The Holiday season means we are deep in the fourth quarter of 2023 and the clock is close to expiring.
That only means that we will soon tip off a new year – 2024!
The year that was filled with noteworthy stories and moments that had the women’s sports world buzzing with excitement. If 2023 told us anything, it is that women’s sports – from basketball, to softball, to soccer and volleyball – are no longer on the sidelines. They are firmly in the game as they should have always been.
Interest is up. Coverage is slowly, but surely on the rise. Investment is on the rise too. Let’s keep that trend going in 2024.
Without further adieu, here are our ten most memorable women’s basketball stories of the the last 12 months!
Arguably the most explosive women’s hoops interview of the last 12 months was one conducted with former Dallas Wing, Las Vegas Ace and Los Angeles Spark Liz Cambage by Taylor Rooks of Bleacher Report.
It was the first time Cambage’s name has been in the spotlight since she unceremoniously departed from the Sparks midway through the 2022 season.
Of course, what many fans wanted to know regarding Cambage was her side of the story regarding a controversial moment in an Australian Opals scrimmage in Las Vegas against Nigeria’s D’Tigress women’s national team. Cambage was accused of having made racist comments towards Nigeria’s players.
Cambage even said she was in talks to play for Nigeria at the 2024 Olympics in Paris. D’Tigress players – including Promise Amukamara – went to Twitter to call cap on Cambage’s claim. She also accused Cambage of being in cahoots with Otis Hughley, the ex-D’Tigress coach who is now at Alabama A&M as men’s hoops coach.
Cambage and Rooks also went in-depth into other topics – including her status as a businesswoman, mental health struggles and her message on how the WNBA can improve the player experience.
A big reason for why the women’s game is in the stable place it is currently is because the talent pool continues to become deeper and deeper in said women’s game.
In the college ranks, even though established superstars such as Caitlin Clark, Angel Reese, Paige Bueckers, Cameron Brink and Rickea Jackson are on their way to the pros, fresh faces are on their way in.
Early on this women’s college basketball season, we have seen what some of those fresh faces have done. Anyone who saw this year’s McDonald’s All American Game in Houston could see the future of the women’s game is in good hands.
JuJu Watkins (USC), Mikaylah Williams (LSU), MiLaysia Fulwiley (South Carolina), Hannah Hidalgo (Notre Dame) and Zoe Brooks (NC State) and many others have become revelations for their respective teams. In many ways, the women’s game is the consistent championship contender who is always a threat – it does not rebuild. It reloads.
While the phrase “super team” was often criticized by many within the WNBA family, there is no question that the conclusion of the free agent period certainly led to the establishment of two of these “super teams.”
The Las Vegas Aces added Candace Parker and Alysha Clark – even though Parker did not play for much of the 2023 season. The New York Liberty made a bevy of moves that once again solidified their place among the elites of the W.
Breanna Stewart. Courtney Vandersloot. Jonquel Jones.
These two teams were on national television a lot in 2023. They played each other a lot – including in the Finals (more on that in a few).
The Aces and Liberty even matched up in the preseason – and in the finals at the Skills Competition at WNBA All-Star Friday….in Las Vegas. And, of course, they faced off in the Commissioner’s Cup Final – also in Sin City.
Including the preseason and Commissioner’s Cup, the Aces and Liberty played each other on six occasions – and that was before the four games Las Vegas and New York had in the Finals.
The convergence of so many free agents on the Aces and Liberty was no accident. These were the two teams that have been lauded by many within the WNBA ecosystem as having owners who are willing to invest the most money into the player experience. The mantra might as well have been invest and you’ll be blessed. Go cheap and you’ll weep.
Here is a perfect example of how college football turmoil has a trickle down effect into the women’s game.
Because college presidents hit a snag in their negotiations with streaming provider Apple TV, the conference is all but assuredly about to go belly up.
