If You Love Powerful Queer Women (and Yourself) You Should Be Watching the WNBA Playoffs

Welcome to the WNBA, where the playoffs are WILD. On Sunday, the final day of the season, the playoff bracket was secured with eight teams going through. Now it’s Friday, there have been two days of basketball since then, and the field has been cut in half. Welcome to mayhem, aka the WNBA playoff format.

If you’re wondering what happened, I’m going to break it down for you in a second, but I want to talk a little more about this format. In many sports, including the NBA, you have playoff series, not games. There may be a single-elimination game for a wildcard spot or a first round but generally, teams play a best of five or best of seven series. This evens the playing field and allows the better team to rise to the top and allows for teams to have a bad day.

In the WNBA, we don’t get a playoff series until the semifinals, which is the third round of the playoffs. The first two rounds are single-elimination, loser-goes-home games. There is an excitement to these games; the stakes could not be higher for the teams who are playing. Intensity is through the roof and it adds an element of cutthroatness (is that a word? I’m going to pretend it’s a word) to the playoffs. It also means that regular season seeding is really important, because the best two seeds get byes all the way to the semis and the third and fourth seeds get byes into the second round.

BUT it means that really, really good teams go home way too early. It means that if a great team has a bad day—like the Los Angeles Sparks did last night against the Sun, with their rock Nneka Ogwumike out with a migraine—they’re shit outta luck. It also means that as fans, we are robbed of more really great basketball. So here’s my petition to keep the single-elimination first round for the 5-8 seeds and make the rest of the rounds a series. The players deserve it and so do the fans (and I’m not the only one who feels this way).

Now, onto good stuff.

Let’s quickly raise a glass to the ones we lost

Chicago Sky: The Sky started their season off with a bang but struggled in the end. They lost Diamond DeSheilds midway through, though she never looked totally healthy, and the team just didn’t look as sharp as they did at the beginning. While Courtney Vandersloot set a single-game assist record and became the first player in WNBA history to average 10 assists a game (insert screaming emoji), the Chicago offense could not find a way past the defense of the Connecticut Sun and they went out in the first round.

Washington Mystics: The Mystics were improbable to even *make* the playoffs, and their entrance into the postseason game down to the last game of the season. The team was without most of their superstars this year, including former MVP Elena Delle Donne, Natasha Cloud, and Tina Charles, and they were decimated by injury. They went on a 1-12 run in the middle of the season and it looked to be over for them. At the end of the year, Myisha Hines-Allen put the team on her back and willed them into the playoffs. They lost in devastating fashion to the Phoenix Mercury (more on that in a second), being eliminated in the first round.

Phoenix Mercury: The Mercury beat the Mystics in the first round of the playoffs, not on the back of Diana Taurasi or Skylar Diggins-Smith, the two players that carried the team through the season, but on an improbable buzzer-beater by Shey Peddy. Peddy was a WNBA rookie last year at 30 years old, playing with the Washington Mystics. The Mystics cut her earlier this season and she was picked up by the Mercury. It would be Peddy who made the shot at the buzzer against her old team to usher her new team to the next round of the playoffs. Sadly, their playoff run would end one game later when they lost by a single point to the Minnesota Lynx in round two.

Los Angeles Sparks: Yikes is the only way to describe the end of the Sparks season. It’s not how anyone wants to go out. They lost to the Sun in the second round, being completely shut down by their defense and never quite looking like a well-functioning team on the floor. The odds were stacked against them, with Ogwumike out with a migraine and Sydney Wiese was newly back from an ankle injury. Despite a hell of an effort by Candace Parker, they couldn’t overcome the Sun.

Now, let’s look at who is left

Connecticut Sun: The Sun are the lowest seeded team left, but that seed is deceiving. Despite starting the season 0-5, the team is playing the best basketball they have all year. They picked a good time to find their groove. The slow start was due to several factors: the core of this team is mostly new. They made it all the way to the Finals last season, but much of that team is no longer in Connecticut, and with Jonquel Jones opting out this year, that left just Alyssa Thomas and Jasmine Thomas returning from that starting lineup. There was a shortened training camp this year, giving the new core little time to get used to each other, and, despite the addition of superstar DeWanna Bonner, they struggled to find their groove. And vet Briann January was late getting to the Wubble thanks to covid. Once the entire team was in place and everyone found their sea legs, they’ve been a real threat. In a different kind of year, they would never have been seeded so low. Don’t sleep on the Sun; remember, they thrive on your #disrespeCT. Anyway, have I mentioned Alyssa Thomas?

Minnesota Lynx: The Lynx are coming in with a number four seed, a team that not a lot of people were talking about but were just quietly solid all year. Sylvia Fowles is back from injury and rookie Crystal Dangerfield has surprised everyone by truly carrying the team at times (more on her in a minute). Coach Cheryl Reeve won Coach of the Year this season, leading an all-women coaching staff of former players, something she intentionally did once she realized that in hiring male assistant coaches who were then pipe-lined to head coach positions, she was helping create the gender disparity in coaching and is trying to rectify that. A lot of people thought they’d go down to the Merc, but they didn’t and now they’re here. I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention Napheesa Collier (and the podcast she has with A’ja Wilson called “Tea with A and Phee”).

Seattle Storm: The Storm are an easy team to root for because they’re good and because they’re likable. With Breanna Stewart and Sue Bird anchoring them and a running list of who’s who in the league behind them, including Jordin Canada, Natasha Howard, Alysha Clark, and Jewell Loyd (remember that buzzer-beater from last week???), the number two seed is a threat to whoever they’re playing. The question is whether Stewart and Bird, who have been plagued by injuries, will be themselves.

