The waiting…and waiting…and waiting for the WNBA to release its 2021 schedule may have dragged out like a hit television series that reaches a cliffhanger mid-season and finally gives us the plot twist at the end of the season.
But, the closer we got to a scheduled start of the season in May, we were going to get a schedule release – it was only a matter of when. Tuesday April 13 was that day when the W finally dropped its schedule for this season – its 25th in history.
The season will tip off the evening of May 14, so plan your WNBA And Chill arrangements accordingly.
What stands out about this year’s schedule? Here are five noteworthy items pertaining to this year as the W becomes a quarter of a century old.
Friday May 14 is, of course, the big day as the 25th rendition of WNBA basketball tips off with four primetime contests. The first game of the season will feature the Indiana Fever heading to Barclays Center to take on the New York Liberty as the Lib will (finally!) play a full season in Brooklyn. The last time the Liberty opened a season at home against the Fever, the end result was a Teaira McCowan late-fourth quarter putback that lifted Indiana over New York. Lib Loyals hope that this time will be different with Sabrina Ionescu returning for the black and seafoam since rolling her ankle in the bubble against the Atlanta Dream last season.
At 7:30, the Connecticut Sun, fittingly will open the season in College Park at the Atlanta Dream – a team will plenty of Sun alums in its roster (Courtney Williams, Shekinna Stricklen) and front office (Nicki Collen, Chris Sienko).
Later that night, the Phoenix Mercury will open the season on the road at the Minnesota Lynx. Also, it will be the Dallas Wings and Los Angeles Sparks in Tinseltown.
The following day will see the Chicago Sky take to the road at the Washington Mystics in what will be Tina Charles’ first game in ‘Stics colors and Candace Parker’s first matchup donning Sky blue. After that, we will see a rematch of last year’s bubble Finals when the (at full strength with Liz Cambage) Las Vegas Aces and Seattle Storm do battle in the Pacific Northwest.
The following Friday will also feature a four-game slate … with one of those games being Tina Charles seeing her former team for the first time as the Mystics host New York at the DC Entertainment and Sports Arena. It will also see Chelsea Gray see her former team, the Sparks, for the first time as LA visits Vegas at what is now Michelob Ultra Arena.
The following day, the Storm, now with Katie Lou Samuelson, will get together with the Dallas Wings at College Park Center in Arlington.
Candace Parker will see her former team, the Sparks, for the first time at Wintrust Arena when Los Angeles visits Chicago on May 28. The two teams will get together again on May 30 in the Windy City and again on June 5 – in Los Angeles. Prior to that day, Betnijah Laney, last year’s Most Improved Player, will see her ex-team as Atlanta travels to Gotham for a matchup with the Liberty on May 29. June 3 will see 2019 All-Star Game MVP Erica Wheeler face her old team when the Fever get together with the Sparks in LA.
On June 8, Aerial Powers returns to Washington with her new team, the Lynx, at the Mystics. Five days later, Kia Nurse and her new team, the Phoenix Mercury, will host her old team, the Liberty at Phoenix Suns Arena. Another ex-Lib, Amanda Zahui B. will host New York in Southern California as the Sparks and Liberty do battle in LA.
June 22 will see a clash of the last two WNBA champions as the homestanding Seattle Storm host the Washington Mystics. It will also be the first time for Alysha Clark against her former team. Three days later, Kayla McBride and her Lynx will host her former team, the Aces at Target Center in Minneapolis.
July 3 is sure to be a watershed moment in Charles’ career as she returns to her hometown of New York with the Mystics to take on the Liberty at Atlantic and Flatbush.
In the first day after the Olympic break (Aug 15), the WNBA will have a WNBA All Day (similar to what the league had to open the 2018 season) with all 12 teams taking the court fresh off of Tokyo 2020. The Sky will host the Storm at Wintrust, the Wings host the Sun at Arlington, the Aces will see the Mystics at Michelob with the Mercury and Dream getting together in Phoenix. The Lynx and Liberty will meet up in Minnesota and the Sparks host the Fever in Los Angeles.
