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WNBA 2020 Season Preview: Masked, but not silenced, women of the W are ready to dish and swish

The 2020 WNBA season is finally here! While the players will be engaged in a bevy of off-court social justice activities, they’re amped for the on-court action. Here’s a preview of the single-site 22-game season that tips off on Saturday, July 25, at 12 p.m ET from IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida.

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Los Angeles Sparks Media Day
Masked, but not silenced! Chelsea Gray, Nneka Ogwumike, Candace Parker and Seimone Augustus (L to R) and the rest of the WNBA will use the 2020 season to spotlight issues that extend beyond the court.
Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

The challenges the coronavirus crisis presents to professional sports, including the WNBA, pale in comparison to the anxiety, misery and devastation the pandemic has caused for many Americans, especially communities of color. Nevertheless, the WNBA approached planning for the 2020 season with an impressive sense of improvisation and innovation.

The league, led by its dynamic players, is making lemonade out of lemons. And like Queen Bey, the WNBA and its players seek to tell a bigger, broader and more enduring story — one that is “Bigger than Ball.”

Yet, down in Bradenton, the ball promises to be pretty good, too.

Here’s what to expect of the 2020 WNBA season:

Path to playing through pandemic

Soon after Americans grasped the gravity of COVID-19, the 2020 WNBA season seemed in jeopardy after drawing excitement because of the league’s landmark CBA and delightfully frenetic free agency period.

Some way, somehow the games must go on.

On June 15, WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert announced the 2020 WNBA season would take place at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida — a 22-game single-site regular season with a standard postseason.

How the return of sports serves equality, justice

Before the WNBA would introduce its plan for the season, protests for racial justice roiled the nation, ignited by the brutal murder of George Floyd, the impunity over the unconscionable killing of Breonna Taylor and other instances of state-sanctioned violence against Black bodies.

WNBA players quickly established themselves as moral voices in the reinvigorated Black Lives Matter movement. The urgency of the moment altered the tone of the forthcoming season, and the players positioned the league as a stage for social justice activism.

For some players, the demand for justice required stepping away. The Atlanta Dream’s Renee Montgomery and the Washington Mystics’ Natasha Cloud decided to sit out the season to fully immerse themselves in the fight for equality. The Los Angeles Sparks’ Chiney Ogwumike chose to use her newly-expanded position at ESPN to promote stories of sport and social justice, including the story of the progressive power of WNBA players.

The enduring effort for equality would remain a pressing priority for the players who chose to play the season, and the WNBA and WNBPA announced the decision to dedicate the season to social justice.

In addition to adopting the Las Vegas Aces’ Angel McCoughtry’s #SayTheirNames jersey proposal, the WNBPA’s Social Justice Council will use the unique circumstances of the 2020 season to cultivate conditions for change through “community conversations, virtual roundtables, player-produced podcasts, and other initiatives.”

Various player-driven efforts already have accompanied these league-supported initiatives. Many players have used their Instagram stories to demand justice for Breonna Taylor, and the WNBPA worked with Taylor’s family to create shirts that will honor her memory.

Players across the league also have called out Atlanta Dream owner and U.S. Senator Kelly Loeffler, who wrote a letter to WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert opposing the league’s support for Black Lives Matter.

As the Seattle Storm’s Breanna Stewart and Phoenix Mercury’s Brianna Turner have previewed, players also are likely to use their sneakers to broadcast social justice messages.

We look forward to the other ways the WNBA players will use the crucible of the 2020 season to contribute to the fight for equality across differences of race, gender, sexuality, ability and other identities.

We also look forward to watching them ball out!

Breanna Stewart’s return and other reasons for glee

After some early woes in the “wubble” (and in spite of a rather bizarre decision about the playing and payment status of 2019 MVP Elena Delle Donne), it appears that WNBA is poised to successfully launch the 2020 season.

