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WNBA wish list: My hopes for the league in 2023

Breanna Stewart is one of many WNBA players who competes in an international league in the offseason. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

I’m not asking for much this holiday season — just a few simple things to help make the New Year bright for the WNBA. Coming off another successful season, with a continued rise in viewership and fan interaction across the board, there’s a lot to look forward to this upcoming season. But there are also some things the WNBA can and should improve upon next season.

In the spirit of the holidays, I present my 10-item WNBA wish list for 2023.

1. Throwback jerseys

Ahead of the regular season in 2021, the WNBA partnered with Nike to create a collection of new jerseys for each team in the league. The set featured three editions — Rebel, Heroine and Explorer — that were well-received by players and fans alike. But there have been no additions to the collection since then. NBA teams, on the other hand, have an average of four jerseys in their rotation, and recently, they’ve released new designs every season.

The WNBA is due for more jersey editions to stir up preseason hype among fans. How cool would throwbacks look for each team? Give me a 1997 New York Liberty design or a Las Vegas Aces/San Antonio Silver Stars retro look. Imagine how quickly they’d fly off the shelves.

2. Big free agency moves

WNBA free agency has never been more exciting. Just as the weather turns particularly cold and bleak in February, things heat up in the WNBA. While fans speculate, players take meetings with teams around the league who are desperately trying to lure them in. When the free-agency period kicks off, watching JWS analyst Rachel Galligan and others break new signings left and right only adds to the fun. This year, there are some big-name free agents in the mix, including Breanna Stewart, Nneka and Chiney Ogwumike, Diana Taurasi, Brittney Griner, Alysha Clark, Brionna Jones and about half of the Chicago Sky roster — Candance Parker, Allie Quigley, Courtney Vandersloot, Emma Meesseman and Azurá Stevens.

Taurasi and Griner have both indicated they will stay in Phoenix, but other decisions are up in the air. Will the Sky keep their core together? Will Stewie return to her home state to play for the Liberty? Will the Ogwumikes stay in Los Angeles as a package deal under new Sparks head coach Curt Miller? I can’t wait to see how it all plays out.

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2021 WNBA Finals MVP Kahleah Copper brought a competitive edge to the series. (Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images)

3. Team rivalries

One of the many reasons the 2021 Finals series between the Chicago Sky and Phoenix Mercury was so captivating is because of the on-court and off-court action. There was trash-talking, memes, Twitter beef, chippy play, a fist-fight with a locker-room door and some amazing basketball on display. But the rivalry didn’t extend into the following regular season as many had hoped, and currently, there’s no real WNBA rivalry to get behind. Remember Los Angeles Sparks vs. Minnesota Lynx? Detroit Shock vs. Phoenix Mercury? And Los Angeles Sparks vs. New York Liberty back in the day?

The WNBA needs team rivalries. They’re good for the league and fun for fans, making for must-see-TV during regular season broadcasts and upping the competitiveness for the players.

4. All-Star Weekend planning

Let’s be honest: WNBA All-Star Weekend could be so much more organized than it is, especially for fans. While last year’s festivities in Chicago were a success in terms of fan turnout and viewership, there were also some notable missteps. Saturday’s 3-point contest and skills competition were not held at Wintrust Arena due to a scheduling conflict, and fans were unable to attend. Additionally, location and event schedules weren’t released until Friday, causing confusion for attending fans.

The WNBA would benefit from getting ahead of schedule and planning accordingly this year, well before the regular season gets underway (there is already a report that the All-Star Game will return to Las Vegas in 2023). That would allow for fans to book flights, make hotel accommodations and prepare for what should be a celebratory and memorable weekend for the league.

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The 2022 WNBA All-Star Game brought a mix of fun and confusion for fans. (David Banks/USA TODAY Sports)

5. All-Star Weekend activities

While we’re on the topic of All-Star Weekend, let’s talk about adding more activities. The WNBA could get extra creative, mixing in events that are fun for both the fans and players. Giving fans a chance to watch and enjoy the skills competition is a top priority, of course. But how about expanding Saturday’s lineup? Add some one-on-one games — a Breanna Stewart and A’ja Wilson matchup would be prime viewing. Host a rookie versus vets game, or a rookie showcase game. Invite celebrities to come and participate. There’s a lot to explore and plenty of room for All-Star Weekend to grow.

6. Honoring the past

At times, it feels like there is a disconnect between the WNBA’s past and present, especially from the late 1990s and early 2000s. Aces owner Mark Davis set the bar this season by making it a point to honor former San Antonio Silver Stars — the Aces’ previous franchise — during Aces home games. The WNBA as a whole can follow suit and become more conscious of celebrating its lineage. That might include catching up with former players on a regular podcast or video series, acknowledging them on national broadcasts throughout the season, or featuring them in articles that explain what they are up to now. There’s a rich history with the league that is worth revisiting on a more regular basis.

