Although athletes who say they’re “in the best shape of their life” after a long off-season aren’t usually to be trusted, the oft-overlooked W.N.B.A. had a solid claim on the cliché heading into its 24th year.
Following a hard-fought five-game finals in 2019, the league saw one of its most dramatic free-agency periods ever as the shuffle of A-listers like Skylar Diggins-Smith and DeWanna Bonner created an almost entirely new field of competition. The W.N.B.A. welcomed point guard Sabrina Ionescu — a triple-double phenom and one of its buzziest prospects in years — and most notably, players secured a new collective bargaining agreement that allowed the average W.N.B.A. player to earn six figures for the first time, including base salary and incentives. It’s common for players to compete year-round by going overseas in the off-season to make additional money.
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“It was long overdue progress,” said Dawn Staley, a Hall of Famer who spent eight seasons in the league and now coaches the University of South Carolina women’s basketball team. “It’s not like playing in the W wasn’t a real profession before, but you don’t have to supplement your income in the same way anymore. You have choices.”
“We were just seeing tremendous momentum for the W.N.B.A. and women’s sports over all,” W.N.B.A. Commissioner Cathy Engelbert told The New York Times. “Obviously, then we hit the pandemic.”
Suddenly, that optimism — already rare in a league that is still too often compelled to defend its very existence — evaporated. Players, scattered across the globe with their overseas teams, scrambled to find a way back to the United States, and league officials started questioning whether they could stage a season at all.
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“It’s like damn, we came so far this year and this happens,” said Aerial Powers, a forward for the defending champion Washington Mystics. “Not having a season would have been awful — we don’t want to go backwards.”
But by mid-June, the W.N.B.A. had announced plans for an abbreviated 22-game season starting with three games Saturday, played exclusively at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. The league would operate in a so-called bubble: Players and staff were to remain isolated full time for three months — from training camp to the postseason — and play without crowds.
Preparing to play in what’s now being called the “Wubble” while quarantined, though, had its challenges. Often, players didn’t have space to work out; unlike some of their peers in the N.B.A., most can’t afford lavish home gyms and courts, a disparity illustrated by an interleague remote HORSE competition in April.
Many W.N.B.A. players don’t have a hoop at home, which meant they hadn’t shot a basketball in weeks by the time they were able to start preparing for the season last month. “Going from zero to 100 after three months off … it’s different,” Powers said. “Today was like the first day where I was like, ‘OK, this feels a little bit better. I’m ready to play.’”
The W is seeing some surprising advantages from the unorthodox setup, though. The fact that players were forced to rest by circumstance gave many players accustomed to playing professionally year-round a much-needed break. Because of the current dearth of live TV programming, almost 50 percent of the W.N.B.A.’s regular-season games will be nationally televised on ABC, ESPN, ESPN2 or CBS Sports Network. This is a win for a league that has long had to jockey for TV time with the men’s pro leagues — and often lost.
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Frequently Asked Questions
Updated July 23, 2020
What is school going to look like in September?
- It is unlikely that many schools will return to a normal schedule this fall, requiring the grind of online learning, makeshift child care and stunted workdays to continue. California’s two largest public school districts — Los Angeles and San Diego — said on July 13, that instruction will be remote-only in the fall, citing concerns that surging coronavirus infections in their areas pose too dire a risk for students and teachers. Together, the two districts enroll some 825,000 students. They are the largest in the country so far to abandon plans for even a partial physical return to classrooms when they reopen in August. For other districts, the solution won’t be an all-or-nothing approach. Many systems, including the nation’s largest, New York City, are devising hybrid plans that involve spending some days in classrooms and other days online. There’s no national policy on this yet, so check with your municipal school system regularly to see what is happening in your community.
Is the coronavirus airborne?
- The coronavirus can stay aloft for hours in tiny droplets in stagnant air, infecting people as they inhale, mounting scientific evidence suggests. This risk is highest in crowded indoor spaces with poor ventilation, and may help explain super-spreading events reported in meatpacking plants, churches and restaurants. It’s unclear how often the virus is spread via these tiny droplets, or aerosols, compared with larger droplets that are expelled when a sick person coughs or sneezes, or transmitted through contact with contaminated surfaces, said Linsey Marr, an aerosol expert at Virginia Tech. Aerosols are released even when a person without symptoms exhales, talks or sings, according to Dr. Marr and more than 200 other experts, who have outlined the evidence in an open letter to the World Health Organization.
What are the symptoms of coronavirus?
- Common symptoms include fever, a dry cough, fatigue and difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. Some of these symptoms overlap with those of the flu, making detection difficult, but runny noses and stuffy sinuses are less common. The C.D.C. has also added chills, muscle pain, sore throat, headache and a new loss of the sense of taste or smell as symptoms to look out for. Most people fall ill five to seven days after exposure, but symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as many as 14 days.
What’s the best material for a mask?
- Scientists around the country have tried to identify everyday materials that do a good job of filtering microscopic particles. In recent tests, HEPA furnace filters scored high, as did vacuum cleaner bags, fabric similar to flannel pajamas and those of 600-count pillowcases. Other materials tested included layered coffee filters and scarves and bandannas. These scored lower, but still captured a small percentage of particles.
Does asymptomatic transmission of Covid-19 happen?
- So far, the evidence seems to show it does. A widely cited paper published in April suggests that people are most infectious about two days before the onset of coronavirus symptoms and estimated that 44 percent of new infections were a result of transmission from people who were not yet showing symptoms. Recently, a top expert at the World Health Organization stated that transmission of the coronavirus by people who did not have symptoms was “very rare,” but she later walked back that statement.
The teams are often not together for training camp because of players’ overseas schedules, but this year they have spent an unusual amount of time playing together and socializing. Their conversations have often centered around the social justice movements and protests happening around the country since the killing of George Floyd; this W.N.B.A. season is dedicated to Black Lives Matter and Say Her Name.
“Being able to have these kinds of conversations with everyone in the same place — getting all these different perspectives — is so unique and cool,” Atlanta Dream center Elizabeth Williams said.
Making the most of the season’s early promise, though, is still only possible on the court, where thanks to extraordinary measures, the players have finally been able to return. “There was just a calming sense of being back on the floor,” Williams said. “So much of what happened has felt like a loss of control, but that space was safe.”