The game clock is close to expiring on the year 2022, but it was a year that was honeycombed with several twists and turns in the realm of women’s basketball.
And what a 12 months it was. One can say that even though the final buzzer is close to expiring on 2022 that it feels like yesterday when we tipped off the year.
There were a litany of major stories – both on and off the court that captivated many a women’s basketball fan from the high school gym, to the college arena to professional and international stadia. It was hard to narrow a list down to simply 10. But where there was a will there was a way.
Without further adieu, here are the top 10 women’s basketball stories of 2022!
Women’s Sports Network
Women’s basketball – and women’s sports fans as a whole have constantly made note of the continued lack of coverage that women’s sports appear to garner.
While steps have been made in the right direction to bridge this gap, a noteworthy coverage gulf still exists been men’s and women’s sports.
In 2022, the launch of a new 24/7 Women’s Sports Network aims to be a step forward in accomplishing this goal. It is based in Southern California and already has partnerships with several entities – including the WNBA and Athletes Unlimited.
Women’s Sports Network also recently launched a new program called According to Sage which features surfing champion Sage Erickson giving insight on premier surfing areas the world has to offer.
One of the signature free agent signings of the 2022 free agency period in the WNBA was that of Liz Cambage to the Los Angeles Sparks.
It appeared as if it was the fit Cambage was looking for. After all, it was not exactly the best kept secret within WNBA circles that it was the team and city she always wanted to play for and be in.
Unfortunately for her, Cambage’s reputation took a massive because of allegations relating to a pre-Olympics matchup between the Australian Opals and Nigeria prior to Tokyo’s Games in 2021.
Cambage eventually asked for a contract divorce from the Sparks – and there is a good chance she may be done with the WNBA as a whole.
Team USA vs. Everybody
Speaking of Australia…
The condensed nature of the 2022 WNBA schedule was only made more apparent given it was also a FIBA year.
Team USA actually did not have its full roster available at the outset of the FIBA World Cup given a number of players from the Las Vegas Aces and Connecticut Sun had just come off giving it their all in the WNBA Finals.
No problem for the Stars and Stripes as they are used to winning gold medals in international competition. The Australia-New Zealand FIBA World Cup was no different. USA Basketball defeated China by a final of 83-61 as they would once again come back to the U.S. of A. with gold medals draped around their necks.
It already qualifies Team USA for the Paris 2024 Olympics and A’ja Wilson and Breanna Stewart earned All-Star Five honors.
For many a women’s basketball fan, the NCAA tournament is what whets many an appetite for the upcoming WNBA season (one that in 2023 will be 40 games long).
But in 2022, there was something else that got fans excited for the WNBA as Athletes Unlimited held its inaugural basketball season in Las Vegas.
It featured many a notable name from the WNBA ranks – including Odyssey Sims, Tianna Hawkins, Lexie Brown, Dijonai Carrington, Isabelle Harrison and Mercedes Russell among others. Several were even able to play their way onto WNBA rosters because of their play in AU.
Athletes Unlimited also had a content partnership with the great and uber-talented Khristina Williams, who sat down for an exclusive with us at Beyond The W when the news broke.
Its basketball season for 2023 will take place in Dallas and it also has big things planned for its softball, volleyball, lacrosse and aux softball seasons.
The Scandal that Wasn’t a Scandal
In the early portions of 2022, Howard Megdal at Sports Illustrated broke a story regarding how Joe and Clara Wu Tsai, the billionaire owners of the New York Liberty, had chartered flights for the team following the 2021 Olympic break.
The contents of the story read like a massive scandal. But given the WNBA’s issues with travel over the years, many a player on Twitter reacted with confusion at why the W would punish an owner for actually putting their money where their mouths were.
According to the piece, the Liberty were fined $500,000 and there was talk of terminating the franchise as a whole (which was never going to happen – “New York” has a lot to do with that). Tsai offered a plan to charter flights for the next three seasons but the initiative was nixed by cheaper owners who only see teams as charity cases.
Cathy Engelbert managed to throw advocates of chartered flights for WNBA players a bone by announcing chartered flights for the Finals.
Here is a scandal that actually IS a scandal.
Remember when a piece was uncovered revealing that Phoenix Mercury and Suns owner Robert Sarver had engaged in racist in misogynistic conduct during his stewardship of both franchises?
Yeah, that was something that the WNBA and NBA should have treated with the level of fervor uncovered with the Lib nothingburger.
