Basketball never stops. The game is wonderful, wondrous, and for everyone. The game can take you all over the world and open you up to new people, new communities, and new perspectives. If you can hoop close to home and grow the game, even better. A new league led by familiar faces hopes to grow the game even more.
On Thursday afternoon, it was announced that Breanna Stewart of the New York Liberty and Napheesa Collier of the Minnesota Lynx would be launching a new 3x3 and 1x1 women’s basketball league, Unrivaled. The league would run from January to March and take place in Miami, Florida.
Stewart spoke about the importance of the new league with Ramona Shelburne of ESPN:
“It’s the ability for players to stay home, to be in a market like Miami where we can just be the buzz and create that with the best WNBA players. We can’t keep fighting [the WNBA’s prioritization rule]. It is a rule that takes away our choices, which should never be a thing, especially as women, but it is still a rule.”
Miami hasn’t had a WNBA team since the three-season run the Sol had from 2000-2002. The league has dragged their feet when it comes to team expansion, and with interest in women’s basketball growing exponentially, now is the time to grow the game even more.
Unrivaled will join Athletes Unlimited as off-season options for players to stay in market and not venture out to overseas. At Liberty practice on July 7th, Stewart was asked by Myles Ehrlich of Winsidr how Unrivaled and AU can complement each other, and she said:
“I think the leagues can complement each other by continuing to both be great. It’s not competitive like “Who’s going here? Who’s going there?” It’s not competitive like that, but it also is. If we’re gonna raise the salary, hopefully they’ll be able to, too and then more brands and investors are gonna sponsor AU and they’re gonna sponsor Unrivaled and it’s gonna make it competition whereas in the WNBA, there’s a lot of red tape for people that aren’t league partners.”
In the ESPN story, Stewart mentioned that she and Collier have been in touch with industry leaders from organizations such as DAZN, the WTA and the WWE to help launch the league. The new league will help give players the chance to build their brands year round. With new partners come new opportunities, new networks to create, and new chances to bring your game to an even wider audience.
Basketball is basketball, but playing 3x3 or 1x1 requires a different level of focus and preparation than the usual 5x5 does for a pro. Las Vegas Aces guard and reigning Finals MVP, Chelsea Gray, spoke about that difference with Ramona Shelburne of ESPN:
“...you’ve got to be in a different type of shape for 3-on-3. I’ve got to start training for this. There’s more space and more scoring. It’s the top players in the world. You’re on an island sometimes you can’t be relying on help side. [On the Aces] if I get beat, I know A’ja [Wilson] or Candace [Parker] is back there. Now I have to think of this 3-on-3 a little bit differently.”
With roster spots so scarce in the W and rotations and roles needing to be established quickly, players may not always have the opportunity to fully display their talents. Stewart spoke to the way Unrivaled can show players in new lights and possibly either help their free agency process or help their ability to get picked up in the league. We’ve seen rotation players add to their skill set outside of the WNBA setting, so being able to do that here in the US and not have to travel around the world if you so choose is especially valuable.
Along with that, fans have an easily accessible way to keep up with the players instead of having to jump through a million hoops to find video and statistics of their favorite players when they’re overseas. Having leagues like AU and Unrivaled will help grow the game of basketball from an interest and financial standpoint and push the WNBA to elevate their standards.
The game of basketball has grown a lot over the decades. Players up and down the roster can do things that didn’t seem possible decades ago. The game has evolved from the post being the focal point to a more spaced out, expanded league. That evolution has really shown itself in the way big players play now. We see forwards and centers lead fastbreaks, serve as de facto point guards that can run the offense, be snipers from deep, etc. At Liberty practice on the seventh, I asked Stewart about how she’s seen the game evolve from when she first entered the WNBA in 2016 to now:
“The versatility, I think that’s the biggest evolution. You know, if you can’t do more than one thing, it’s gonna be it’s gonna be difficult. And there aren’t that many back to the basket centers. Obviously there is [Brittney Griner] but she still has a face up game and an outside shot... So you can't let your size limit you, whether you're a guard or a post, the ability to literally play inside out.”
Stewart and Collier are two examples of the evolution of the game over the years. They can score in a million different ways and as big forwards and serve as engines for their respective offenses.
When you have frontcourt players who can play like Stewart, Collier, Jonquel Jones, A’ja Wilson, etc., it allows for teams to be more creative in how they build lineups and rosters next to their stars. The level of talent in the women’s game is growing by the second, and with the next generation of ballers ready to take their place alongside the game’s greats, the sky is the limit.
Sabrina Ionescu’s got one more special accomplishment to add to her resume! On Friday, it was announced that Sab will be gracing the cover of NBA 2K24, the latest entry in the 2K series.
Ionescu will be joining her friend and mentor, the late Kobe Bryant, on this year’s cover. Ionescu spoke about this honor with Boardroom and said:
“It’s an honor to be on the cover, especially following such legends of the game who have been on the cover before me. It’s just kind of a pinch-me-moment, growing up and being able to see a lot of the NBA athletes on the cover and now being able to be on it myself.”
Ionescu joins Candace Parker, Sue Bird, and Diana Taurasi as WNBA players that have graced the cover of 2K. In pregame prior to the Liberty’s win over the Seattle Storm on Saturday, Sandy Brondello spoke about the honor for Ionescu and said:
“When I saw that yesterday, I was blown away. I said, “That’s pretty cool, isn’t it?!” And congrats to Sabrina, she continues to get better and better and we’ve got some pretty special players on our team. It’s not just what they do on the court. It’s how they motivate and inspire people off the court.”
As Brondello noted, we’ve seen players on the Liberty and WNBA as a whole motivate and inspire off the court. Whether it’s through getting more money into women’s sports by creating new leagues, showcasing the WNBA on one of the biggest video games in the world, dedicated activism on the state and federal level, supporting Americans wrongly detained overseas, etc., the league is full of players that are always fighting for more. More support, more equity, more justice, more of everything good and righteous. It’s something we can all emulate.
The 2K cover is a perfect complement to go with the upcoming debut of the Sabrina 1 and her second straight All Star nomination. It’s been a steady rise for Ionescu after a rocky beginning to her professional journey.
Injuries in her first two seasons kept her from playing to the high standard she set for herself. However, with health came greater success and greater confidence in building her off-court brand. In a wonderful cover story from last summer, Rich Kleiman of Boardroom and 35Ventures asked Ionescu if there was a bit of her that was more reticent to engage with brands because she didn’t feel like herself on the court due to the injuries that didn’t make her feel like herself on the court:
“That offseason after the season I played hurt, I just kind of tried to shut down everything. I was really low key, I just rehabbed every single day and just kind of devoted myself to that. And I didn’t really want to post all this stuff and what I was doing and the brands that I was working with, because I was a little like, “Nah, I’m not playing where I need to be.” I understand that I deserve everything that I have. And I’m honored to be able to represent these companies and do these things, but like it was more like ‘just wait.’ I want to be where I need to be mentally and physically in order to be the best version of myself that I can for you guys.
“And so I kind of took a break because I was personally embarrassed and I was just like ‘This is not acceptable. I need to be better.’ And so now that I’m able to have gotten healthy, it’s like, yeah, I rock with these companies!”
Health goes a long way in allowing you the comfort and confidence to expand your horizons, be more front facing in the things you do, and be the best version of yourself. As the on court wins continue to rack up for Ionescu, so too will the off-court ones.