Colorado is heading back to the Big 12. Washington (Kelsey Plum) and Oregon (Sabrina Ionescu, Satou and Nyara Sabally) are on their way to the Big Ten as are USC and UCLA – which lit the tinder box for this in the beginning. Stanford (Ogwumike sisters, Haley Jones) and Cal are going to the ACC.
The sad trickle effect the loss of the Pac-12 will have on other sports is how it affects travel. Yes…colleges and universities do fund this travel, but many women’s athletes took to social media as school after school dropped like flies from the Pac-12 to lament how this is going to make it more difficult for their parents to see them in person.
Imagine a west coast athlete who commits to USC, UCLA, Oregon or Washington only for those schools to announce their departure for the Big Ten – whose base is in the midwest. It is one thing to try to get to a conference rival such as Stanford or Cal. But when those conference rivals become Ohio State, Iowa, Northwestern, Michigan, Michigan State, Maryland or Rutgers?
That is not so easy. We sometimes forget that even though NIL is now a thing for college athletes that they are still students at the end of the day…you know…with classwork…and social lives.
We have been honored to cover the last two All-Star weekends in Chicago and Las Vegas, respectively. And the plan is to get to Phoenix in July or the 2024 rendition as well!
But in Sin City, a city known for gambling and debauchery, Sabrina Ionescu hit the jackpot at the 3-Point Contest.
WNBA fans were wondering in the post-Allie Quigley era if someone would take over as the new queen of the three. In appropriate Liberty fashion, Ionescu showed up…and owned the crown.
In the finals of the 3-Point Contest, Ionescu not only won the event, she won it going away. Her 37-point performance set a new record for either the WNBA or its NBA counterparts.
We were on press row when Ionescu gave an apropos meaning to “Light It Up.” Hey, Steph Curry…how about it? You vs. the Bay Area’s very own Ionescu for charity at NBA All-Star 2025?
Ionescu’s 37 was one highlight of All-Star weekend – Seattle Storm’s Jewell Loyd with 31 points (a new record) for All-Star MVP was another.
The United States’ neighbors north of the border have sent a great deal of talent the WNBA’s way. This has included Kia Nurse, Danielle Robinson, Natalie Achonwa and, most recently, Laeticia Amihere.
The WNBA has looked at the Canada market as very lucrative. And even though Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment sadly seems to be missing the mark on bringing a team to Toronto via expansion, the W’s growth can be seen in how much it is being embraced by Canadians even sans a team.
Prior to the start of the 2023 regular season, the Minnesota Lynx and Chicago Sky played a preseason game at Toronto’s Scotiabank Arena. It was fitting given the Lynx have had a number of Canadian players pass through its ranks.
The Sky won the game, but what especially made it a success was the fact that it was a sellout and a massive merchandise bonanza for the W.
One wonders if the Canada Game will be a regular thing. While the WNBA has released its regular season schedule for 2024, the preseason slate is yet to be known. But the brain trust at MLSE is clearly drinking too much Molson to see how much of a bonanza a Toronto team can be and pass on the opportunity…
Even though this has been one of the lesser talked about stories within WNBA circles, it still is worthy of being talked about for a major reason – why the league needs to do better by player moms.
Dearica Hamby first shared allegations on her Instagram stating that the experience with the organization was “traumatizing.” Basically, she alleges that she was treated unfairly by the Aces organization because she made the decision to have a second child.
Aces coach Becky Hammon was also named in Hamby’s complaint. She alleged that the organization created a hostile work environment after she disclosed her pregnancy to the team – and that the organization still had her sign an extension despite the pregnancy.
Hamby, a key piece to Las Vegas’ 2022 championship run, was traded to the Los Angeles Sparks. Following the close of the 2023 regular season, Hamby filed a discrimination lawsuit against the Aces – prior to its Finals with the Liberty.
A few months before the lawsuit happened, the WNBA conducted an investigation – and punished the Aces. The. Team was stripped of its 2025 first-round pick and suspended Hammon for two games sans pay.
While the ferver over Hamby’s allegations against the Aces appear to have dissipated, one can count on the WNBPA, which itself released a strong statement following the allegations being made public, to remember this when it is time to get back to the collective bargaining table.