The NBA eventually leveled a punishment to Sarver that could have only been described as a major slap on the wrist – a $10 million fine and a ban of only one year.
Recently, the dark cloud over the Mercury and Suns finally dissipated with the news that both franchises would be sold to a Michigan-based mortgage lending executive by the name of Mat Ishbia. The sale price for the Merc and Suns? A cool $4 billion.
Riding Off into the Sunset
There are retirements virtually every year in women’s sports, but between the WNBA and the college scene, 2022 was particularly notable as at least three of the most iconic figures in the history of the game called it a career.
It will be hard to envision future seasons of WNBA without Long Island’s very own Sue Bird, who put her jersey away for good after winning four championships with the Seattle Storm. Bird also concluded her career with numerous All-Star appearances and Olympic gold medals. Given what she and Megan Rapinoe have planned for the future, the GOAT may just be getting started.
Sylvia Fowles also called it a career in 2022. Sweet Syl not only is one of the W’s greatest scorers but also one of its greatest rebounders – in fact she is the W’s all-time leading board-getter. Syl was instrumental in extending the Minnesota Lynx’s dynasty into the latter part of the 2010s with championships in 2015 and 2017 (a year where she also won MVP honors). Add in four Olympic gold medals? Yeah, start working on her Hall of Fame busts already (Knoxville and Springfield).
It was also the final season of the illustrious coaching tenure of C. Vivian Stringer at Rutgers. Stringer’s coaching career lasted from 1995 until 2022 – nearly 30 years which is an eternity given all of the coaching changes of today. Stringer coached in four Final Fours and also won a gold medal as USA Basketball’s coach in the 2004 Olympics in Athens.
March Madness (for real, this time!)
The 2022 NCAA women’s tournament was historic for many reasons but one was because it ended the NCAA’s sexist practice of only reserving the iconic “March Madness” brand only for the men’s tourney.
It indeed was an unforgettable tournament, but it ended the way many had predicted it would end – with Dawn Staley, Aliyah Boston and South Carolina reclaiming their place at the top of the women’s collegiate hoops mountain.
Following the Gamecocks’ heartbreaking defeat to Stanford in the 2021 Final Four, South Carolina entered the 2021-22 season with an Unfinished Business mindset. That business was finished by defeating Louisville in the national semifinal and UConn in the championship game despite Paige Bueckers returning to her home state.
Raise The Stakes
Ever since relocating from San Antonio prior to the 2018 season, the Las Vegas Aces have been slowly, but surely building towards becoming the class team and organization within the WNBA.
Drafting another noteworthy Gamecock in A’ja Wilson, who led South Carolina to a national championship, was a step in the right direction.
During the offseason prior to 2022, Mark Davis took another step in that direction by hiring Becky Hammon as the team’s head coach in place of Bill Laimbeer. Hammon was also on the Liberty’s radar given she previously played for New York as she did in San Antonio.
Hammon was signed to the richest contract for a coach in W history. And the Aces, led by Wilson, Kelsey Plum, Jackie Young and Chelsea Gray were poised for another chance at a WNBA championship.
The Aces quickly dispatched of the Phoenix Mercury in the first round, then eliminated the Storm in the semifinals to send Sue Bird into retirement. All that was standing in between the Aces and Las Vegas’ first-ever professional sports championship was the Connecticut Sun and in four games, Sin City had finally struck championship paydirt.
From #FreeBG to #BGFree
Of course, 2022 was an unusual year where the winning of a WNBA championship was not the biggest story.
That was because of the horrific atrocity that Brittney Griner was subjected to for nearly 300 days in a Russian prison. She was attempting to leave the country following Russia launching its war against Ukraine, but was detained in what was a purely political move by the Kremlin.
One could feel her presence at every WNBA arena between the “BG42” logo on the sidelines and her being named an honorary All-Star in Chicago. There was also lots of money raised for BG’s shoe drive.
The saga had a fortunate conclusion earlier in December when it was announced that a prisoner swap had indeed been successful in bringing BG home back to the United States. Her wife, Cherelle, an aspiring lawyer, was at the White House with President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris when the announcement was made.
BG even participated in a light workout session upon her arrival back to the United States – and she also announced that she will indeed play for the Phoenix Mercury in the 2023 season.
The saga involving Griner also put a spotlight on another notable prison still held by Russia in Paul Whelan, who served in the Marines. Both Griner and Cherelle have said they will use their platform to continue to advocate for Whelan’s release – and the release of all prisoners who are wrongfully detained.