Picking My Squad: A Not-That-Serious Exploration of WNBA Rooting Interests

Members of the Seattle Storm rush the court after the team defeated the Las Vegas Aces to win the WNBA Championship Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2020, in Bradenton, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)

To be honest, I’ve never been much of a hardcore fan of TEAMS. I like sports: I like the athletic achievements of super talented humans. I like to be able to celebrate momentous happenings like no-hitters and perfect games, etc., no matter what team is involved. I’ve historically been a little bit of a clout chaser, a bandwagoner, a fair-weather fan. I haven’t really rooted for too many loser teams in my time (though my enduring love of the Detroit Red Wings has brought me closest to that nowadays … they stink). I did always enjoy the Miami Dolphins for their uniforms and the presence of Dan Marino, even though they never won much of anything. Once I did some time as a sports reporter in college, I further shook off the coil of team-specific fandom.

Anyway, that’s my way of saying I don’t put a lot of stock into who my “favorite” team is in a given sport, except that it gives me an entry point — a fulcrum on which to leverage my attentions as they pertain to that sport and league. Particularly when it comes to investing in a new league — as I did many moons ago with the English Premier League, Spanish La Liga, German Bundesliga, etc. — I find it important to “pick” a team to follow, if nothing else to give me a foothold while I gain familiarity with the league, its players, its coaches, the game itself, etc.

I say this a bit tongue in cheek, but I don’t take this choosing lightly: There are a lot of teams out there with terrible track records that I’d be ashamed to be associated with. I wouldn’t want to accidentally pick the Roman football club S.S. Lazio as my Serie A club, for example, because they’re best known for having a fan club full of racist fascists. Avoid! Other clubs just have crummy/crappy/criminal/corrupt ownership, like the famously dickheaded owner of the NFL’s Washington Football Club, Dan Snyder. Why pick a team I’m going to immediately be embarrassed to be a fan of?

As I mentioned in a recent post, I’m starting to follow the WNBA for this 25th anniversary season, so I’ve been doing research on what team I want to hitch my proverbial wagon to. The Women’s National Basketball Association, or WNBA, is known as a somewhat more progressive than average league, particularly lately, with its strong leaguewide stances in support of Black Lives Matter and collective voices against racism, sexism, and police violence, among other issues. But that said, some teams still have some potential potholes. For example, until late last season, the Atlanta Dream was owned in part by a regressive Republican Senator who was so despised she was protested by her own players. She ended up selling the team to a couple of real estate professionals and a former Dream player (that’s kinda neat, bonus points there). It’s not as much an issue now, but I wouldn’t have wanted to root for a team owned by Sen. Kelly Loeffler, R-Bigotry, even if her players were protesting her.

Since there are only 12 teams, I’ll do a little breakdown of each team on the factors that I consider in my fanhood. I must say, compared to other sports leagues, it’s tough to find some of this info about the WNBA. Even just finding breakdowns of last season are difficult, not to mention previews of this season, less than a month away. These are ranked, roughly, according to tiers, with the last team listed being my pick for “favorite team.”

The ‘thanks but no thanks’ tier

Dallas Wings

Branding: To look at their navy, lime green and cyan color scheme, plus their logo with a horse (pegasus, really), you would be forgiven for thinking they are affiliated with the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks (they are not). Their logo is actually cooler than the Mavs’ logo, though that’s not too high a bar. They did have a flap with their 2021 Rebel edition jersey, which they designed to honor the WASPs, an all-female Air Force corps, apparently without realizing that the WASPs weren’t big on including women of color in their ranks. To their credit, sorta, they pulled the jerseys from shelves and won’t wear them this season. Probably could have caught that earlier.

History: They were founded in 1998 in Detroit (Auburn Hills, really) as the Shock. They won the 2003, 2006, and 2008 WNBA titles before moving to Tulsa, Okla., in 2010 (?!?). They didn’t win anything there, and moved to Dallas (Arlington, really) in 2016, rebranding as the Wings. In Detroit, they won all their titles under the tutelage of Detroit Pistons legend Bill Laimbeer. That’s pretty cool.

Ownership: Bill Cameron is majority owner and also a part owner for the NBA’s Oklahoma City Thunder (there’s the Oklahoma connection). He’s an insurance guy. The guy in charge of basketball operations is also trying to get professional lacrosse to be a thing. It’s a bunch of white dudes, but nobody who would make anyone too upset.

Outlook: The Wings have been pretty bad recently, and were the worst team in the league this last season. They did have approximately all the draft picks in this recent draft, so they loaded up on some pretty promising talent, including No. 1 overall pick Charli Collier from Texas, but it’s likely this is a team in rebuilding mode for the foreseeable future.

Overall: They bring up the rear in my ratings. I’ve never much cared for ownership groups from Oklahoma, I don’t have any geographic ties to the Dallas area, and they’re one of the teams I am most liable to forget even exist.

