Why you should care
Because the WNBA is on the cusp of breaking big.
The 2019 WNBA season begins Friday with more momentum than the 23-year-old league has ever known. Thanks to a slew of breakout candidates and a potential superteam out west, ample storylines await your consumption. And, finally, the league is giving fans several ways to consume the game.
After signing a deal with CBS Sports to nearly double its TV exposure, it feels like the WNBA is nearing a breach of the sports zeitgeist along the lines of the mid-1970s NBA. The key difference? Your dad wouldn’t dare debate whether Moses Malone’s skills were worthy of attention based on the organ inside his shorts.
In a nod to fans of old-school hoops, Los Angeles Sparks coach Derek Fisher — who won five NBA titles playing in LA — now has two All-Star power forwards. It’s a sister act in Hollywood. In April, the Sparks acquired Chiney Ogwumike from Connecticut for a future draft pick, reuniting her with her older sister, Nneka, the 2016 league MVP. Chiney reportedly threatened to retire and focus on her broadcasting career if she wasn’t traded to LA, where she’ll continue working for ESPN. The Sparks (19-15 in 2018) are instant title contenders.
Seattle’s Breanna Stewart, the reigning MVP, tore her Achilles playing overseas this April, but a few young stars look ready to fill the void. With top draft pick Jackie Young at point guard, the 2018 Rookie of the Year, A’ja Wilson, has playoffs on her mind in Las Vegas. Also keep an eye on rookies Asia Durr (New York Liberty, via Louisville) and Katie Lou Samuelson (Chicago Sky, via UConn), who are primed to propel the league into a bigger spotlight.
What to Watch & Pick ’Em
Sunday at 10:00am ET on NBC Sports
Fresh off a shocking comeback win over Barcelona in the Champions League, Liverpool need a victory over Wolves, and a Manchester City draw or loss, to capture the Premier League title in the final week. Will a miracle strike twice for the Reds?
- Liverpool (-310)
- Wolves (+800)
Friday at 9:00pm ET on ESPN
Get your popcorn ready. Despite a second-half injury to All-Everything forward Kevin Durant, Golden State ripped victory away from the feisty Rockets’ claws on Wednesday. With a 3-2 series lead, can the Dubs close out a road game without KD?
- Golden State (+7.5)
- Houston (-7.5)
Ones to Watch
Frenkie de Jong, Ajax FC. With a 3-0 aggregate lead over Tottenham Hotspur at halftime of Wednesday’s Champions League semifinal second leg, Ajax FC looked like a lock to advance to its first final in 23 years. Then the second half happened. Spurs’ Lucas Moura scored three second-half goals, including one in extra time, and Tottenham ultimately advanced on the away goals tiebreaker. It was a shocking ending for Dutch side Ajax, whose youthful roster nearly completed a historic underdog run. That young roster, though, is what makes the collapse even more biting, as richer teams are set to pick off its budding stars. Midfielder de Jong, 21, has agreed to a 75 million euro ($84 million) transfer fee to join Spanish club Barcelona, who were eliminated by Liverpool in the Champions League semifinals, while defender Matthijs de Ligt, 19, is currently deciding between Liverpool and Barça. Watch out for a reenergized Netherlands side at the 2020 World Cup.
Shemiah Sanchez, LSU softball. With the NCAA softball tournament just days away, Sanchez and the Bayou Tigers are sure to soon be all over ESPN. A clutch slugger for No. 10 LSU, the senior second baseman rode a late-season hot streak to grab All-SEC honors on Tuesday. After entering the year with nine career home runs, Sanchez has launched 17 homers in her senior season — just one short of the school record. She hit go-ahead homers to clinch series wins against Mississippi State and Kentucky, led the conference with 11 homers and 28 RBIs in SEC games, with a fourth-ranked .817 slugging percentage. Most impressive, the Georgia native has achieved all of this while battling lupus. Diagnosed at age 14, Sanchez was told by her doctor that softball was too taxing to continue playing. Clearly, she didn’t listen. After this weekend’s SEC Tournament, NCAA Tournament seeding will be revealed Sunday.
Warm-Weather Ice Hockey. The Stanley Cup Final Four has provided us with two compelling, unexpected matchups. In the East, the Boston Bruins and Carolina Hurricanes square off in a battle for New England supremacy. The Hurricanes, you’ll recall, were the Hartford Whalers until 1997. (Connecticut residents never forget.) While both teams boast Cup titles this century, Carolina had missed the playoffs in 11 of 12 seasons, while Boston has missed the playoffs just three times in that span. Experience is on the Bruins’ side, but after beating the defending champion Capitals in seven games and sweeping the Islanders, Carolina is a well-rested team on a mission. In the West, San Jose and St. Louis emerged from two grinding seven-game series to continue their teams’ quests for a first-ever Cup. Look for San Jose forward Logan Couture to carry the Sharks through for another shot at the big prize after falling to Pittsburgh in the 2016 finals.
The Boston Celtics. One of the most frustrating and puzzling seasons in Celtics history came to a merciful end on Wednesday. Once viewed as the NBA’s deepest, most promising young roster, Boston spiraled into an ill-fitting collection of malcontents. By the time the final buzzer sounded, with Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks claiming a 116-91 win — their fourth straight in the series — these Celtics already appeared to have vacation on their minds. Now, general manager Danny Ainge must spend an offseason in which he should be focused on healing from a recent heart attack reshaping his roster and mending locker room wounds. Star point guard Kyrie Irving, who missed most of last year’s surprising run to the conference finals due to injury, was the root of many chemistry problems, and his ball-dominant style stifled the development of the supertalented Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. With Irving entering free agency, Ainge has two options: either re-sign his point guard and trade Boston’s young core to New Orleans for Anthony Davis; or cut Irving loose and gamble on talented youth, the promise of better chemistry and fewer headaches.
In the Hardest-Throwing Era of Baseball, We’ve Never Seen Fewer Fastballs, by Matt Foley in OZY
Major league hitters are facing more uncertainty than ever before. Why? Equipped with diverse arsenals, pitchers are delivering the lowest percentage of fastballs in MLB history.
Las Vegas Has the Golden Knights. Can Sin City Handle the Raiders Too? by Ed Komenda in the Reno Gazette Journal
Concerns over infrastructure, safety and expectations are raising questions about whether Las Vegas will embrace its new NFL team as successfully as its new hockey franchise.
The Kid With the Golden Arm by Adam Kramer in Bleacher Report
Clemson-bound DJ Uiagalelei is 2020’s No. 1 QB recruit and is getting Cam Newton comparisons … as well as Roger Clemens comparisons for his 95 mph fastball.
Yusei Kikuchi Sought Out Trevor Bauer to Talk Pitching. It Created an Unlikely Bond by Ryan Divish in The Seattle Times
As the latest Japanese star making his MLB transition on a new continent, Kikuchi is hungry to learn, and his new friend is similarly inclined.
St. Louis native Pat Maroon sent his hometown Blues to the Western Conference finals with the biggest goal of his life in double overtime on Tuesday. Check out the postgame scenes from the locker room, including a special moment between Maroon and his young son. It doesn’t get better than this.
— St. Louis Blues (@StLouisBlues) May 8, 2019