7. Even more games on television

Between live broadcasts and streaming, the WNBA showcased a total of 147 regular games in 2022. Disney’s group of channels (ESPN, ESPN2 and ABC) aired 25 nationally televised games, which accounted for the league’s most-viewed season since 2008. Overall, viewership between CBS and Disney networks was the highest in the WNBA’s history with those partners. Each team in the league will play 40 games in 2023, and the WNBA has yet to release its broadcast and streaming schedule. But one thing is clear: There need to be more games on television and on channels where people can easily find them. As the fan base continues to grow, those viewership numbers will keep rising.

8. New and improved marketing

Some of you might not remember the WNBA commercials from the late ‘90s — but I do. They were so well-written and funny. For those who didn’t know who Tina Thompson, Sheryl Swoopes or Cynthia Cooper were, those TV spots put a face to players’ names. They also built momentum for the league and kept the start of the regular season on peoples’ minds. What happened to them? I don’t know, but they remind me of the league’s marketing possibilities.

Last February, the WNBA announced that it had raised $74 million in investment capital. Commissioner Cathy Engelbert pledged to use a portion of that money toward marketing efforts. The league needs to keep attracting fans in order to grow, and an overall marketing strategy helps give players opportunities, lure in would-be viewers and keep the WNBA relevant during quiet periods.

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Washington Mystics guard Natasha Cloud is one of multiple WNBA stars playing for AU in 2023. (Jade Hewitt/Athletes Unlimited)

9. Offseason content

In my recent conversation with Angel McCoughtry, the WNBA veteran made it a point to talk about the league’s lack of promotion of players during the offseason. The WNBA season is short compared to those of other major sports leagues, and from October to April, there’s a recognizable lull in coverage. With more and more players opting to stay stateside rather than compete overseas during the offseason, there are plenty of stories worth telling. Players are participating in the 2023 Athletes Unlimited basketball season, juggling multiple business ventures, getting into broadcasting, connecting with their alma maters as coaches and mentors, taking on modeling and fashion gigs, etc. The WNBA (and more independent media outlets) could provide fans with updates, pulling back the curtain on players’ lives when they’re not balling.

10. BG’s emotional, mental and physical recovery

Brittney Griner was unjustly detained in Russia in early February 2022, and after 10 months was finally released on Dec. 8. I can’t even begin to imagine the emotional, mental and physical ramifications of her imprisonment, and I hope she recovers in all three aspects of her life. It was encouraging to read her statement that she intends to play in the WNBA this season with the Mercury, and to see that she dunked after picking up a basketball for the first time in almost a year. My biggest holiday wish is that BG heals fully from this experience and ultimately basks in the joy of being on the court again.

Lyndsey D’Arcangelo is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports, covering the WNBA and college basketball. She also contributes to The Athletic and is the co-author of “Hail Mary: The Rise and Fall of the National Women’s Football League.” Follow Lyndsey on Twitter @darcangel21.

Cameron Brink likes Caitlin Clark for 2024 WNBA Rookie of the Year

Cameron Brink poses with Caitlin Clark at 2024 wnba draft in new york
Cameron Brink poses with fellow draftee — and possible WNBA ROY —Caitlin Clark. (Photo by Emily Johnson/NBAE via Getty Images)

Cameron Brink already has her rookie of the year pick for the upcoming WNBA season, and it’s Indiana-bound star Caitlin Clark

In the latest edition of Kelley on the Street, host Kelley O'Hara caught up with Brink in New York hours before the Stanford phenom went No. 2 overall to the Los Angeles Sparks at the 2024 WNBA Draft. When O’Hara asked who would win the WNBA's rookie of the year, she answered without pause.

"Caitlin Clark," she said, while a fan commented that she thought Brink would take home the award. Brink later added that the extra foul granted to WNBA players will be "good for me."

"I hope it’s me," Charisma Osborne, who was later drafted by the Phoenix Mercury, said when asked her ROY prediction. "But, I don’t know — we’ll see."

Watch more of Kelley on the Street:

Dash winger Maria Sanchez confirms trade request a day shy of NWSL deadline

María Sanchez of Houston Dash during a NWSL game
In December, Sanchez signed a new three-year contract with the club worth $1.5 million including bonuses and an option year. (Photo by Marcus Ingram/Getty Images)

Maria Sanchez issued a statement on Thursday, confirming recent reports that she has requested a trade from the Houston Dash. 

In it, she revealed that the club has been aware of the request "since late March."

"This has all taken a toll and isn’t an easy thing to talk about, but I want to confirm that I’ve requested an immediate trade," she wrote. "My expectations and reasons have been clear. I trust that my current club’s management will honor my decision in a timely manner and proceed with accepting a trade."