Los Angeles Sparks

Branding: Forum blue and gold, just like their Staples Center co-tenants, the NBA’s Lakers. Weirdly, despite sharing colors and an arena with the Lakers, and despite having one Lakers legend on their sidelines (Derek Fisher) and another in their owners’ box, they’re not officially tied to the Lakers.

History: The Sparks are one of the inaugural teams of the WNBA, starting in the 1997 season. Like their Lakers counterparts, they never seem to be bad, and they always seem to be closer to contending than stinking up the joint. They won chips in 2001, 2002, and 2016.

Ownership: The Sparks are owned by a group led by a trio of Dodgers owners, including Magic Johnson, and some other mostly dudes. They are arguably more closely tied to MLB’s Dodgers than the Lakers. They were led in the early years by WNBA legend Lisa Leslie.

Outlook: They went 15-7 last season and lost to the Connecticut Sun in the first round. When Candace Parker signed with the Chicago Sky this offseason, they lost their leading scorer and rebounder. They’ll still be closer to contending than stinking, but they may be a little bit in limbo.

Overall: I’ve always sports-hated the male Lakers, so it feels right that I would not be much of a fan of the female Lakers.

New York Liberty

Branding: Prior to last season, the Liberty had a blue, orange, and black scheme similar to the NBA’s New York Knicks. Last season, however, they changed their primary color to a seafoam green, like the patina on the Statue of Liberty, and that seems to have been a pretty popular decision. Jerseys, shirts, hats and all sorts of Liberty merch are hot right now.

History: As one of the founding teams in the league, the Liberty were closely linked to the Knicks. They used their color scheme and played in their home arena, the venerable Madison Square Garden in Manhattan. A couple of years ago, however, the Liberty were purchased by the guy who bought the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets, and now the Liberty play across the bridge in Brooklyn at the Barclays Center. I don’t know of any other team that has switched its “affiliation” from one NBA team to another in the same city as a result of an ownership change. They’ve never won a title, though.

Ownership: As alluded to above, Alibaba.com billionaire Joeseph Tsai owns the Liberty along with the NBA’s Nets, plus the Barclays Center they play in, and has stakes in a number of other pro sports teams, including the NFL’s Carolina Panthers. So financial stability isn’t an issue.

Outlook: The Liberty stunk in 2019, got the No. 1 overall draft pick, and used it to pick a player many were calling a generational talent, Oregon guard Sabrina Ionescu. Three games into the 2020 season, Ionescu suffered a season-ending injury, and the Liberty stunk again, ending with two wins and the league’s worst record. They had six (SIX!) rookies on last year’s squad, so they are super young and super raw. Could be exciting to follow, but they’ll probably continue to stink for a while.

Overall: I want to like the Liberty because of the incredible promise of Ionescu, and I’ll probably check them out on League Pass a fair amount, but I’m mostly lukewarm on the franchise as a whole. They do have fairly cool jerseys, though.

Washington Mystics

Branding: They have the same red, white, and blue stylings as their NBA counterparts, the Wizards. They also have a pink and navy alternate uniform this season.

History: The Mystics were founded in 1998, after the league’s first season (go figure). The Mystics won their first and only WNBA championship in 2019, led by do-it-all Swiss Army Knife Elena Delle Donne.

Ownership: An ownership group led by Ted Leonsis owns both the Mystics and the Wizards. Wizards fans I know online seem to hate Leonsis for being a meddling, ineffective owner, but I’ll admit I don’t follow the team closely enough to know how true that is. The Mystics did just win a title. For what it’s worth, reading through his bio, I think he sounds like a pretty interesting guy: he’s an author, a filmmaker, a board game designer (!) and he started off his majority ownership of the Wizards by opening up his email inbox to fans, and taking cues from them on the redesign of the team’s brand (from weird teal and gold to the fan favorite red, white, and blue).

Outlook: With two-time MVP Delle Donne back from opting out of last season (well, once she’s recovered from back surgery), they’re already halfway to contention. The team went an underwhelming 9-13 last season, with Myisha Hines-Allen leading the team in scoring and rebounding in Delle Donne’s absence. They may or may not be a favorite in the Eastern Conference this year; it’s hard to tell as a newbie when nobody’s written any really good season previews yet.

Overall: Elena Delle Donne is one of my personal favorite players, but I couldn’t pick any of her teammates out of a lineup, so it doesn’t feel like the Mystics should be a frontrunner for my affections.

The ‘they’re alright’ tier

Chicago Sky

Branding: Cool blue and yellow make for a color combo you don’t often see in sports. This season’s uniforms play down the cool blue in favor of more black. The name is a bit generic.

History: Founded in 2006, played in the 2014 finals. No titles.

