The defending champ Las Vegas Aces are again in the WNBA Finals and the Liberty have joined them on the card. The league could be the big winner.
It could be the start of a marquee rivalry. It already brings two 6-4 superstar rivals to the same court — Breanna Stewart, who just took her second MVP award in her first season with the Liberty after claiming one with Seattle, and two-time Aces MVP A’ja Wilson.
“They’ve been an incredible foil for one another and for their fan bases,” Hall of Famer and analyst Rebecca Lobo said Wednesday when the ESPN/ABC on-air talent for the Finals spoke to reporters via Zoom about the best-of-five series, which begins Sunday at Vegas.
“It’s reminiscent of Larry Bird and Magic Johnson back in the day in the NBA, helping to grow attention around the league, not only (for) their fan bases but the great Celtics-Lakers rivalry.
“So it would absolutely be great for the league to have a rivalry, especially a bicoastal one. Depending on what happens with the Liberty’s roster, you would certainly expect these two teams to be two of the top teams in the league again next year.”
The Liberty’s hopes for next year could rest on whether Stewart and Jonquel Jones are back because both can become unrestricted free agents.
The team's success this year is a big deal for the WNBA in the eyes of Lobo, who went on a fun run with the Liberty all the way to what was then a singular championship game in the league’s inaugural season of 1997.
“I think it’s vitally important for kind of the excitement around the league for New York to be doing what they’re doing,” Lobo said. “I think it certainly helps broaden the fan base and certainly brings different eyeballs to the league.
" I know we have three original franchises left, but it’s the one that hasn’t won a championship. So I think that certainly adds to the interest, and it’s certainly a good thing for the league to have 10,000-plus rabid, young, diverse fans coming to New York Liberty games.”
Who expected the Liberty to make the Finals for the first time since 2002 and be playing against their fellow superteam? Well, a whole lot of people.
“We saw a different level of excitement this year because of the superteam narrative, starting in February with the free agent signings,” Lobo said. “There was a bigger buzz around the WNBA (than) at any point that we’ve ever seen in the offseason.”
There’s a Sunday, Wednesday, Sunday, Wednesday, Friday schedule for the series. So the starters can be leaned on heavily considering the available rest time.
“I think the depth is much less of a concern as far as a difference between these teams than it was when we went into the playoffs,” play-by-play voice Ryan Ruocco said of what could have been a Liberty edge.
Jones should be much more of a concern for Las Vegas. The 6-6 center has opened the playoffs with a WNBA-record six straight double-doubles.
“As we’re talking about the star power in this matchup between these two teams, Jonquel often gets lost,” studio host LaChina Robinson said. “I mean, she’s a former MVP. How she shows up, to me, would be huge for the Liberty.”