Even as the coronavirus pandemic was changing the way people lived and, one by one, bringing professional sports to a standstill, Napheesa Collier knew: Relatively speaking, she was blessed.
Stuck in her St. Charles, Mo., home, Collier — the emerging Lynx star and reigning WNBA rookie of the year — had a nearby church with a gym she was able to use. And she happens to be engaged to NBA and WNBA skills coach Alex Bazzell. So, every day, she would work out and they would work together, preparing for when the WNBA would return.
After players voted to accept a deal negotiated with the league, a 22-game season is set to start in late July, with all games played at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., without fans in attendance. The league announced those details and more in a news release Monday.
“I’m looking forward to just playing again,” Collier said Monday. “I didn’t get to play overseas because of the pandemic. I haven’t played in a team setting, really, since last season. I played with USA Basketball a little bit, but it’s not the same thing. I’m excited to get back on the court with our team, will al the new faces, and just play.”
The league release included some specifics. Players will get full salaries and benefits during the season, in which each of the 12 teams will play two games against the other 11 squads.
How, exactly, safety will be ensured for the players and league personnel isn’t clear. But it’s clear extensive testing will be involved for all involved, with everyone living inside a relative bubble.
“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,” WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert said in the release.
The playoff format will be the same as it has been in recent seasons, with a single-elimination format until the postseason reaches the semifinals, with best-of-five series in both the semifinals and finals finishing up in October; last season the season ended Oct. 10 with a Washington victory over Connecticut in Game 5 of the finals.
Previous reports had suggested that the deal negotiated between the League and the WNBA players’ union included the ability for mothers to have their children and a caretaker with them. And that veteran players with five or more years of experience would be allowed bring a spouse or significant other with them, at their expense. The release didn’t spell this out, but Collier indicated both were part of the agreement.
“I think the league and the union did a good job of working out what the players wanted,” Collier said.
Lynx coach/general manager Cheryl Reeve said she is happy both for basketball’s return and the platform it gives to players and coaches to discuss things more important than the game, namely “continuing the conversation around the racial injustice issues that permeate our society.”
Reeve’s determination to keep these issues at the forefront was echoed by union President Nneka Ogwumike.
“A strong commitment to a 2020 season will give the WNBA the chance to show the world that it’s taking the steps needed to secure our livelihood and well-being, while also providing the opportunity to amplify our collective voice,” Ogwumike said in a news release.
On the court, Collier said she believes a shortened season will make every game so much more important and will result in compelling action. She knows teams like the Lynx, with several new players, will have to work hard to come together before that season starts.
“We’ll have enough time,” she said. “We’ve Zoomed weekly, making sure everyone is keeping connected. Our training camp will be maybe, three weeks. A lot of us are coming early. We’ll have time to build the chemistry.”