In one of the biggest free agent moves in WNBA history, former league MVP Breanna Stewart decided to play for the New York Liberty, leaving the Seattle Storm after winning two championships in seven. years, she announced Wednesday on Twitter.
Wednesday marked the first day WNBA free agents can officially sign contracts and offer sheets for the 2023 season, although sources have told ESPN that Stewart is still working out the details of the cshe will sign. with New York.
—Breanna Stewart (@breannastewart) February 1, 2023
Stewart has made charter plane travel a key factor in his free agency, league sources told ESPN. It was a topic of discussion with the four teams she met with – Liberty, Storm, Minnesota Lynx and Washington Mystics – to see where they stood on the issue, which she says is essential to health, safety and security. player safety and performance.
While neither team was able to directly engage on the issue due to salary cap rules, sources said Stewart believed he had raised the issue to such a level of importance that meaningful conversations would continue in an immediate future.
“Stewie’s free agency is WNBA history at an inflection point: players understand their value, the WNBA’s potential, and are enthusiastic partners in growing a company that has incredible momentum. “said Stewart’s agent, Lindsay Kagawa Colas of Wasserman. ESPN in a statement Wednesday. “She owned the process and the responsibility that comes with power in a way that will hopefully impact how smart free agents of all genders approach similar opportunities.”
Stewart was picked No. 1 by the Storm in 2016 and won two WNBA titles with Seattle, also winning the league MVP trophy in 2018. The 28-year-old averaged 20.3 points and 8.6 rebounds per game in his career, having cthe 2019 season with an Achilles tendon injury.
The addition of Stewart, a Syracuse native who played college at UConn, propels the Liberty into championship contention as she joins 2020 No. WNBA 2021, in what appears to be the second “super team” created this offseason.
Last weekend, defending champion Las Vegas Aces added two-time league MVP Candace Parker to a list that already included Chelsea Gray, A’ja Wilson and Kelsey Plum.
The Liberty has long been a proponent of charter air travel, with owner Joseph Tsai tweeting in October 2021 that he would work with WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert to resolve the issue. In 2022, the Liberty were fined $500,000 for chartering flights for the team without league approval.
Unlike the NBA’s 30 teams, the WNBA’s 12 teams travel on commercial airlines, except in rare circumstances. The WNBA and its owners have decided that no team can fly a charter — even if its ownership can pay for it — unless all teams can afford to fly a charter. It is estimated that chartering trips for all teams would cost nearly $30 million.
WNBA owners are expected to hold a vote of the board of governors to make changes to the system. Since the issue is collectively negotiated, the players’ association should also review it. In the latest CBA negotiations, the players opted to file the matter for increased compensation, among other things.
The issue of private air travel has come to the fore this winter due to speculation, sources say, that Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner will have to fly privately for security reasons after being released from a Russian prison in December. . Griner was arrested at a Moscow airport last February after Russian authorities said she was carrying vaping cartridges containing cannabis oil in her luggage. She was held for nine months before her release in December as part of a prisoner exchange brokered by President Joe Biden’s administration.
If Griner were to fly private, the WNBA would have to determine if her Mercury teammates would fly private with her. This would raise the question of fairness for other teams in the league.
Griner, an unrestricted free agent, has indicated she wants to play for the Mercury in 2023 but has not yet requested special travel accommodations from the league, sources said.
Stewart, who played with Griner on the U.S. national teams and tweeted about him nearly every day of Griner’s incarceration, raised the issue of charter plane travel for the entire WNBA in a Jan. 22 tweet. She tweeted that she would be willing to contribute money from her name, image and likeness offerings, social media posts and production hours to help ensure that all of the WNBA can travel privately “in a way that puts the health and safety of players first” and “ultimately results in a better product.”
Last week, Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving, who serves as vice president of the National Basketball Players Association, voiced his support for WNBA players to have charter flights to travel.
“I wish it was as easy as getting it tomorrow, but business takes a little patience and our W ladies have been patient long enough, so we absolutely have to do something about it,” he said. . “And I’m with them no matter how much it costs, per se. I think we could all come together collectively and make something very achievable happen.”
Losing Stewart in the same offseason that franchise icon Sue Bird retired is a huge blow for the Storm, who have only two players – Jewell Loyd and Mercedes Russell – under contract for the 2023 season.
Seattle is one of three teams still in play for former Chicago Sky guard Courtney Vandersloot, who announced Tuesday that she will not be returning to the franchise with which she won a championship in 2021.
ESPN previously reported that Vandersloot is considering the Storm, Liberty and Lynx with the Sky and that his free agency could factor into Stewart’s decision. Vandersloot, who plays alongside Stewart at Turkish side Fenerbahce, is expected to announce his decision this week, sources have said.