OPINION: People should care about women’s basketball

Matthew Richards, Sports Editor

As the Women’s National Basketball Association prepares to begin its 27th season on May 19th, the popularity of women’s basketball has reached a record high.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association Women’s Basketball Tournament set numerous attendance records this season. The National Championship Final between the LSU Tigers and the University of Iowa Hawkeyes averaged 9.92 million viewers, making it the most-watched women’s college game ever and the most streamed event in the history of the ESPN+ streaming platform.

It’s only natural to wonder if this increased attention and popularity will translate toward the professional ranks of the sport.

As an avid follower of the WNBA for more than 10 years now, this season certainly appears to be one of the most anticipated ones to date.

A stellar rookie class is led by former South Carolina star and two-time National Defensive Player of the Year Aliyah Boston, LSU’s star point guard Alexis Morris who turned in several noteworthy performances during the team’s run to a national championship, Villanova’s Maddy Siegrist who led the nation in points per game with 29.2, and Stanford’s Haley Jones who was named the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player in 2021 and was the centerpiece of one of the biggest programs in the sport from the moment she arrived there in 2019.

As for the more established talent in the league, the era of superteams has officially begun with the New York Liberty and Las Vegas Aces signing big names in this year’s free agency.

The Liberty won the biggest prize of free agency, getting the hotly contested sweepstakes for Breanna Stewart’s signature. The 4-time All WNBA first-team selection and two-time Finals MVP announced her decision after sending social media into a frenzy after NBA superstar Kevin Durant tweeted his pitch to bring Stewart to New York.

With the signing of Stewart and the acquisitions of the 2021 WNBA MVP Jonquel Jones and Courtney Vandersloot, who’s led the league in assists four out of the last five seasons alongside 2022 All-Star Sabrina Ionescu, the Liberty’s presumed starting lineup for next season contains 30% of the members of last year’s All-WNBA selections.

Not to be outdone, the Las Vegas Aces also sent shockwaves through the league as they look to repeat as champions this season by signing Candace Parker from the Chicago Sky, giving them 60% of the members of last season’s All-WNBA First Team with the 2022 MVP and Defensive Player of the Year A’ja Wilson and guard Kelsey Plum already on the team.

Then there is the story of Brittney Griner, whose story captured national attention in 2022 after she was detained and imprisoned in Russia for 294 days. Griner announced that she would return this season and play for the Phoenix Mercury, who she’s spent her entire career with, and rejoin the WNBA’s all-time leading scorer in guard Diana Taurasi in the desert as they seek their second championship together.

With so many intriguing storylines and a regular season that has been extended to 40 games from 36 last season to go from May to September, this upcoming WNBA season promises to be one worth watching.