NEW YORK — The WNBA tips off its 25th season Friday night after an eventful offseason that was full of player movement, including Candace Parker returning home to Chicago.
The two-time league MVP headed home after playing her entire 13-year career in Los Angeles since being drafted by the Sparks in 2008.
“I’m so excited to be home, and I say that from the bottom of my heart,” Parker, 35, said. “I didn’t realize how amazing the Chicagoland area was with basketball in general until I went out in the world and I saw how truly special and how they really embrace their homegrown talent.”
The 12 teams are also heading home this season after playing last year in a bubble at the IMG Academy in Bradenton because of the coronavirus pandemic. While attendance will be limited, teams will play in their home markets.
“We’re working with the players association and teams to create a plan to safely conduct our season amid this pandemic,” commissioner Cathy Engelbert said. “We know we need to stay vigilant to minimize risk as much as possible.”
The defending champion Seattle Storm, led by Sue Bird and Breanna Stewart, won’t play at their home arena, Climate Pledge Arena, which is being renovated, instead competing at the Angel of the Winds Arena in Everett, Wash. The Storm played seven games there in 2019, going 6-1.
They open their season Saturday in a Finals rematch against the Las Vegas Aces.
The Aces also made a huge move in the offseason, signing free agent point guard Chelsea Gray. Reigning league MVP A’ja Wilson is the only starter returning from last season’s Finals run. Liz Cambage is back after being medically excused from last season because of the pandemic. Kelsey Plum is healthy after tearing her Achilles tendon before the start of last season.
Las Vegas did lose Angel McCoughtry for the season this week after she tore her right ACL. The Aces also saw guard Kayla McBride sign with Minnesota. The Lynx picked up Natalie Achonwa and Aerial Powers in other key offseason moves.
Here are other things to look for in the season.
SOCIAL JUSTICE: The league plans to continue to support the WNBA Justice Movement. It’s the platform through which the league will continue to lead work to combat racial and gender inequality, promote advocacy for LGBTQ+ rights, and champion reform in systems where injustice persists.
COMMISSIONER’S CUP: The league will debut the WNBA Commissioner’s Cup. Teams will play 10 designated regular-season matchups before the Olympic break that will count toward standings for that contest. The top team by record in those games in each conference will play each other in a championship game right after the break ends. There will be player prize pools.