat with nine points, seven rebounds, and six assists. It’s the first time since January 2021 — her freshman season at Iowa — that Clark's been held to single-digit scoring. 

"The physicality is definitely up there... I'm easily pushed off screens," she told reporters after the loss. "The game seems a little fast for me right now. The more I play and the more comfortable I get, it's going to slow down a little bit. It will be easier for me to make reads, see things develop."

The Fever were outscored by a combined margin of 57 points in their first two games — the largest two-game point deficit in WNBA season-opening history, according to @ESPNStatsInfo.

"We've got to get to a level of toughness," Fever coach Christie Sides in her own postgame remarks. "When things are going south on us, we're not stopping the bleeding."

"I have great perspective on everything that happens," Clark added. "It was the same in my college career. There were some moments that were absolutely amazing. And there were some moments I was not happy with how I played and how my team performed. That's just life, that's just basketball."

Liberty guard Sabrina Ionescu, who herself experienced a rocky rookie season following a much-hyped college career, offered up some insight on the matter.

"In this league, there are tough defenses all centered around not letting you get the ball, trapping, not letting you score," Ionescu said. "There were many factors that played into what was a tough first season for me in the league, but it helps you be able to figure it out. You have to have those experiences."

But it was reigning league MVP Breanna Stewart that truly stole the show, racking up 31 points, 10 rebounds, four assists, three steals, and two blocks on the night.

"In general, I just wanted to come out more aggressive coming off of last game," Stewart said after putting up the 24th 30-point game in her career.

Stewart she also commended the fans inside Indianapolis's packed Gainbridge Fieldhouse, noting that she hopes that level of support to continue across the WNBA.

"This is how you want every game to be and when it's a sell-out crowd, it gives you a similar playoff atmosphere feel," she said. "People want to be a part of this and the thing now is to continue to sustain it, continue to take the momentum that we have and turn it into something more."

WNBA Commissioner Admits to ‘Faulty’ Charter Rollout

WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert at 2024 wnba draft
Cathy Engelbert at the 2024 WNBA Draft in New York. (Cora Veltman/Sportico via Getty Images)

WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert admitted to a "faulty rollout" of the new charter travel initiative on Thursday, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.

Ahead of Tuesday's season opener, it was announced that the only teams flying private this week would be Indiana and Minnesota. The announcement came mere days after the league made a new charter flight program for all WNBA teams public. At the time, they said it would be implemented "as soon as we have the planes."

But as two teams out of 12 chartered to their first games of the season, others like the Atlanta Dream and Chicago Sky were forced to fly commercial.

A town hall meeting between Engelbert and the players was held in response to the confusion. Everything from the league's new media rights deal to private travel was covered in the meeting, with players submitting their questions ahead of time. Sky center Elizabeth Williams told Sun-Times reporter Annie Costabile afterwards that cross-country flights were prioritized.

"Flights that are across the country like [the Lynx] going to Seattle, crossing multiple time zones, or flights that usually require a connection, those were the priorities," Williams said. "That’s why New York didn’t go to DC with a charter, but Minny goes to Seattle."

What’s unclear under that metric is that the Atlanta Dream played the Los Angeles Sparks on Wednesday, which could technically be classified as a cross-country flight. 

On Tuesday, rookie forward Angel Reese shared a photo on her Instagram story lamenting the league's use of commercial flights.

"Just praying that this is one of the last commercial flights the Sky has to fly," Reese posted. The team still has at least three commercial flights awaiting them in the near future.

"Obviously, I think all teams should be able to get chartered," Reese told the Sun-Times. "But I know moving forward... going in the right direction, being able to have some teams [chartering] is cool. Within the next weeks, everybody will be flying charter, which will be really good."

On Thursday, Lindsay Schnell of USAToday Sports confirmed that the league intends to have all teams on charter flights by May 21st.

Brazil Wins Bid for 2027 Women’s World Cup Host

fifa womens world cup trophy on display
The FIFA Women's World Cup trophy on display in Bangkok after Brazil was announced as the 2027 host country. (Thananuwat Srirasant - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)

Brazil has been named the host for the 2027 Women’s World Cup, with FIFA announced early Friday. 

