Thanksgiving Column: 5 things WNBA fans can be thankful for

Photo Credit -- AP/Jessica Hill

For many of us who are fans of women’s basketball, we are still keeping up to date with the latest in the sport as many notables of the WNBA are hooping overseas.

Also, there is more than enough in the realm of college basketball to keep us occupied.

But many of us are still having WNBA withdrawals. That long slog between now and May can sometimes feel like an eternity as we all know. But with the way time moves nowadays, that fifth month on the 2020 calendar will be here before we know it – and the W’s 2020 schedule will be released.

That said, we have plenty as fans to be thankful for. Yes, it is still unfortunate that many of the league’s talents go overseas to make some decent money and there is still a struggle going on for adequate media coverage, but there are positives to highlight as well.

Here’s an early suggestion – around the Thanksgiving dinner table, forget any political discussions as we know those can go in any number of directions – not just right or left. Instead, strike up some interesting conversation about women’s basketball, the WNBA and possibly convert your family and friends into new fans.

If you’re in New York, bring up how excited you are about the Liberty moving to Barclays Center (more on that in a bit) and possibly drafting Sabrina Ionescu first overall in next year’s draft. If in Oregon, start a convo about how you think the Ducks will win this year’s national title and send Ionescu to the Big Apple (?) a champion. If in Los Angeles, maybe discuss Derek Fisher and if he’s the right man for the job with the Sparks.

And if in Washington, this should be easy. Do not forget the Mystics in any dinner table chats about the District of Champions’ recent Titletown streak they have been on.

Anyway, without further ado, here are 5 things WNBA fans should be thankful for this Thanksgiving (and potential conversation starters in between gobbling down some turkey, stuffing and mac and cheese.

1) No more Westchester County Center for the Liberty

Let’s be honest – the Westchester County Center may have served its purpose as a temporary venue for the W’s flagship franchise while it was in transition from James Dolan and Madison Square Garden to Joe Tsai’s investment group.

But there’s a reason why it was referred to by Liz Cambage at her introductory Las Vegas Aces press conference as a “music hall” and why Imani McGee-Stafford called it a “church basement” on Twitter.

The 2020 season will be the first of many for the Liberty at Barclays Center and it can seat a heckuva lot more than the 2,300 they had to squeeze off of the White Plains Metro-North MTA stop and into the place. In fact, what is the County Center up to now in its post-Libs life?

Postponing the home opener of the Westchester Knicks because of damage to its basketball court.

Oh, Westchester…

2) Sabrina Ionescu

We sometimes get lost in the sauce to the point where we forget that Sabrina Ionescu was supposed to be the top pick of last season’s WNBA draft, but since she decided to forgo said draft to get one more chance at bringing a championship to Eugene, Ionescu returned to Oregon.

It is not every day where you see Team USA lose to anyone – whether it is the women’s basketball team at Stanford or when facing international rivals like Cambage’s Australian Opals or Nigeria’s D’Tigress. But the Ducks did just that earlier this month when they topped the United States women’s national team by a final of 93-86 in Eugene.

Ionescu scored 30 points in the victory, including 20 in the third quarter. It was only the second time that a college team had scored a victory over the mighty Team USA in history. The only other occasion going back to the late 90s? When Kara Lawson and Tamika Catchings donned Lady Vols orange.

Also – Nike made Ionescu jerseys and they became an instant hit, selling out within hours. Must we also mention that over 11,000 fans showed up for the Oregon-USA exhibition?

That’s right. For all the haters who say nobody watches women’s sports, 11,000 of those nobodies were treated to a scintillating contest at Eugene.

Ionescu’s star is only rising (she’s even talked about in some circles as women’s basketball’s version of Zion Williamson) and with the Liberty escaping from that “church basement” in White Plains, there may be no better place for her WNBA takeover to commence than the bright lights of Broadway.

Gotham awaits.

3) Guess who’s back?

While we were treated to yet another exciting WNBA campaign in 2019, it felt slightly less so as a great deal of notables were not on the court for either all or part of the season.

That who’s who included Breanna Stewart, Sue Bird, Maya Moore, Angel McCoughtry, Diana Taurasi and Skylar Diggins-Smith. It’s still yet to be determined as to if Moore will make a return to the W as she is focusing on her criminal justice pursuits, but the others should be ready to go for 2020. That will lead to rejuvenated seasons for the Seattle Storm, Dallas Wings, Phoenix Mercury and whichever team McCoughtry decides to hoop for next season.

Injuries are part of sports and may eventually happen throughout the course of one’s playing career. But the degree to which those injuries happened in the lead up to 2019 was different and a key cause of concern for last season. We’re speaking it into existence that the W will be at or close to full strength when the ball is tipped for the first time in 2020 which will make fans of the teams (and the league) very, very thankful.

4) Press corps

The thing you have to love about the WNBA’s press corps is that there’s a “We’re all in this together” attitude to covering the W, women’s basketball and women’s sports as a whole. From Swish Appeal to ESPNW to High Post Hoops to Bleacher Report (Ari Chambers, anyone?) to The Athletic (Erica Ayala, anyone?) to local work being done at publications such as the Chicago Sun-Times and New York Newsday, we all root for each other. The W is gradually gaining more media attention and we are all here for it.

In fact, when the Mystics were crowned as WNBA champions, it made the front page of the Washington Post’s sports section AND the front page front page itself (eat it, Tony Kornheiser).

A few years ago, we may have thought that a WNBA championship would have been an afterthought. Not anymore. We’re all up in and we’re here to stay – and grow.

5) Tokyo 2020

Just as a teaser … we at Beyond The W went all in (like the Aces) with covering the 2016 Olympics in Rio which culminated in Team USA winning its sixth consecutive gold medal.

So … you’re wondering if we have something similar planned for 2020 (and the short answer is yes, but more on that as we get closer to lighting the Olympic flame).

But … unlike other leagues (looking at you, NHL) that seem to want to shun their players from competing in the Olympics, the WNBA recognizes its place in the international sporting scene and knows that being part of the Games benefits both the league and the Olympics themselves.

While some aficionados of Team USA may be thinking that losing to Oregon could be a warning sign for next season, just remember that one of the reasons that warning sign was put on the side of the road – Ionescu – could earn a berth on the final roster that accompanies Dawn Staley to Japan. The irony is that the green and gold colors the Ducks don are the same colors that will likely be the biggest threat (once again) to USABWNT’s chances of lucky number seven – the Opals.

And while we lament the overseas travel of WNBA players, the Olympics are special because it’s different when representing your nation with a chance to add Olympic gold medals to the trophy case. It is the flagship international competition and only elevates the sport and the players.

Oh – and speaking of things to bring up at Thanksgiving dinner – there’s another.

Happy Holidays!

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