Viva Naj Vegas: Betnijah Laney deserves to be in this year’s All-Star Game

Photo Credit: Lamar Carter

With WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert announcing the date and location for this year’s All-Star Game – back at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, expect plenty of all-star quality content from us as well as our friends at other websites.

Plenty of those pieces will likely center on which players should earn berths in this year’s All-Star Game – an All-Star Game that, by the way, is being played against the backdrop of preparation for this year’s Olympics in Tokyo from Team USA, Team Canada, the Australian Opals and the other teams that qualified for the Games.

One of the stories of this WNBA season so far has been the team that plays in the W’s signature market. On the heels of a 2-20 showing last season in the bubble, the bar was set very low for the New York Liberty even with a healthy Sabrina Ionescu. And while the Libs have struggled in much of their last few games (prior to their 85-83 victory at Phoenix, which indirectly produced plenty of social media brouhaha) – concurrent with Ionescu’s recent struggles, this still has the makings of a resurgent season in Brooklyn as well as one that is getting the Liberty back to its winning ways.

Of course, Ionescu is getting the headlines, but there is another who is sporting seafoam and black this season that should not be overlooked.

The story of Betnijah Laney’s WNBA career is playing out like a basketball movie destined for a happy ending. After being cut by the Chicago Sky and Indiana Fever, Laney’s career got a second wind in the bubble last season with the Atlanta Dream.

The Dream may have ended up in the lottery again after last season, but it had nothing to do with Laney as she averaged 17.2 points per game in 2020 en route to Most Improved Player honors. Of course, there was no All-Star Game last season because of the parameters of the bubble.

Because Atlanta had to keep Tiffany Hayes in the fold, this opened up Laney’s free agent status. During that free agent period, Liberty general manager Jonathan Kolb pulled off arguably the heist of said period by bringing Laney to New York.

Up to this point, Laney has proved that her production from last season with Atlanta was not merely a product of the bubble – she is simply that good.

She began the season with a much-ballyhooed stretch of games where she scored at least 20 points. That streak of 20-point games was snapped recently in the Liberty’s recent defeat to the Connecticut Sun, but the eight consecutive 20-point outings put Laney in rarefied WNBA air.

Only three other players in the W’s 25-year history opened a season with eight or more consecutive 20-point games. Two of those were during the latter portions of the Houston Comets’ dynasty of 1999 and 2000 as Cynthia Cooper did so in ’99 and Sheryl Swoopes accomplished the feat the following season.

Outside of Laney and the two Comets, Lauren Jackson also did so in 2009 with the Seattle Storm.

As vast as the Liberty’s fanbase is – New York boasts one of the most widespread fanbases in the entire WNBA (one that has become even more pronounced with the emergence of Ionescu) – Lib Loyals should be doing plenty of ballot stuffing between now and the conclusion of the All-Star vote to ensure Laney is in Las Vegas next month. And #VivaNajVegas sounds like an almost perfect hashtag for the Liberty’s social media team to plaster all over its Twitter and Instagram between now and next month’s midseason festivities.

New York has an opportunity to be well-represented in Vegas next month. Ionescu is almost a lock simply because of her name recognition even if she has struggled as of late. If only the WNBA was doing a rookie-sophomore game because said contest would feature Ionescu as well as Micaela Onyenwere who is looking like a Rookie of the Year candidate.

When the 2019 All-Star Game emanated from Vegas, it concluded with the heartwarming story of Erica Wheeler (with the Indiana Fever at the time and now with the Los Angeles Sparks) going from undrafted to winning MVP honors. Laney could be this year’s Wheeler because she has certainly Owned the Crown this #SeafoamSZN.