Along with the remainder of the world, athletes have had their careers upended by the coronavirus pandemic. They are giving The New York Times an intimate have a look at their journeys in periodic installments by the remainder of the 12 months. Read Stewart’s earlier installments right here and right here.
At lengthy final, Breanna Stewart’s W.N.B.A. comeback was set for Saturday, when her Seattle Storm had been scheduled to face the Liberty and the vaunted No. 1 draft choose Sabrina Ionescu within the league’s nationally televised season opener. Big-buzz, showcase video games like that one are nothing new to Stewart, in fact. After profitable an Olympic gold medal and 4 nationwide titles at Connecticut, she led the Storm to the W.N.B.A. title in 2018 and was named the league’s most precious participant. Then got here the most important take a look at of her profession: a devastating Achilles rupture that precipitated her to overlook all of final season.
Stewart spent months cooped up in Seattle, rehabbing and participating in Black Lives Matter protests earlier than trekking to Florida initially of July for the brand new season. She joined the remainder of the W.N.B.A.’s gamers on the IMG Academy, a 600-acre sports activities coaching campus 45 miles from Tampa Bay the place all 12 groups reside, coaching, and sequestering collectively as they play a shortened 22-game common season.
Stewart’s wait to return to the courtroom has been lengthy and unsettling, with the tedium of restoration stretched out by uncertainty over the league’s return. Having endured all of that, Stewart will lastly attempt to get again to her outdated regular — profitable championships.
This interview has been condensed and edited for readability.
Honestly, in a manner I’m nonetheless shocked to be again and about to get again out on courtroom in our league. It’s surreal. I used to be simply desirous about it in the present day, in actual fact. About how I’m going to place my Seattle uniform on and this time, lastly, it’s not going to be for a photograph shoot. How I’m really going to go and play a recreation that counts on this league once more. I’ve missed that a lot. Missed being round my teammates and the type of environment we’ve got and simply preventing with them for 40 minutes. Now I don’t must miss it anymore.
There’s a number of change within the league, with some gamers opting out and others transferring to totally different groups, and likewise some actually thrilling new gamers. We’re lucky in Seattle as a result of we’ve got our complete roster right here and we’re wholesome and skilled. We’re going after a championship, little doubt about it. We’re simply as hungry as we had been in 2018, if not hungrier. This season has a unique look to it, in fact, totally different than another season. We know some folks need to put an asterisk on it, however we’re right here and we need to do what we’ve come right here to do.
I used to be the league M.V.P. in 2018, after which missed final 12 months. Elena Delle Donne was the M.V.P. in 2019, and is out now because of her concerns about Covid-19 and a pre-existing condition. It’s definitely weird when I think about that. I have so much respect for Elena, who she is on and off the court, and, you know, the fact she wants to be able to play in an environment where she’s feeling comfortable. She’s one of the best and I always want to play against the best, but her situation is one of those things where there’s more to life than basketball and we get that in this league.
Me and a lot of my teammates basically have a bike gang at this point. We’re living on this campus in our bubble, and other than the games which will be about a 20-minute drive away, everything we’ll be doing will be on the campus. Since it’s so huge and sprawling, most players have been given a bike. I go to practice and the weight room on a bike. In the beginning, you should have seen all of us as players trying to ride around, because for a lot of us, we haven’t done it in forever. I can’t tell you the last time I rode a bike. I was probably about 10 years old.
We’re having fun with it. Seems like every time you turn a corner you see someone, some great player. Coming back from practice on my bike and I look around up and there’s Candace Parker, just passing me by. I’m like, “Hi, Candace!”
Outside of practice with our team, I don’t think we feel we’re 100 percent comfortable hanging out as a group in the same room. So really, we just don’t. No meetings in small conference rooms or indoors in small spaces like that. And we don’t find ourselves really socializing with other teams.
Got a shiner, a big black eye the other day. Just under the right eye, I took an elbow from a teammate. That shows how nobody is backing off when we’re on the court. We’re wearing the masks outside, but then we play we’re banging up against each other. We recently had a scrimmage with Dallas and it had all the normal physical play, but I’ve got to say, it’s weird to be so close to somebody else without a mask who is not on our team.
I mean, in the end, it’s like we’re contradicting ourselves with some of this. We’re told to be six feet apart, but when we’re on the court it’s impossible. We’re battling there on the court up close, but, then in the arena, you see that our seats are spread out for distancing.
So, the co-owner of the Atlanta Dream, coming out against Black Lives? [In mid-July, Atlanta Dream co-owner Kelly Loeffler was widely denounced by players for criticizing the league’s decision to honor the Black Lives Matter movement at games this season.] Well, I’m not going to say her name, so I don’t give her any type of power, but I think that from a political standpoint, what she did was just try to ruffle the feathers in the league and create more attention for herself because her Senate seat is up for grabs.
There’s so much going on outside the bubble at this time in history, and we’re still absolutely connected to it even though we’re here. As a league we know what we stand for, and what we stand by, and the Black Lives Matter movement is something that is very important to us.
I think as the co-owner of the Dream, to make those comments when you’re in that position in a league that is 80 percent women of color? We don’t appreciate that, we don’t appreciate that at all. Personally, I don’t think she should be an owner, but it is not my job to decide who should not be an owner.
This league is in good hands with all of the new, young talent coming in. Everyone has their eyes out for Sabrina.She’s just a natural hooper, and her pick-and-roll game is like no other. I know from experience that when you’re the No. 1 pick and coming out of college after a great career you don’t fly under the radar, and she definitely hasn’t. People are super excited about seeing her at the next level, and I’m one of them.