Thanksgiving Column: 5 things WNBA fans can be thankful for in 2020

Photo Credit: Lamar Carter

Because of the coronavirus pandemic and the fundamental changes it has made to how people live their lives, we are learning a hard lesson in appreciating things that we previously took for granted in our pre-COVID lives.

Sports are, of course, one of these. Sports are also something that has been adversely affected by the ongoing pandemic. From bubbles to lack of fan attendance in stadia, little things we did not think of even in a sporting sense are now being much more appreciated given the circumstances.

Women’s basketball has been no exception. Whether it was secluding the entirety of the 2020 season at the Florida wubble or travel and medical concerns keeping players such as Elena Delle Donne, Liz Cambage and Tina Charles from said wubble or the WNBL going import-less for this season, it is one that has had to make hard adjustments as well.

With Thanksgiving upon us and so many of us adjusting our traditional Thanksgiving plans to be in more synchrony with the ongoing pandemic, even things like food and family, aspects of all our lives that we sometimes took for granted have never been more precious since many of us will go this holiday season without being in the presence of those we cherish most near and dear. As I wrote a few months ago when this pandemic began really taking hold in North America, the overarching lesson should be to never take the little things for granted ever again – and have more love and appreciation for those things and people than ever before.

Even with our untenable circumstances that have been forced upon us, it is not only a time to reflect on things that we no longer take for granted, but also the things we still can give thanks for. The fact that we have made it this far through these times, our loved ones hopefully being healthy and the promise of better days to come.

I wrote one of these “5 things WNBA fans can be thankful for” pieces last year, but that was of course before any of us could have envisioned something like Mr. Covid could be a thing. That list was very basketball-centric, but lots has changed of course since then.

But these are five things WNBA fans can be thankful for in 2020.

1 – Activist Players

Whether it is Natasha Cloud, Renee Montgomery, Layshia Clarendon, Angel McCoughtry or any of the numerous activist players that are within the W’s ranks, WNBA players understand their place in society and in our national discourse. We should be thankful that a league that is made up, overwhelmingly of Black women understand that when the cameras are not rolling and the bright lights are not on, they are still overwhelmingly Black women at the end of the day.

They wore Breonna Taylor’s name on the backs of their jerseys. They protested the shooting of Jacob Blake. They clapped back at Atlanta Dream owner (and Georgia senator) Kelly Loeffler’s criticism of Black Lives Matter by wearing shirts in the wubble supporting her opponent, Raphael Warnock.

Even though this season may have been in said wubble, the W’s message of inclusion, diversity, betting on women and social justice was as widespread as ever.

2- Wubble success

We cannot lie. When Cathy Engelbert and the W made the initial announcement that the 2020 season would be played at the IMG Academy in Florida, we were more than concerned for our ladies.

At the time, COVID-19 was raging wild in Florida and the Sunshine State’s governor’s response was lackluster at best (side note – it still is lackluster).

But the WNBA showed exactly why we should bet on women. They got through the season with relatively few hiccups and had a robust testing and isolation infrastructure in place to ensure the 22-game slate was completed without a hitch. We will hear in the coming years about the overall toll being secluded took on everyone in Florida, but from a standpoint of the virus, the wubble was a major success.

3 – A return to arenas?

Las Vegas Aces coach Bill Laimbeer said prior to the announcement in an interview on ESPN that the W takes many of its cues from its big brother league, the NBA. This, obviously, is one of the worst kept secrets in sports, but we can already read the tea leaves from what the NBA has planned for what may be in store for the W in 2021.

The NBA is planning for the 2020-21 season to begin a few days prior to Christmas – in their home arenas even though a number of teams will likely play those games in empty stadia due to either local or statewide COVID precautions.

This tells me we may not see a second act for a wubble in 2021. And whether they are in empty arenas or stadia with capped attendance, it appears we will see the New York Liberty call Barclays Center home next season and the Atlanta Dream call Gateway Center Arena home next year.

4 – Player health

The health of the players was the biggest concern when the wubble was announced, and for the most part the health of the players has been protected thanks to their own precautions they’ve taken in addition to those of the leagues.

Some players have tested positive for the virus in the past, but from what we know the overall health of the players has been preserved – and that is something more important than any statistics, awards or championships at this point in time.

Let’s all hope that this remains the case.

5 – Stability

Do not look now, but there appears to be an increasing amount of stability within the WNBA as far as preserving the locations of its franchises.

The last relocation of a team that occurred was prior to the 2018 campaign when the San Antonio Stars moved to Las Vegas and became the Aces. Since then, we have had a few arena changes, but nothing in terms of teams relocating due to questionable finances even with the oft-scrutinized front office of the Atlanta Dream and Dallas Wings.

Hopefully this stability continues because commissioner Engelbert (and league president Lisa Borders before her) mentioned that establishing stability with the current 12 franchises was necessary before the WNBA could pursue every fan’s favorite word – expansion.

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