In previous years, the topic of expansion has become one that fans have somewhat soured on.
While the WNBA has talked a big game on expansion, its peer leagues such as the NWSL appear to be expanding at breakneck pace.
Until the W would actually announce a team, it led some to wonder if the league would ever expand.
That was until news started to trickle out that Joe Lacob, Golden State Warriors owner, was working on a deal to bring a team to the Bay Area. In addition, the announcement of the 2025 NBA All-Star weekend being at Chase Center added more fuel to the expansion flames.
Then in October, on the eve of the much-ballyhooed Finals between the Aces and Liberty, the WNBA made a hella big announcement that team No. 13 would reside in the City by the Bay.
As formerly being involved with the San Jose Lasers of the ABL, it had to be a watershed moment for Lacob.
The announcement was that the team would start play in 2025 at San Francisco’s Chase Center while maintaining practice facilities and headquarters in Oakland – a city that has seen sports team after sports depart from the East Bay in recent years.
Another group, the African American Sports & Entertainment Group, was hoping to land a team for Oakland – and play at the former Oracle Arena. Financial issues within the group 86’d those aspirations.
The question now is when will a team name be announced? While Lacob used the word “soon” to describe when said team name would be announced, we would not be surprised if the Warriors used the platform of NBA All-Star 2025 to reveal all the details on the Golden State….
Another question – will there be a Team No. 14? It appeared that team would be in Portland before those plans fell through. The latest update was that Charlotte and Denver were vying for said team, but all has been calm on the expansion front ever since.
This brings us back to Cambage. One of the somewhat overlooked portions of that interview with Rooks was she was asked who would possibly break her single-game scoring mark of 53 points.
She said either Breanna Stewart or Sabrina Ionescu of the Liberty – or her former Aces teammate Kelsey Plum.
Right team. Wrong Ace.
In the second half of the season, the Aces had encountered a bit of adversity. The Liberty had defeated them in their own building to win the Commissioner’s Cup and they began to look vulnerable – including a loss to the Sparks at Michelob Ultra Arena.
These were not the dominant Aces we saw in the first half of the season. One of Las Vegas’ tougher games they played occurred in College Park, Georgia at Gateway Center Arena against the Atlanta Dream.
Atlanta played the defending champions tough – tough enough to win at a venue that can be a hostile environment for opponents. Except one problem for the Dream…
The Aces have A’ja Wilson. And she had a career game on that occasion.
Wilson tallied 53 points – tying Cambage’s mark – to lift the Aces to a 112-100 win over Atlanta. Cambage dropped her 53 in 2018 when she was a Dallas Wing in a victory over the Liberty.
A few WNBA truthers used their Twitter fingers to claim Wilson’s 50-piece was a matter of stat-padding, but how could it be stat-padding if Vegas only beat the Dream by 12?
Either way, Wilson proved exactly she is the face of the WNBA and women’s basketball as a whole. Later on in 2023, she would prove that once again…more on that in a bit…
To the college ranks for this one.
There were few moments that were more emblematic of the massive strides women’s sports have made in recent years than the 2023 national championship game between LSU and Iowa.
The game itself was a sellout. It was a ratings bonanza for ESPN/ABC. And it had two superstars in Angel Reese and Caitlin Clark that have become household names.
The game saw LSU prevail over Iowa to win the national championship – and it led to backlash (much of it racist) because Reese did the classic “You Can’t See Me” John Cena gesture at Clark.
The same hand movements that Clark has done throughout her career – including to current LSU player and Louisville transfer Hailey Van Lith.
That game catapulted Reese into superstar status. She was in a music video with Latto and Cardi B and was flooded with NIL opportunities afterwards.
In fact, the Sporting News announced its Athletes of the Year – and awarded it to both Reese and Clark.