The decision came after a vote at the 74th FIFA Congress in Bangkok, with Brazil earning 119 votes to the joint European bid’s 78. 

This will be Brazil’s first time hosting the Women’s World Cup, with the country having hosted the men’s World Cup twice before in 1950 and 2014. It will also be the first Women’s World Cup held in South America. The tournament will follow the same 32-team format as the 2023 WWC in Australia and New Zealand.

Brazil winning the bid was not entirely surprising after FIFA issued a report just last week, stating that the Brazilian bid had pulled ahead as host following technical inspection. After evaluation, Brazil was given a score of 4.0 out of 5, compared to the 3.7 awarded to the Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands.

Brazil ranked higher in a number of key areas, including stadiums, accommodations, fan zones, and transport infrastructure. Though considered to be a frontrunner, the US and Mexico withdrew their joint bid prior to the technical inspection period, saying they would instead focus their efforts on 2031.

On Friday, Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF) president Ednaldo Rodrigues called it a "victory." 

"We knew we would be celebrating a victory for South American women's soccer and for women," he told reporters. "You can be sure, with no vanity, we will accomplish the best World Cup for women."

"We are working on a transformation, not only for the country but for the continent," added bid team operational manager Valesca Araujo.

Brazil intends to use 10 of the venues utilized at the 2014 men’s World Cup, including holding the final in Rio de Janeiro on July 25th. The CBF's proposal outlines that the 2027 tournament run from June 24th through the end of July. Last summer’s World Cup began at the end of July and concluded on August 19th.

Another notable element of Brazil's newly unveiled plan to grow of the women’s game is that "all [men’s] clubs wishing to take part in high-level national and continental competitions must now provide a structure for a women’s team." While the definition of "structure" was not specifically identified, the country has set targets with CONMEBOL to help increase the number of women’s club teams in the country.

In last week's inspection findings, FIFA noted that selecting Brazil as the next WWC host could "have a tremendous impact on women's football in the region."

Chelsea Eyes Weekend Finale With WSL Title in Sight

chelsea players celebrate win against tottenham in the wsl
Chelsea beat Tottenham on Wednesday, moving to the top of the table in an effort to win departing coach Emma Hayes some silverware. (John Walton/PA Images via Getty Images)

Chelsea did what they needed to do on Wednesday in order to make Saturday's slate of season-ending WSL fixtures interesting: Beat Tottenham.

The Blues are now number one in the league, with an edge over Manchester City on goal differential thanks to an eight-goal outing against Bristol City last week. 

Yesterday's result tees up a league finale for the books as Chelsea looks to send coach Emma Hayes off with another trophy to add to her cabinet. The Blues will play FA Cup winner Manchester City at Old Trafford on Saturday, while City is away at Aston Villa.

"We will be leaving nothing on the pitch, we will be giving everything and no matter what the result is," Chelsea midfielder Erin Cuthbert said after Wednesday's win. "At least we can look each other in the eye and say we gave everything."

It makes for a thrilling end to Chelsea's Emma Hayes era, as the decorated WSL coach will take over the USWNT in June. And it comes after Hayes all but conceded the title race early this month after Chelsea fell to Liverpool 4-3.

"I think the title is done," Hayes said at the time. "Of course, mathematically, it's not, but I think the title is done. Our job between now and the end of the season is to keep pushing until the end, but I think it will be very difficult.

"We will never give up. But the title is far from us; it's not in our hands. I think City are deserving, their consistency has put them in that position. Of course, we will go to the end, but I don't think the title will be going to us this year."

Be it mind games or Hayes truly thinking her team was that far off, her words lit something in Chelsea. Their following two performances showed the team’s determination to have a shot at some silverware.

As for Saturday's schedule, Hayes believes her team is facing the "tougher of the two games."

"It's a fitting finale for me, being my final game," she told BBC Sport. "As I said to the players if someone gives you a second chance in life, make sure you don't need a third one. We're in the position we want to be in, and we'll give it everything on Saturday no matter what."

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