Breanna Stewart is ready for a new challenge. The undisputed top WNBA free agent on the market this winter has decided to join the New York Liberty. Stewart made the announcement Wednesday on social media. Stewart and the Liberty are still figuring out the specifics of her contract.
The No. 1 overall pick in the 2016 WNBA Draft, Stewart spent the first seven years of her career with the Seattle Storm. Along the way she helped the team win two titles in 2018 and 2020, became an MVP, a two-time Finals MVP, a four-time All-Star, a five-time All-WNBA performer and four-time All-Defensive performer.
February 1, 2023
Early in free agency, Stewart raised charter flights as a key issue for the league moving forward. "I would love to be part of a deal that helps subsidize charter travel for the entire WNBA," Stewart wrote on Twitter. "I would contribute my NIL, posts + production hrs to ensure we all travel in a way that prioritizes player health + safety, which ultimately results in a better product. Who's with me?"
Charter flights are prohibited in the WNBA except in special circumstances, so no team could entice Stewart to sign by promising them. However, per Ramona Shelburne, figuring out where interested teams stood on the issue was a key part of Stewart's decision-making process. To that point, it's worth noting that the Liberty and owner Joseph Tsai were handed a $500,000 fine -- still the biggest in league history -- for breaking the league's rules on charter flights during the 2021 season.
In addition to potentially changing the travel landscape, Stewart was pulled to the Liberty by other off-court factors. Among them: the chance to return to her home state of New York (Stewart is from Syracuse) and play in the biggest market in the league. Plus, she was recruited by Brooklyn Nets star Kevin Durant, who said on his podcast, "I hit Stewie the other day, and I never do this, and was like, 'Yo, it would be an incredible dynasty in New York City if you came here.'"
On the court, Stewart will have an opportunity to team up with Jonquel Jones, Sabrina Ionescu and Marine Johannes (assuming she does not miss the season due to prioritization rules) to form what could be one of the most exciting teams we've ever seen.
There could be some growing pains as they figure out how to play together, but they're all unselfish players and it's hard to bet against that type of talent. They now have two of the last four MVPs, three members of last season's All-WNBA teams and two members of last season's All-Defensive teams. And that doesn't include Johannes, one of the best playmakers in the league.
Barring any futher surprises, the Liberty appear to be on a crash course with the defending champion Las Vegas Aces, who bolstered their squad by agreeing to a deal Candace Parker. With those two moves, the WNBA has officially entered its superteam era.
While Stewart's time in Seattle was defined by incredible individual and team success, it was also marked by serious injuries. She missed the entire 2019 season after tearing her Achilles tendon while playing overseas, and missed the end of the 2021 season after undergoing another Achilles surgery.
Those issues appear to be firmly in the past, however, as she bounced back with a remarkable 2022 campaign in which she won the first scoring title of her career, finished runner-up to A'ja Wilson in the MVP race and came in third in the Defensive Player of the Year voting behind Wilson and Alyssa Thomas.