Breanna Stewart’s blockbuster move to the Liberty sends a message to WNBA owners: Invest or lose out
Breanna Stewart.Julio Aguilar/Getty Images
WNBA superstar Breanna Stewart joined the New York Liberty, signing as a free agent on Wednesday.
The two-time Seattle Storm champion made team charter flights a major factor in her decision.
His free agent process and move to New York underscores the importance of owner investment.
Breanna Stewart is on her way to New York.
But the WNBA superstar’s decision to sign with the Liberty sends a message that resonates far beyond the Empire State, and she wants every team owner in the league to hear it: Invest in your franchise – and the WNBA as a whole – or prepare to lose.
“I decided to go to New York because I want to continue to be great,” Stewart told ESPN’s Malika Andrews after announcing the move on social media. “And I want to go where I can continue to help this league improve, to continue to raise the bar.”
Stewart brings up the ball during the 2022 WNBA All-Star Game. Stacy Revere/Getty Images
“You know you have people behind you pushing the same; Liberty owners Joe and Clara Tsai are trying to keep raising and raising the bar,” she added. “And I think that’s what we deserve. That’s what we deserve as professional athletes, women, basketball players. We want to be our best every night.”
The two-time WNBA champion and two-time Finals MVP made charter flights a major factor in her free agency decision. League teams have long traveled game to game on commercial flights, a reality that has resulted in countless nightmarish journeys and endless hours crammed into coaching the world’s best basketball players each season.
Although many team owners have the means and the will to fly their players and staff privately, the WNBA has prohibited individual franchises from chartering for fear of disrupting parity in the league. Without explicit verbiage on the subject incorporated into the 2020 Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), the league even went so far as to punish a team for not complying.
Team owner Joe Tsai gives New York Liberty players a high five.AP Photo/Mary Altaffer
This team ? The New York Liberty.
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Last year, the league fined the Brooklyn-based team a historic $500,000 after the aforementioned billionaire franchise owners – Joe and Clara Wu Tsai – starved their team during the second half of the season. The Tsai family’s commitment to investing in the Liberty – not only through its charter efforts, but also by building state-of-the-art player facilities, assembling an impressive front office, coaching staff and a roster with a winning mentality, and doing high-profile jobs to bring stars to New York City – was enough to get Stewart’s attention.
“Our organization has invested a lot in us to be able to be put in this position to play New York in front of the fanbase,” Liberty star Sabrina Ionescu told Insider last season ahead of the team’s first-ever playoff game. at the Barclays Centre. “They’ve invested a lot in us and are capable of filling those stands.”
New York Liberty head coach Sandy Brondello (left) and star Sabrina Ionescu.Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports
Not only have the Tsais — who also own the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets — invested heavily in their WNBA franchise, they’ve also invested a lot of time and money to recruit Stewart specifically. Last offseason, the Liberty chased the Seattle Storm superstar with a fancy dinner party in Los Angeles, hosted by the Tsais and head coach Sandy Brondello, which included the 2018 MVP, his wife and their daughter.
This year they are even bigger. Clara Wu Tsai, Brondello, general manager Jonathan Kolb and assistant general manager Ohemaa Nyanin flew to Turkey – where Stewart plays during the winter months – to watch the four-time All-WNBA First Team selection compete and recruit her to the Big Apple.
Even Nets superstar Kevin Durant got in on the recruiting efforts by reaching out to Stewart — known to most as Stewie — “and was like, ‘Yo, this would be an amazing dynasty in New York if you was coming here.'”
New York’s comprehensive approach has paid off. But the Liberty aren’t the only team to have turned owner investment in winning and player experience into major off-season gains.
The Las Vegas Aces — owned by billionaire and Las Vegas Raiders owner Mark Davis — have made arguably the biggest hit in free agency outside of New York. The defending WNBA champions, who already have a slew of All-Stars on their roster, signed two-time league MVP Candace Parker to take their team from simply stacked to a juggernaut in their own right.
Like the Tsais, Davis has been outspoken in his commitment to advancing both his franchise and the league itself. And he put his money where his mouth is, shelling out over a million dollars to lure Becky Hammon away from the NBA to coach his team.
Las Vegas Aces head coach Becky Hammon (right) and owner Mark Davis pose with the 2022 WNBA championship trophy.Maddie Meyer/Getty Images
Davis is also on the Tsais’ side when it comes to charters: He thinks WNBA players “don’t need to fly commercial flights.” At a press conference in February 2022, he argued that the league “should have charter flights” because “these women are very tall” and commercial fights can be “very cramped”.
It’s no wonder a star of Parker’s caliber is quick to sign for Sin City. It’s also no surprise to see Stewart head to the East Coast to join a team like the Liberty.
“Every player wants to play for an organization that treats them well, it’s as simple as that,” Erin Kane, an Excel Sports Management agent who represents multiple WNBA All-Stars, told Insider. “And let’s be clear that most of what players are asking for, including charter trips, are things that improve the quality of the game and the product that the league is able to put on the field every night.
“These women are the best in the world,” she added. “They should be treated that way.”
Read the original Insider article