"I’m eager to refocus and dive back into what I love most: playing football," she concluded.

Reports of Sanchez's trade request first surfaced on ESPN last week, and were later confirmed by multiple sources. 

In December of last year, Sanchez signed a three-year contract with the Dash valued at $1.5 million including bonuses and an option year. It was the largest contract in NWSL history at the time — a figure that would be eclipsed by multiple contracts in the following months. 

Sanchez spent the offseason as a restricted free agent, meaning that Houston could match any other team's offer to retain her rights. Should the Dash trade Sanchez, her current contract terms would remain intact, limiting potential buyers to teams able to afford to take on an inking of that size.

The Dash has yet to address the trade, instead reiterating to ESPN that Sanchez is "under contract, a choice she made in free agency at the end of 2023." 

Both the NWSL trade window and transfer window close tonight, April 19th, at 12 a.m. ET. The window will stay closed through the next 11 regular season games, reopening on August 1st, 2024.

Seattle Storm debut state-of-the-art $64 million practice facility

Jewell Loyd #24 of the Seattle Storm during warms up during practice on July 11, 2020 at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida
Jewell Loyd, seen here practicing at Florida's IMG Academy, and her team are in for a major upgrade this season. (Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images)

The four-time league champion Seattle Storm unveiled their new practice facility on Thursday, with Storm co-owner Lisa Brummel dubbing Interbay's Seattle Storm Center for Basketball Performance the team’s "new home."

"It's just such a special space," Brummel told Fox 13 Seattle. "I think when the players get here, it's gonna be overwhelming."

The sprawling 50,000-square-foot, $64 million property is just the second designated practice facility to be designed and built expressly for a WNBA team, with the Storm further noting that 85% of all design and engineering team members involved in the project's construction were women and people of color. The finished product holds two professional indoor courts, two 3x3 outdoor courts, a state-of-the-art locker room, and players' lounge, plus designated areas for strength and conditioning, kitchen, dining, and nutrition, and recovery. 

"This facility reflects our commitment to providing our athletes an exceptional environment that supports their growth, health, and performance," said Storm co-owner Ginny Gilder in an official team release. "It’s built for women, by women, embodying our dedication to leading the way in professional women’s sports."

For their part, the team can't wait to make the faciilty their own.

"It's amazing," Storm guard Jewell Loyd told Fox 13. "Not having to drive everywhere around, knowing you have access anytime of the day to get into the gym, to workout." 

Head coach Noelle Quinn said she predicts the team is "never going to leave this building."

"Which is a good thing for me," she continued. "You talk about having an edge in performance. We want our athletes to not only perform on the court, but get whatever they need."

All of the Storm's staff and operations will now live under one roof, and the team also has plans to launch a youth basketball program operating out of the building.

Mystics relocate game to accommodate Caitlin Clark fans

Maya Caldwell, Erica Wheeler, and Lexie Hull of the Indiana Fever celebrate Caitlin Clark
Get ready — Caitlin Clark is coming to town. (Photo by Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images)

The Caitlin Clark effect is quickly making its mark on the big leagues, as WNBA host teams around the country rush to upgrade their Fever games to larger arenas in order to accommodate surging ticket sales.

With Clark mere weeks away from her Indiana Fever debut, both the Las Vegas Aces and Washington Mystics have officially relocated their scheduled home games with head coach Christie Sides' squad. On Thursday, the Mystics became the latest to adjust their plans, moving their June 7th matchup from Entertainment & Sports Arena in Southwest DC to the more centrally located — and much larger — Capital One Arena "due to unprecedented demand."

The Mystics home court's capacity taps out at 4,200, while Capital One Arena — home to the Wizards, Capitals, and Georgetown Hoya's Men's Basketball — can fit nearly five times that crowd at some 20,000 spectators.

"The move to Capital One Arena will allow for additional fans in the stands as well as premium hospitality options, including Suites and the all-new all-inclusive courtside Hennessy Lofts," the team announced via Thursday's press release.

The Aces were one of the first teams to switch venues, aiming to take on the Indiana Fever in front of as many as 20,000 fans inside T-Mobile Arena on July 2nd. That’s a sizable a boost from their home venue, which holds just 12,000.

For those still planning to face the Fever in their home arenas, ticket prices have skyrocketed. Previously scheduled construction has already forced the LA Sparks to relocate their first five games — including their May 24th clash with the Fever — to Long Beach State's Walter Pyramid. The temporary venue is quite the downsize, holding just 4,000 in comparison to Crypto.com Arena's near-19,000. As of Friday, the get-in price for that game started around $400.

Despite fans launching a Change.org petition urging relocation, the Chicago Sky say they're unable to move their June 23rd Fever meeting from Wintrust Arena's 10,000-seat facility to the 23,500-seat United Center due to a concert. Tickets for that game start around $325 as of Friday.

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