Are ‘Superteams’ detrimental to WNBA’s growth?

With the Las Vegas Aces and New York Liberty loading up their rosters, the WNBA is in danger of having two tiers of play, one for the superteams, the other for the rest of the league.

LAS VEGAS — Little sister appears to be following big brother’s lead.

The NBA has been in “Superteam” mode for quite a while, as some of the league’s top players band together to try and win a title. Sometimes it works, as it did in Los Angeles with Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant and in Miami when LeBron James teamed with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to deliver a championship to South Beach. And sometimes it doesn’t work, as was the case in Brooklyn where Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving were unable to get the Nets a title.

The WNBA has been in the news recently as the balance of power appears to be shifting. The reigning champions, the Las Vegas Aces, are trying to repeat by adding two-time champion and two-time MVP Candace Parker along with another two-time champion, Alysha Clark to an already powerful lineup led by A’ja Wilson. It meant parting ways, less than amicably, with Dearica Hamby, who was an important piece of the Aces’ championship equation last year and is trying to balance playing and being a mother. Hamby was traded (exiled?) to Los Angeles and we’re still waiting for Aces management to explain what the hell happened.

Meanwhile, in Brooklyn, the New York Liberty are putting together a roster it hopes will challenge the Aces for supremacy in the WNBA. The Libs already have one of the league’s best players in Sabrina Ionescu and they’re surrounding her with some big-time players — Breanna Stewart, Jonquel Jones and on Thursday, added Courtney Vandersloot to the mix.

It’s shaping up to be a hell of a summer, especially when the Liberty and Aces meet up June 29 at Michelob Ultra Arena and Aug. 6 at Barclays Center. I would imagine those games will be nationally televised and draw huge crowds.

But it begs the question: Is this a healthy environment for the WNBA? Is it wise to have two Superteams and have the rest fend for themselves?

I’m not sure it is. Both of these franchises know what it’s like to lose and not be competitive during their existence. But look at a team like Indiana. The Fever struggle on and off the court, finishing last in the league at 5-31 and averaging just 1,776 per game at home last season. You can’t team me the people in the Hoosier State don’t like basketball. Hell, it’s like religion there. But why would they support a team that has no shot of competing for, much less winning a championship?

And what about Seattle? Yes, the Storm have had an amazing run of success. They play in a cool building in Climate Pledge Arena. But they’re moving forward without fan favorites and team leaders Stewart and Sue Bird, who retired. Is it good for the league to see Seattle struggle, which it likely will?

And with the planned return to the court by Brittney Griner in Phoenix, can she and Diana Taurasi muster enough firepower to get the Mercury into the championship mix? I’m guessing the Mercury will come up short.

And speaking of Griner, who probably shouldn’t be flying commercial from a security standpoint, why isn’t the WNBA chartering for all of its teams? Why are these women flying commercial, sometimes on different flights to road games? 

This isn’t some bush league operation. The WNBA has been around for 27 years now. If you want your players to perform at a championship level, having them squeeze into a middle seat in the ‘C’ group on Southwest isn’t the way to do it. The league’s Players Association should demand better travel conditions for its members and that means chartering for everyone, not just Brittney Griner.

And while we’re at it, let’s get an explanation from the Aces as to what happened between management and Hamby. Aces owner Mark Davis has done a good job in hiring women to the most prominent positions — president Nikki Vargas, GM Natalie Williams and head coach Becky Hammon. We’ve heard from Hamby. Where’s the Aces’ side of the story? 

Hamby, a two-time all-star and twice the league’s Sixth Player of the Year, was moved on Jan. 21. She has spoken out a couple of times, including earlier this week at her introductory press conference with the Sparks.  

“I came to work every day,” she said when asked about her commitment to basketball while balancing motherhood. “I did my job.”

It would be nice if the league she plays in did its job and treated its players with professionalism and in a manner befitting the sport’s best. Get their salaries up so players don’t have to go to places like Russia to supplement their income (the average WNBA salary last year was just under $103,000). Get them their own plane to travel to games so they can be well-rested and ready to give their best. And find owners with deep enough pockets like Davis to make this all happen. We’re past baby steps with the WNBA. Quit acting like a garage league.

The problem is the WNBA has been a money-losing proposition since its inception. And without the NBA’s support, it would have folded long ago. That said, the league needs to continue to develop more lucrative revenue streams in order to boost salaries, approve charter travel and other big-ticket items for its players. The financial gap is closing but it’s still an operation running at a deficit despite the improvement of the product and the TV exposure it receives.

Maybe some competitive balance will be achieved. In the last 11 seasons, eight different franchises have won the WNBA championship. But if the superteam model holds up and teams like the Aces or Liberty win it all, that balance will likely be gone. And with it, interest in a league that is trying to continue to grow its footing in the American sports culture will likely stagnate. After all, why would you root for your team if you know going in they have no chance to win it all? Even the 9-year-old girl who supports the Dallas Wings has her limits when it comes to her heartstrings.

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x