Ownership: A real estate guy and a lady who played college basketball but has spent most of her life as an executive at Quaker, Rand-McNally, PepsiCo, etc. Nothing exciting or terribly objectionable.

Outlook: In the offseason, they signed hometown girl and WNBA legend Candace Parker, who is maybe on the backside of her peak, but is a two-time league and finals MVP with the Sparks. The team seems a little in the middle of the pack, having made the playoffs last season with a 12-10 record, but didn’t make it out of the first round.

Overall: Other than having Parker on board, there’s not a lot here to draw my attention. That said, it is cool that they have Candace Parker.

Las Vegas Aces

Branding: They have a slick red and black color scheme with gold and silver accents. Unlike the NFL’s Raiders and the NHL’s Golden Knights, Aces has a pretty directly identifiable tie to the city of Las Vegas.

History: The Aces started life in the 1997 inaugural season as the Utah Starzz, a sister of the NBA’s Jazz. They played in San Antonio from 2003-2017, winning a conference title, before moving to Las Vegas, where they won another conference title just last year. No WNBA boats, though.

Ownership: Former Oakland/LA Raiders dark lord Al Davis’s bowl-cut wearing doof son Mark, who also owns the Raiders, which he moved to Vegas a couple years ago. Blech.

Outlook: They made the finals last year before getting more or less shut down by the Seattle Storm. They have the reigning league MVP, A’ja Wilson, and one of the league’s most dominant centers, Liz Cambage, who is probably best known outside the WNBA for starring in a video where she totally shuts down a series of male players. They’re definitely contenders.

Overall: For Wilson and Cambage, I REALLY want to like this team, but being owned by a Davis and being based in Las Vegas are two big minuses for me. Plus the merch is just meh. I won’t root against them, but I can’t say I’m a fan.

Indiana Fever

Branding: Red, blue, yellow, white with a fun retro-Americana style logo. I even found a hat with their secondary logo that looked cool enough for me to consider buying. Their 2021 “Rebel” alternate jersey looks like the Stranger Things logo.

History: Founded in 2000, they won the title in 2012 behind their all-time greatest player, Tamika Catchings, who is their general manager nowadays.

Ownership: Herb Simon, the shopping mall magnate. Blah. He also owns the NBA’s Pacers.

Outlook: They went 6-16 last year and drafted West Virginia star Kysre Gondrezick fourth overall, who is about as good on the court as she is fashionable off of it.

Overall: The Fever are technically one of my geographic “home” teams, but in the era of League Pass, who cares about geography? Like the Pacers, who I have warm feelings for but never ultimately find myself pulling for, I think the Fever will be one of those teams I’d be glad for if they do well, but won’t really care one way or another.

Minnesota Lynx

Branding: The Lynx use the same gray, blue, and bright green color scheme as their NBA brothers, the Minnesota Timberwolves.

History: Founded in 1999, the Lynx have been in Minneapolis the whole time, winning four dang titles, making them one of the most illustrious teams in WNBA history (very much unlike their NBA brethren, who ain’t won jack). They’ve had some legit legends play a long time for them, as well: Seimone Augustus, Minnesota native Lindsay Whalen, Maya Moore … like, I don’t even follow women’s basketball that closely and I know these names quite well. I wouldn’t have been able to tell you they all played for the Lynx, though.

Ownership: They’re owned by Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor, for better or worse.

Outlook: They’ve been to the playoffs 10 consecutive years, which is the running record. They have the reigning rookie of the year in Crystal Dangerfield, and a sturdy stable of talented vets, including Natalie Achonwa and Sylvia Fowles. They’re talented, well-coached, and look fairly well set up for the near future.

Overall: This is a team with a lot more history than I would have guessed. They look like a lot of fun, but they don’t quite rise to the top of the pile for me. I can’t quite trust Glen Taylor, who seems to make a hash of things every time the Timberwolves start to look good.

The ‘I’m rooting for them’ tier

Connecticut Sun

Branding: The Sun is a name in honor of the Mohegan Tribe of indigenous Americans, who own the team. Orange, blue, white, a neat logo and a neat name, with an alternate jersey this season that includes the Mohegan word for sun across the front.

History: Founded in 1999, originally based in Orlando as the Miracle, the sister team to the NBA’s Magic. In 2002, the team was already just about bankrupt before the Mohegans purchased the team and moved it to Uncasville, Conn. So it’s one of only a couple teams in the WNBA that’s not even in the same geographic area as an NBA team, let alone connected to one by ownership. They’ve made three finals, most recently in 2019, but no titles.

Ownership: The Sun are the only major league team in the United States owned by a Native American tribe. I personally think that’s pretty cool.

