Welcome to “Stew’ York.” It’s finally official. The Liberty announced Wednesday morning that they have signed all-Everything WNBA superstar Breonna Stewart.
For the past two years, the New York Liberty have sought one of basketball’s greatest stars. In 2022, Joe and Clara Wu Tsai along with head coach Sandy Brondello made their pitch to Seattle Storm superstar, Breanna Stewart. Their pitch was convincing, but it ultimately wasn’t enough as Stewart returned to Seattle to play with Sue Bird in her final WNBA season. The Liberty ran it back this offseason and went all the way to Istanbul to make their case to the future Hall of Famer.
At noon on Wednesday last week, it all paid off...
Now, a week later, word is that the actual pen-to-paper transaction is done and that, according to reports, both Stewart and Courtney Vandersloot, the Liberty’s new point guard, took less than the max so that the team could hang on to Betnijah Laney and others. That negotiation took time.
In her interviews, Stewart had particular praise for Clara Wu Tsai and husband Joe, citing the Tsais decision last season to fly the Liberty to games via charter ... which led the WNBA to fine Liberty $500,000 for violating league rules. That decision, Stewart said, was big. The veteran had said in the run-up to free agency that travel was a very important issue for her.
“You have people behind you who are pushing the same thing,” she told Malika Andrews on NBA Today. “Obviously, the owners of the Liberty, Joe and Clara Tsai are trying to elevate and raise the standard and what we deserve. It’s what we deserve as professional athletes.”
Stewart joins a Liberty franchise that has been building to this very moment since the hiring of General Manager, Jonathan Kolb. Kolb has consistently said that throughout his time in New York and repeated it one more time in the introductory press conference for new Liberty star, Jonquel Jones:
“We’re gonna be really aggressive. I think we’re hellbent on bringing a championship. It’s what we said from 2019 and we’re gonna say it every single year. I think we’ve proven that we are willing to be aggressive and we will continue to do that.”
From the drafting of Sabrina Ionescu in 2020, to the acquisitions of Betnijah Laney and Natasha Howard in 2021, the hiring of Sandy Brondello and free agent signing of Stefanie Dolson in 2022 and beyond, the Liberty have laid down a foundation that has allowed them to return to relevancy and contention after their forced exodus from New York City back in 2017. At the end of the 2022 season, the team expressed pride in what they had built and what was to come.
With Stewart, the Liberty are getting a two time Finals MVP, Top 25 WNBA player of all time, and all Defensive team superstar. Stewart can do practically everything on a basketball court and will be able to take what was a good Liberty team and should make them absolutely amazing.
Awaiting Stewie in New York City will be the newly acquired Jones, but also two franchise stalwarts. Betnijah Laney and Sabrina Ionescu are currently preparing to join the USA Basketball Women’s National Team training camp in Minneapolis next week. The duo played for the US in the FIBA Women’s World Cup and got some valuable experience along the way. Back home, Ionescu had a breakout season as she was named to her first All Star Team and was All WNBA second team. A knee injury prevented Laney from following up on her 2021 All Star campaign, but she returned down the stretch and played a critical role in powering the Libs into the playoffs. Laney and Ionescu played with Stewart in FIBA and as two of the game’s best players, will be even more formidable with the new acquisitions in tow.
The Stewart signing represents a new day in the WNBA. Superteams being formed like this via free agency are incredibly, incredibly rare in the W. Usually, stacked, dynastic teams like the Minnesota Lynx of the 2010s and the Seattle Storm from 2018 onward are done via the draft. The signing of Stewart and Candace Parker with the Las Vegas Aces represents a change in how the league is doing business. Players have been consistent about wanting teams and the league to invest in the game and provide the players with the accommodations that a professional team deserves. Team owners like Mark Davis in Vegas and the Tsais have invested a lot of resources into their clubs, and with this free agency period playing out like this, will force other owners to keep up and do what they can to make their teams attractive to players.
There’s still plenty of Unfinished Business for the Liberty. The franchise is vying for their first championship and first Finals trip since 2002. They’re fully back home in NYC after their Westchester saga and have a team and fanbase eager to take the next step. With the signing of Stewart, they have firmly placed themselves on the road to a title. Let’s go.
- Breanna Stewart Will Sign With Liberty, Joining Fellow M.V.P. Jonquel Jones - Sara Ziegler - New York Times
- Stewart heads to New York on first day of WNBA free agency - Doug Feinberg - AP
- Breanna Stewart announces she’s joining the New York Liberty - Jackie Powell - The NEXT
- WNBA free agency 2023: How Breanna Stewart’s move impacts the Liberty, Storm and the WNBA - Kevin Pelton - ESPN
- BREANNA STEWART SIGNS WITH LIBERTY IN WNBA FREE AGENCY SPLASH - Just Women’s Sports
- SABRINA IONESCU AND KEVIN DURANT CHEER BREANNA STEWART’S LIBERTY SIGNING - Kate Yanchoulis - Just Women’s Sports
- WNBA superstar Breanna Stewart announces she is signing with Liberty as free agent - Matthew Roberson - New York Daily News
- Breanna Stewart is headed to the New York Liberty - Laura Albanese - Newsday
- Breanna Stewart’s free agency will shake up the WNBA … and maybe international scouting - Ben Pickman - The Athletic