Seattle Storm forward Breanna Stewart was the biggest WNBA free...

Seattle Storm forward Breanna Stewart was the biggest WNBA free agent on the market this offseason. She chose to play with the Liberty. Credit: AP/John Locher

With a single emoji, WNBA superstar Breanna Stewart changed the league’s landscape.

After weeks of cryptic tweets, the two-time finals MVP and 2018 league MVP finally sent out an image of the Statue of Liberty, signaling that she had signed with the Liberty Wednesday — a crowning piece for a superteam that now includes All-Stars Sabrina Ionescu and recently acquired Jonquel Jones.

The signing, which came at the end of the league’s free-agency moratorium, has yet to be officially announced by the team, though owner Joe Tsai liked numerous tweets welcoming Stewart to the Liberty on Twitter, and Stewart appeared on ESPN to talk about her decision.

“I decided to go to New York because I want to continue to be great and I want to go to the place where I can continue to help this league become better, to continue to raise the standard and I feel like, why not go to the biggest market in all of sports?” Stewart told ESPN. “I’m really excited to go after their first championship.”

The Syracuse-born Stewart, 28, led the WNBA with 21.8 points per game last year, was seventh in rebounds (7.6) and second in efficiency rating (24.6), and is widely regarded as the best player in the league — challenged only by reigning MVP A’ja Wilson on the Aces, another superteam. She has averaged 20.3 points and 8.6 rebounds in her WNBA career

On top of being one of the biggest signings in league history, the forward, who used her big-time status to lobby for charter airplane flight travel and other health and safety issues, indicated there was a broader context to her decision. In an adjoining video, the four-time All-Star and Olympic gold medalist is seen wearing a jersey with the words “I want to do my part to make the world a better place,” before replacing that jersey with a Liberty T-shirt.

The WNBA has prohibited teams from chartering flights for their players, saying it leads to a competitive advantage, but Stewart has been vocal about the need for private flights for players across the league. The issue came to a head after Brittney Griner was released from a Russian prison and noted her intention to play this season, with the geopolitical ramifications causing concerns about her safety when flying on commercial planes.

Tsai has supported chartered flights for WNBA players, and broke the rules to do so — incurring a $500,000 fine (largest in league history) after it was discovered he had the team flying on a private plane numerous times in the second half of the 2021 season.

“Going to New York helped factor into these discussions just because you know that you have people behind you that are pushing the same thing,” Stewart said. “Obviously, the owners of the Liberty, Joe and Clare Tsai, are trying to continue to elevate and raise the standard and I think it’s what we deserve. It’s what we deserve as professional athletes, as women’s basketball players. We want to be our best every single night.”

Stewart, who made $228,094 in a supermax contract with the Seattle Storm last year but earns millions more playing in EuroLeague and through brand partnerships, offered to pitch in some of her own money to create flight equity throughout the league.

The NBA flies all its teams on private charters, and though the WNBA brings in less revenue, the grueling schedule, along with the fact that many of its athletes must play overseas during the offseason, means that WNBA players face a significant burden just traveling to games.

“I would love to be part of a deal that helps subsidize charter travel for the entire WNBA,” Stewart tweeted on Jan. 22. “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?”

(NIL refers to name, image and likeness proceeds — or the money Stewart makes off her brand.)

She added Tuesday: “I think the next step for the charter is that it’s not going to go from zero to 100. Obviously, we would love to have a company come in and just sponsor us for the entire year but if we could be able to pick and choose the flights that we charter — whether it’s the East to West Coast trip or the one that’s really the worst or the back-to-back, just having some flexibility. Right now, it’s just a ‘no.’ Maybe it could be a ‘maybe.’ Or a ‘yes’ sometimes. ‘No’ is really hard to work with.”

It’s a cause that’s also been championed by Kyrie Irving, notable in that the Nets and Liberty are owned by Tsai and both teams play at Barclays Center. Kevin Durant, too, has made a strong push to bring Stewart to New York.

“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,’ ” Durant said in an episode of his “Boardroom” podcast. “I don’t think she’s seen it yet …They’re cooking man, they’re doing their thing. They’re bringing the best talent to New York. If they win a chip here, Barclays is going to be jumping.”

Wednesday, he retweeted Stewart’s emoji, adding: “Aye, don’t call my phone lookin for tickets this summer, they gone. Let’s get it @nyliberty”

Jones and Ionescu also tweeted their excitement.

Stewart brings significant heft and winning pedigree to the Liberty, who are the oldest franchise in the league without a championship. They’ve been to the playoffs 17 times in 26 years — the most ever without winning it all. Last year, the Liberty went 16-20 before losing in the first round. The UConn product has two titles to her name, both with the Storm, the team that drafted her first overall in 2016, and the final team in the sweepstakes before the Liberty won out.

“Superteams are the new thing, as you can see,” Stewart said. “We’re just trying to make sure we’re as good as possible, we have all of our boxes checked. When you look at the talent, there’s a lot of amazing players on this roster and we’re going to go after the championship . . .  I’m excited. I’m ready and I can’t believe it, to be honest.”


Breanna Stewart

Birthplace: North Syracuse, N.Y.

Age: 28

Height: 6-4

Position: Forward/Center

Nickname: “Stewie”

High School: Cicero-North Syracuse High School

College: University of Connecticut

College highlights: Won four national championships and became the first woman to be named NCAA Final Four Most Outstanding Player four times . . . National player of the year in 2014 and ’15 . . . Three-time All-American . . . Went 151-5 in four years at UConn.

Pro highlights: WNBA MVP in 2018 . . . Two-time WNBA champion with the Seattle Storm in 2018 and ’20 . . . WNBA Finals MVP in 2018 and ’20 . . . Four-time WNBA All-Star . . . WNBA Rookie of the Year in 2016 . . . Named one of the greatest and most influential players in WNBA history in 2021, when the league celebrated its 25th anniversary . . . Career averages of 20.3 points, 8.6 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 1.3 steals and 1.5 blocks per game.

Olympic highlights: Has won two gold medals as a member of Team USA at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro and 2020 Tokyo Games.


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