Although the might and magic of Liz Cambage, the ever-expanding game of Jonquel Jones, the D.C. debut of Tina Charles, the L.A. redux of Kristi Toliver and the contributions of others will be missed, the 2020 season will offer plenty of excitement, highlighted by the return of 2018 MVP Breanna Stewart and the arrival of Sabrina Ionescu, the No. 1 pick in 2020 WNBA Draft.

Stewart, No. 2 overall draft pick Satou Sabally and their squads will open the 2020 season when the Seattle Storm and New York Liberty square off at high noon on Saturday, July 25.

With a jam-packed schedule that is a dream for degenerate hoop heads — the two courts at IMG Academy allow for three games a day for at least six days a week — other developments and delights are certain to be discovered and dissected along the way. For instance:

Who gets the hardest-to-win trophy in league history?

Las Vegas Aces Media Day
Angel McCoughtry says the trophy of 2020 will be the hardest to win in league history.
Photo by Stephen Gosling/NBAE via Getty Images

And which team can do this in the absence of expected contributors, and in a season Aces star Angel McCoughtry says presents the toughest environment for winning a title?

Can members of the old guard still get it done?

Some in the W’s over-35 set still have their eyes on the prize. Will their bodies allow them to go get it?

Who will be the breakout stars of Bradenton?

The time is right for lesser-known players to make names for themselves. Which will seize the moment?

Which players can avoid a sophomore slump?

More importantly, which second-year players will become stars?

Is it Huskies over everyone when it comes to team pride?

Seattle Storm Media Day
Quintessential UConn star Stewie (right) is happy to be back and Jewell Loyd couldn’t be more stoked.
Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

Will the former Huskies dominate the W? Or will the Terps, Irish or Lady Vols inspire the pride of their alma mater to create some shade?

Mark your calendar!

In addition to an exciting opening-day slate, the season features exciting games galore and the following matchups are worthy of anticipation and your time:

Seattle Storm vs. Phoenix Mercury

Saturday, Aug. 8, 3:00 p.m. ET (ABC)

Friday, Sept. 11, 10:00 p.m. ET (CBS Sports Network)

Seattle Storm v Phoenix Mercury
Don’t miss the showdowns between Diana Taurasi and Sue Bird.
Photo by Michael Gonzales/NBAE via Getty Images

Let’s hope these will not be the final face-offs between Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi. But in case either legend retires after the season, be sure to catch both regular-season matchups between the iconic pair.

Minnesota Lynx vs. Dallas Wings

Wednesday, Aug. 19, 9:00 p.m. ET (WNBA League Pass)

Dallas Wings v Minnesota Lynx
How will the games of Arike Ogunbowale and Napheesa Collier evolve over the course of their sophomore seasons?
Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images

Last season gave us an epic Rookie of the Year race, with the consistent, efficient Napheesa Collier besting Arike Ogunbowale, an unstoppable point-scoring phenom, for the award. How will the sophomore stars build on their fantastic freshman seasons? The first matchup between the two, occurring near the middle of the regular season, will serve as an interesting barometer.

Chicago Sky vs. Connecticut Sun

Friday, Aug. 14, 7:00 p.m. ET (WNBA League Pass)

WNBA: SEP 06 Chicago Sky at Connecticut Sun
The contests between Diamond DeShields’ Sky and Jasmine Thomas’ Sun could be key in the playoff race.
Photo by M. Anthony Nesmith/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Might we need to look up into the Sky to find this season’s title winner? Or, should we stare into the Sun? While a bit overshadowed by more starry teams, both the Sky and Sun have the ingredients for a championship chase. The Sky return most all contributors from last season’s much-improved squad, while the Sun have retooled into a team that promises to be a defensive menace. The second game between the two, held only six days after their first, could prove consequential in the race for playoff seeding.

Of course, other intriguing matchups abound, with a plethora of tantalizing storylines sure to emerge. So, sit back and sip on the revitalizing, refreshing possibilities of the 2020 WNBA season. Cheers!