The Indiana Fever recently won the 2024 draft lottery, putting Indy on the clock to draft Clark at No. 1. Reese has been the subject of controversy because of her brief departure from the LSU team earlier this season, but she has since returned. Perhaps, her draft stock will rise once again the closer we get to said draft.
Remember what we mentioned earlier about the Aces and Liberty? Prior to the Finals, Las Vegas and New York saw each other on six occasions – including the preseason and Commissioner’s Cup. It was even Aces vs. Liberty at the Skills Challenge at WNBA All-Star Friday.
So it was only fitting that with all the hype about the “super teams” that they would meet up in the Finals.
And that is what happened.
The path for the Aces saw Las Vegas defeat the Sky and Wings en route to the Finals. The Liberty defeated the Washington Mystics and Connecticut Sun to get to the big dance.
The Aces successfully defended its home court, taking the first two games at Michelob Ultra Arena. With the scene shifting to Gotham for Game 3, would Las Vegas really pull off a sweep?
Not in front of the over 17,000 that packed Barclays Center for that Game 3. The Liberty fed off the crowd’s energy to make the series 2-1. And going into Game 4, Las Vegas was down two of its starters in Chelsea Gray and former Lib Kiah Stokes.
It all seemed set up for the Lib to take Game 4 and force a series-deciding Game 5 back in Sin City. The Aces were down two starters and another sellout crowd filled The Clays for Game 4 of the Finals.
Except for one problem – the Aces have A’ja Wilson.
In 39 minutes, Wilson put 24 points on the board and brought down 16 rebounds. Even despite Wilson’s performance, the Liberty still had one last possession at the end of the game to win it.
Except Las Vegas’ defense managed one more stop that forced New York into a bad shot and the Aces were celebrating a championship on the Liberty’s home floor.
Many WNBA fans felt Wilson was shafted out of the regular season MVP award – one that went to Stewie. Regardless of if she was or was not, she made up for it by winning Finals MVP. Even sweeter was that it was the first win the Aces notched against the Liberty at Barclays Center all 2023.
And if that was not enough…the Aces got another parade through the Vegas streets – and were even serenaded by Usher at his Vegas residency.
For those who remember 2022, one of the biggest (women’s sport) news stories of the year was the detainment of Brittney Griner in Russia.
Those who may have never heard of her all of a sudden knew who she was for all the most unfortunate of reasons.
After nearly a year that she was kept in a Russian prison against her will, the United States did a prisoner exchange with Russia that freed BG from the Kremlin’s clutches.
When Griner became a free woman, there were questions as to if she would return to the WNBA. BG wasted no time answering those questions as she began training for the 2023 season not long after she was back on American soil.
Even though the Mercury struggled in 2023, the entire 2023 season served as a much-deserved welcome back tour for BG – including her first regular season game for the Mercury at the Sparks – and her Phoenix return vs. the Chicago Sky.
Griner and her wife Cherelle also became ambassadors in the efforts to free other American prisoners. A watershed moment for BG had to be when she was named to the All-Star Game in Las Vegas. BG was an honorary All-Star the previous year in Chicago while she was imprisoned in Russia during a 2022 season that was all about advocating for her release.
There is a strong possibility Griner will be part of the US Olympic team at the 2024 Olympics in Paris – meaning the Games will be the first time BG will have traveled overseas since her detainment in Russia. Before that, she will be an unrestricted free agent.
We could not say it enough, but welcome back BG. The game – and the country – are much better with you home on American soil.
There are many things to look forward to in 2024 in women’s hoops.
These include Maya Moore being inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame, the Paris 2024 Olympics, the ongoing debate of prioritization between the league and players and the ongoing intrigue over the identity of the WNBA’s new San Francisco Bay Area franchise.
Also…was there anything we missed from our list above?
And, of course, 2024 is an election year. Expect WNBA players to be very outspoken about the extremely high stakes regarding the upcoming presidential election. VOTE.
The year 2023 told us that women’s sports as a whole are experiencing a renaissance and we expect that renaissance to be taken to even greater heights in the year 2024.
Let’s do this!