Outlook: They nearly made the finals again last season, losing to the Las Vegas Aces in the semifinals (the WNBA has a wild playoffs system that puts the top two overall seeds in the semis — a double bye — and re-seeds each round so the highest remaining seeds play the lowest remaining seeds, so you end up with teams in opposing conferences facing each other in the “conference” finals, etc.), and they have a nice blend of youth and experience, powered mainly by their interior scoring and defense. They’re a contender, but not a sure thing.

Overall: I really like the Sun’s story, their ownership, the fact that they’re in a nontraditional major league market, their branding, etc., but I know almost nothing about any of their players. They’re in the mix for my favorite team, but they don’t have enough to quite get over the hump. I’ll definitely be following them this season to learn more about them.

Phoenix Mercury

Branding: Purple and orange, like the NBA’s Phoenix Suns. Their new road jerseys, which call to mind a desert sunset, are top sellers already.

History: The Mercury are a founding team of the WNBA, starting in 1997. They’ve won three titles, most recently in 2014, and have had a ton of top-tier talent, including WNBA G.O.A.T. Diana Taurasi, Cappie Pondexter, inveterate dunker Brittney Griner, and Skylar Diggins-Smith.

Ownership: Robert Sarver owns both the NBA’s Suns and the Mercury, which you may or may not think is a good thing. The Suns have had a recent renaissance, but Sarver himself has been accused of bribing local officials and is a steady Republican donor. If it wasn’t for him being the owner, the Mercury would be an EASY pick for my team.

Outlook: They went 13-9 and lost in the second round of last year’s playoffs. Taurasi is somehow still the best player on the planet despite being nearly 40, but that probably won’t last too much longer. Griner and Diggins-Smith are bonafide stars, and there’s plenty of depth. In my limited time watching games from last season on League Pass, the Mercury are a team I find myself watching a lot.

Overall: As I said, this would be an easy choice for No. 1 if it wasn’t for their openly Republican owner who called NBA players protesting for racial justice last season “whiny bitches.” I genuinely love this roster, they’re exciting to watch, they aren’t necessarily a title contender, so they’ll have room to grow. And we are near the end of the Taurasi era, so it’ll be interesting to see who steps in to lead the team going forward. If Sarver sells this team, I reserve the right to start buying up Mercury merch.

Atlanta Dream

Branding: I like the jerseys and the name, based on MLK’s famous speech. It’s very tied to Atlanta.

History: Founded in 2008, have made the playoffs 9 of 12 years, 3 finals appearances, no titles.

Ownership: As mentioned earlier, the Dream are no longer owned by a racist U.S. Senator. Former player Renee Montgomery is a part owner and the VP of the team, alongside two real estate people who have both voiced strong support for the team’s involvement in social justice issues. Montgomery is the first former player to be the head of basketball operations for an WNBA team.

Outlook: They didn’t have a great 2020, finishing 7-15. They drafted star Arizona guard Aari McDonald, who was a standout in the NCAA tournament and regarded as one of the top guards in the draft. They haven’t been to the finals since 2013, so they’re certainly not a frontrunner pick. They’re young and scrappy with high scoring potential in the backcourt between McDonald and second-year guard Chennedy Carter.

Overall: I have to say, this team is intriguing as all heck, and I love the unis, love the name, and love the commitment, at all levels, to social justice. Bonus points for kicking Loeffler out of the owner’s suite.

Seattle Storm

Branding: Gold and emerald green, like the NBA’s dearly departed Super Sonics. Their new jerseys are just *chef’s kiss* and I would buy one if I looked at all good in basketball jerseys.

History: The Storm were founded ahead of the 2000 season by Barry and Ginger Ackerley, who owned the Sonics at the time. Just a year later, the couple divested themselves of both teams. The Storm are one of two teams in WNBA history (the other being the now-defunct Houston Comets) to have never lost a WNBA finals. They’ve won four chips so far, the most recent being, well, the most recent, the 2020 title.

Ownership: Now the team is owned by a sports management firm known as Force 10, run by Seattle-area businesswomen who also own stakes in the Seattle National Women’s Soccer League team and a professional rugby team.

Outlook: They’re the defending champs, they have one of the league’s all-time greats, Sue Bird, still suiting up, alongside 2019 MVP Breanna Stewart, who is an incredible center, and point guard Jordin Canada, along with a pretty deep squad at every other position. They’re a favorite to be there again at the end of this season.

Overall: This is a squad founded, owned, and run by women with a progressive outlook. I have always loved the Sonics, and still harbor hatred for the NBA’s Thunder because of the way Oklahoma oil men stole the team away from Seattle. As much as I wanted to avoid picking a frontrunner, this team checks enough other boxes for me that I can look the other way, so to speak, on the issue of their recent championship status. They, too, are a lot of fun to watch, and I think Stewart might be one of the better bigs I’ve seen play the game in recent years. So for now, let’s call them my favorite and get on with the 25th season of the WNBA, which starts May 14.

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