Breanna Stewart is headed to New York, and Liberty fans are rejoicing with cause. After all, she isn’t the biggest name in the 2023 Women’s National Basketball Association free agency sweepstakes for nothing. She’s arguably the best player in the league, boasting of three regular season and Finals Most Valuable Player awards, five All-WNBA selections, four All-Defensive team selections, and last year’s scoring title. In other words, she can do it all, with her mere presence significantly elevating her squad’s competitiveness.
Considering the run-up to Stewart’s announcement of the move, it’s no surprise that reactions ran the gamut of emotions. Even as Gothamites rightly rejoiced, followers of the Storm were downcast; she had been wearing green and yellow since being taken first overall in the 2016 draft as the most decorated player in National Collegiate Athletic Association annals, and there was a reasonable expectation that she would stay in the Emerald City. Never mind that she likewise took meetings with Lynx and Mistics officials.
To be sure, it wasn’t as if Stewart’s change in address came from left field. She hailed from nearby Syracuse, and moving to New York puts her wife closer to native Girona in Spain. She also deemed her transfer to the Big Apple crucial to her campaign for WNBA players to be provided with chartered flights; last year, franchise owners Joe and Clara Tsai were fined a whopping $500,000 for sponsoring the same to and from road games. And so impassioned is she in her push that she has expressed willingness to donate proceeds from the use of her name, image, and likeness to subsidize the endeavor.
Significantly, Stewart could not have been clearer as to why she exchanged zip codes. As she told ESPN SportsCenter’s Malika Andrews, “I want to go to the place where I can continue to help this league become better, to continue to raise the standard … I feel like, why not go to the biggest market in all of sports?” Which is to say her objectives go beyond what she can achieve on the court, and precisely because of what she is able to achieve on the court. Added Lindsay Kagawa Colas of Wasserman, her agent, in a statement provided ESPN, “she owned the process and the responsibility that comes with power in ways that hopefully will impact how smart free agents of all genders approach similar opportunities.”
In any case, her arrival in the East Coast shifts the balance of power. Whether the Liberty can finally claim their first title remains to be seen. The Aces have the hardware, and have become even more formidable with the addition of two-time MVP awardee Candace Parker. The good news is that the green and black still have ample salary cap space to go for another marquee name. And given their needs, their target should be six-time assists leader Courtney Vandersloot, who, not coincidentally, is also repped by Colas. In the meantime, the concrete jungle is awash in champagne wishes and caviar dreams.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is a consultant on strategic planning, operations and human resources management, corporate communications, and business development.