Ten of those 12 teams will be back on the court on August 17 – with the two exceptions being the Storm and Liberty. New York will host Seattle at Barclays on August 18 in what will be Natasha Howard and Sami Whitcomb’s first contest against their former club. On September 10, Natalie Achonwa and the Lynx will host her former team, the Fever at Target Center.
Along with this being the first season for the Liberty at Barclays Center and the Dream at Gateway Center Arena, other teams also had some arena news that was revealed with Tuesday’s schedule release.
The Sparks will play 11 of its 16 home games at the Los Angeles Convention Center because of NBA scheduling conflicts at Staples Center. The first game for the Sparks back at Staples will be after the Olympic break when they meet up with the Fever in LA for WNBA All Day on August 15.
The defending champion Storm will play its entire home slate at Angel of the Winds Arena in Everett before moving full time into the brand new Climate Pledge Arena for the 2022 season and beyond. In 2019, the Storm split its home schedule between Angel of the Winds Arena and Alaska Airlines Arena on the campus of the University of Washington.
The Fever will host its first four home matchups at Bankers Life Fieldhouse before moving to Indiana Farmers Coliseum for the remainder of its home slate. Indiana’s first home game at IFC will be on June 12 when its rivals from up I-55, the Sky, pay the Hoosier State a visit.
As for the Aces, they will return to Michelob Ultra Arena for the 2021 season. After the Aces’ sale from MGM Resorts International to Las Vegas Raiders owner Mark Davis, there was concern about where the Aces would play despite Davis’ solid relationship with MGM Resorts. At least for this season, those questions have been answered.
To alleviate travel concerns due to pandemic worries, many teams will hold baseball-style short series where they play teams for consecutive games.
For example – Connecticut will host Minnesota at Mohegan Sun Arena on August 17 and again on August 19. The Sun will also do the same later in the month when they host the Aces on the 26th and 28th. Another example will be when the Liberty host the Sky on the 22nd and 24th of June and the Storm on the 18th and 20th of August.
The Dream, on June 9 and 11th will face the Storm on back-to-back games at Gateway Center Arena and will host the Liberty on June 26 and 29 for a short series.
All in all, each team will play 32 games this season as opposed to the 36 originally planned.
Commissioner’s Cup/All-Star Game
In a media availability session hosted soon after the schedule release, commissioner Cathy Engelbert remarked that the WNBA still has plans on hosting an All-Star Game as well as staging the Commissioner’s Cup. Last season was supposed to be the Cup’s debut before the pandemic forced the W into its 22-game slate in the Florida bubble.
Hosting an All-Star Game may be cutting it close but our guess is the only two worthwhile times to do it would be around the sphere of the Olympic break or at the end of the season – and both could be dicey propositions because of players’ international commitments. As far as where the game may be held, the WNBA may want to hold its All-Star festivities for its 25th anniversary in an Original Eight city – meaning Phoenix, Los Angeles or New York.
Arizona may get flack because of reported voter suppression measures going on there, so our guess is Staples Center in Los Angeles (which has never hosted and was the site of the first-ever WNBA game) or Barclays Center in Brooklyn (the WNBA’s new flagship arena) may get the nod for All-Star 2021.
The WNBA’s Olympic break will last from July 12 – August 14. That is a full month as many WNBA players will take to Tokyo to compete for their countries in the Tokyo Olympics. The Olympics themselves will last from July 23 – August 8 which has already created an interesting dilemma for many players.
We already know that Emma Meesseman, the MVP of the 2019 WNBA Finals for the Washington Mystics will not be available because she is preparing to play in the Games for Belgium – and will not make a decision on if she will be available for the W season until after the conclusion of the Olympics. Other players such as Julie Allemand (Indiana Fever) may not be available. Other teams are also dealing with similar questions regarding its international talent.
And on the USA Basketball side, it creates opportunities for some of its emerging stars to get their first Olympics experience as reigning league MVP A’ja Wilson is a near shoo-in to be on the roster and Arike Ogunbowale could be as well.