The National Women's Hockey League is currently in its offseason following its sixth year of play, but things have been anything but normal over the past few weeks. A lot has transpired recently, and it appears as though this could be the tip of the iceberg.
Welcome to the Wubble! The 2020 WNBA season is back and taking place inside the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, a sanitized "bubble" to limit exposure to COVID-19. (Its nickname, Wubble, comes from the fact that it is the "women's bubble" – the men of the NBA have their own bubble in Orlando.)
The IMG Academy is one of the cleanest places in America right now. There are rigorous sanitation procedures in place to keep players, staff, and media safe. But the reality of this pandemic is dark. According to the CDC, there have been 4,163,892 recorded cases of COVID-19, resulting in 145,942 deaths in the United States. At least a dozen players and staff are sitting out of the WNBA season, many due to COVID-19 or pandemic-adjacent concerns. A cluster of infections within professional basketball would be devastating.
Even with the looming COVID elephant in the room, the opening weekend of WNBA play was magical, moving, and fierce. It brought me to the courtside of summer.
Day one of the season opener was lit. The Storm opened the season with an 87-71 victory over the New York Liberty. The Los Angeles Sparks defeated the Phoenix Mercury 99-76. It was in a highly anticipated matchup between All-Stars Candace Parker, Nneka Ogwumike, and Chelsea Gray for the Sparks and legendary trio Diana Taurasi, Britney Griner, and Skylar Diggins-Smiths for the Mercury. The Washington Mystics snatched edges in their dominant win over the Indiana Fever, 101–76.
WNBA players want to raise awareness and seek justice for the women and girls who have been the forgotten victims of police brutality and racial violence. Players will individually have the choice to continue to wear the placard with Breonna Taylor's name for later games. Throughout the season, players will wear warm-up shirts that display "Black Lives Matter" on the front and "Say Her Name" on the back. "Black Lives Matter" is on courts during games. In the weekend opener, payers walked off the court during the singing of the national anthem and held a 26 second moment of silence for Breonna Taylor, the young woman killed by Louisville police while asleep in her home on March 13, 2020.
Black athletes have a long history of being at the forefront of civil rights. Joe Louis, Jesse Owens, Jackie Robinson, Arthur Ashe, and Muhammad Ali is just a shortlist of Black men in sports who spoke out against institutional racism. Black women have been equally vocal. Althea Gibson, Earlene Brown, Wyomia Tyus, and Wilma Rudolph paved the way for the activist voices of Serena & Venus Williams, Maya Moore, Allyson Felix, and Gabby Douglas. These athletes have a deep understanding that their excellence in their field does not guarantee their safety in the larger society. Unfortunately, professional sports have a dark history of replicating systems that reproduce inequality based on race, gender, and sexual orientation. Until that changes, the field, the court, the arena, and the stadiums for Black athletes will remain a battleground and platform for human rights.
As a Black woman, here is what's important to me: I love watching WNBA games. The energy is incredible. The talent is exceptional. It is one of the few spaces where I can see women athletes who look like me. I proactively seek out shows and print media with POC. Yet the reality is that Black women are too often sprinkled into TV and print as supporting characters or abutting storylines instead of as the main attraction. In the news, Black women are primarily portrayed as archetypes of suffering and victims of their strength. Where do regular Black women, like me, get to see affirming images of ourselves? The WNBA is 88 percent African-American or Black. Blackness is centerstage. I see myself on that court. Their choice to banner BLM and "Say Her Name" on that court reminds me that they see me too. Their respect for Black life is a reflection of the respect they want on and off the court.
Close games defined Day 2. The Minnesota Lynx led a narrow victory over the Connecticut Sun 69-77. The Chicago Sky and Las Vegas almost split the ticket with the Sky taking a 2 point with 88-86. The Dallas Wings fell to the Atlanta Dream.
Seeing the players this weekend was like catching up with friends who you haven't seen since before the pandemic. I felt excited to see Alyssa Thomas push it up the floor. Seimone Augustus brought big championship vibes in her first game with the Sparks, shooting 6-6 with 14 points. Jewell Loyd became the first Storm player to cross the double-digit point threshold. I can already tell Diamond DeShields is a rising star. I can't wait to see how her career unfolds this season.
With all of the warm feelings I experienced this weekend, I still have questions about this season. For example, how will the one-day rest period impact the performance and wellness of players? What will happen if COVID-19 gets in the Wubble? Why is the court in IMG Academy so loud; how does the increase of sonic acuity affect the players? I hope to explore the answers to these ongoing questions in my upcoming coverage.
With COVID-19 chaos in the world, we feel the need for basketball to provide an extra pump of oxytocin to our shelter-in-place brains, but we also need the basketball community to be safe, healthy, and supported. If the WNBA's safety plans fall short, it will be as devastating as it was exciting to see the league return to the court.
Filed under: Wubble; BLM; black lives matter; Florida; covid-19; social justice; los angeles sparks; ny liberty; phoenix mercury; quarantine; breonna taylor; wnba; basketball; IMG ACADEMY; minnesota lynx; connecticut sun; chicago sky; las vegas aces
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