BROOKLYN — Breanna Stewart and Courtney Vandersloot made it pretty clear what their goal was in teaming up in the Big Apple to play for the Liberty.
“I speak for myself and I believe Sloot, when I say we both wanted to play together in the WNBA and go after a WNBA championship together. It’s much better to be on her side than against her,” Stewart proclaimed during an early morning press conference at Barclays Center.
The additions of two of the biggest names in basketball have highlighted a blockbuster offseason that has Liberty management and ownership, along with the players, eying the franchise’s first title. Stewart and Vandersloot join 2021 WNBA MVP Jonquel Jones, who was traded to the liberty last month, 2020 No. 1 overall pick Sabrina Ionescu and 2021 All-Star Betnijah Laney.
The powerhouse Liberty has already been dubbed a championship favorite in the WNBA with the talent general manager Jonathan Kolb has assembled. Head coach Sandy Brondello jokingly told reporters on Thursday that Christmas came early when Vandersloot and Stewart arrived and Liberty governor Clara Wu Tsai was already envisioning greatness.
“It’s truly a new era for the New York Liberty franchise. New York hasn’t seen a basketball championship since 1973, and I think this team is ready to bring one home,” Tsai said.
Thursday’s press conference had a bit of an ironic feel considering the events of the previous hours and the dismantling of a super team in that building, while hours later celebrating the formation of a new one. Stewart and Vandersloot had been envisioning playing with one another for some time before they signed with the Liberty, and the duo even took a number of the same meetings with teams in order to put themselves in a spot to play together.
And when the pair looked at what was already in place in New York, the decision became clear.
“Great players want to play with other great players,” Stewart said. “And when you have those great players, they know and they respect the people to the left and right of them so much that they know that they can make this work.”
Vandersloot had a similar viewpoint.
“For me, it was just the plan, the vision right away was so clear,” Vandersloot said. “It was not dependent on if this happens, or this happens. It’s like ‘this is what we see, this is what we’re going to go do. We want to bring a championship. We want to bring the best players here. We’re going to take care of you.’ It was everything that, I think I speak for both of us, that we were looking for.”
The other appeal to New York was an ownership group that has clearly been focused on growing the WNBA and women’s basketball. Owners Joe and Clara Wu Tsai have invested a lot into the Liberty, giving them first-class amenities and making it a destination that players want to come to.
The Tsias have been at the forefront of fighting to grow the WNBA and helping to make private air travel a reality in women’s professional basketball.
“It’s a topic that needs to be talked about,” Stewart said. “I think that when we talk about pushing the needle and raising the bar, elevating the WNBA, it’s that. It’s also player health and wellness and what’s gonna make us be able to travel across the country, or whatever the case may be, and be ready to play our best. We want to play our best to win and we want to play our best in front of new fans, season-ticket holders, things like that.
“When talking to Clara and Joe, they also feel the same way. We’re fighting to elevate the standard.”
The Liberty was fined last year for unsanctioned charter air travel for the team and even thought of disbanding the team. Now Tsai says that she sees some resolution coming soon on the issue.
“I do believe that it’s now enough of the topic within the league and several other governors that it is going to be addressed by the commissioner,” Tsai said.