Like their male counterparts, the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) will engage in games in July – finally getting their season underway that has been postponed for the past two months.
Bahamian professional player Jonquel “JJ” Jones and the Connecticut Sun are on a mission to get back to the WNBA Finals, and win it this time, thereby securing the first championship title in league history. They fell a game short to league Most Valuable Player (MVP) Elena Delle Donne and the Washington Mystics last season.
Jones will be close to home for the duration of the season as the league plans to stage a reduced schedule at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida. Each team will play all 22 of their regular season games at the IMG Academy – the official home of the 2020 WNBA season. The schedule hasn’t been released as yet, but it is expected that Jones and the Sun will play each of the teams twice in a subdued regular season which will be followed by a traditional playoff format. A total of 12 games have been shaved off the schedule this year.
The league is finalizing a partnership with key stakeholders, including the Women’s National Basketball Players Association (WNBPA), to play the games in Bradenton which is about a two-hour car ride from where the National Basketball Association (NBA) will resume its season. The NBA announced plans last month to restart its season in Orlando, Florida, in July.
For the WNBA, the IMG Academy will be the home for each of the league’s 12 teams and serve as a single site for training camp, games and housing. In a press release, the league stated that its number one priority remains the health and safety of the players and staff in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. In that vein, it is working with medical professionals and government officials on a comprehensive set of guidelines to ensure that appropriate medical protocols and protections are in place. Collectively, they will review the appropriate health and safety protocols and make necessary changes prior to the teams arriving on site for the start of training camp and throughout the season.
“We will continue to consult with medical experts and public health officials as well as players, team owners and other stakeholders as we move forward with our execution plan, and despite the disruption caused by the global pandemic to our season, the WNBA and its board of governors believe strongly in supporting and valuing the elite women athletes who play in the WNBA; and therefore, players will receive their full pay and benefits during the season,” noted WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert in the press statement.
Executive Vice President of IMG Events & Media Tim Pernetti said: “As home to some of the world’s leading athletes, coaches and performance experts, IMG Academy is thrilled to partner with the top basketball players in the world and the entire WNBA family. We are truly looking forward to becoming the official home of the 2020 WNBA season and working closely with the league in providing our best-in-class training and competition environment.”
With systemic racism and social injustice at the forefront of pertinent issues in the United States, the WNBA is another one of those leagues that is taking a stance and speaking out on the matter. The press release stated that the league will build on its commitment to social justice and will support players in launching a bold social justice platform as a call to action to drive impactful, measurable and meaningful change. In accomplishing that, the season will include a devoted platform led by the players that will aim to support and strengthen both the league and teams’ reach and impact on social justice matters, as stated by the press release. The league recently made donations from sales of its “Bigger Than Ball” women’s empowerment merchandise to the Equal Justice Initiative.
“The WNBA opposes racism in all its forms, and George Floyd and Breonna Taylor are the latest names in a list of countless others who have been subjected to police brutality that stems from the systemic oppression of black lives in America, and it is our collective
responsibility to use our platforms to enact change,” said Engelbert.
This season will represent the first time in the history of the league that all 12 teams will play all of their games at a single venue. Under the current plan, teams will report to IMG Academy in early July and regular season action will tip off in late July after a team training camp. The season will be played without fans in attendance, but the games will broadcast on ESPN, the CBS Sports Network and NBA TV.
As for Jones and the Sun, they are looking to win the franchise’s first title. Last season, the Sun advanced to the WNBA Finals for the first time since 2005, and fell to Washington Mystics three games to two after sweeping the Los Angeles Sparks three games to none in the semifinals. They posted a 23-11 overall win/loss record during the regular season last year. Their 15-2 home record was tied for the best home record in franchise history.
The Sun lost all three times they advanced to the WNBA Finals – to the Seattle Storm in 2004, to the Sacramento Monarchs in 2005 and to the Mystics a year ago.