Las Vegas Aces: The Aces come in seeded number one, behind 2020 WNBA MVP A’ja Wilson. Wilson can do it all, not dominated in any one particular spot but just constantly making things happen on either end of the floor for her team. They secured the number one seed in their final game of the season—when they beat the Storm. Kayla McBride, Jackie Young, and Dearica Hamby are always solid, Danielle Robinson is playing the best basketball of her career, and Angel McCoughtry has made a mark her first season in Vegas, being a key presence in a year the team was missing star players Liz Cambage and Kelsey Plum.

Play continues with the semifinals on Sunday, when the Sun takes on the Aces and the Lynx will face the Storm. See you there.

This is now a Crystal Dangerfield Appreciation column

I realize that I have not yet introduced you to Crystal Dangerfield. That was an oversight, and I’m going to rectify that right now. She was just named Rookie of the Year, which gives me a great excuse to talk about her. Dangerfield was drafted in the second round, which makes her the first second round draft pick in WNBA history to win ROY. She’s small, she’s quick, she’s humble, and she came out of nowhere to lead her Lynx team. Here she is after putting up 15 points in the second half yesterday to help her team overcome the Mercury:

When she was announced as ROY, she told WNBA journalist Ari Chambers that the first people she called were her family and her girlfriend. Now, Dangerfield and her girlfriend are THE CUTEST, and we will get there, but I want to take a second to explain how significant it is that a rookie, fresh out of the homophobic environment of NCAA women’s basketball, feels comfortable enough to casually talk about her girlfriend publicly. It is a testament to the inclusive and welcoming environment that the league and its players have created that Dangerfield can so comfortably be herself.

Now, onto her girlfriend, who changed her Twitter handle to “Crystal’s ROY Trophy / Her #1 Fan” and I just CANNOT WITH THE CUTENESS.

II don’t even have anything better than that, so I’m going to leave you with it to be weepy and in your gay feelings about it all.

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10 toes ❤️❤️

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Britni is a freelance writer whose work sits at the intersection of sports, gender, & queerness. Her writing has been featured in the New York Times, The Washington Post, Vogue, The Atlantic, Vox, and many more.

Britni has written 11 articles for us.

34 Comments

  1. I can’t thank AS enough for bringing these games to my attention this year. Aside from that rough Sparks game last night, all of the games have been close and exciting! And there’s just so many out gays and such a focus on racial justice.

  2. After her interviews last night, I am now a Crystal Dangerfield stan.

    Her response when asked how the team can lift up Sylvia Fowles in the next game as she is coming back from injury:

    “Just let her know we have her back and hold down the fort so when she comes in she can be her whole self.”

    Y’all. I cry watching this league all the time.

  3. The fact that a WNBA rookie can say she called her girlfriend is amazing. I started watching the WNBA 3 years ago, so I wasn’t around when this was the case, but if I understand correctly, in the past the WNBA was extremely homophobic and tried to keep their players closeted and ultra-feminized to attract straight fans.

    Also either way, U.S. society at large was much more homophobic 18 years ago when Sue Bird was a rookie and 16 years ago when Diana Taurasi was a rookie. I cannot imagine them casually saying they called their girlfriend at that time. So this is amazing progress.

    • It wasn’t so much that the league was homophobic (I’ve been a fan since the beginning), it was that *society* was homophobic and that there was — and still is — a lot of pressure on AFAB athletes to appear “normal” so that they’d be able to get more sponsorship dollars for the league and for the individual players. There have always been openly gay players in the W, but I think Brittney Griner kicked that door open when she entered the league in 2013 fresh out of Baylor, and once she was away from (homophobic, Trump-supporting) Kim Mulkey.

      • I’m also really mindful that the queer players who tend to get the most sponsorship dollars are queer white women, which stinks to high heaven, especially in a league that is almost 90% black. Think of how many times we’ve seen stories about Sue and Megan, Diana and Penny and the Vanderquigs, but we don’t see similar adoration for DeWanna Bonner and Candice Dupree, Brittney and Relle Griner, or any of the other married/partnered Black players in the league.

      • was coming to say almost the same thing. I think there were likely ‘encouraged’ to appeal to a broad audience, but you could also see that a lot of players went with what was comfortable to them. certainly, as for who the league put forward, you saw a lot more of Rebecca Lobo (no shade) than Cynthia Cooper if you were looking at promo material in the 1st couple years. it’s a long time since, but i remember noting how Lobo got so much air play when she was available for so little playing time (injuries, not her fault, but still, Cooper was blowing the doors off but you wouldn’t have known it if you were glancing).

  4. On a shallower level, Crystal Dangerfield is so cute. And so short (for the WNBA) – listed at 5’5″ which I believe is likely rounding up. And she was drafted so low (16th) and yet made rookie of the year!!! Amazing. As a Minnesota fan, I’m really excited for the future of the Lynx with her and Napheesa Collier. Cheryl Reeve is a really smart coach and GM. Though I will not forgive her for offending Seimone Augustus so deeply that she went to Los Angeles in what was going to be her final season.

  5. was so rooting for Chicago! and that Washington loss gave me a stomach ache. happy for the Minnesota, looking forward to their game against Seattle. also rooting the Connecticut; I can’t watch any game that includes the head coach for Las Vegas, so I really hoping they lose.

    thanks again for the coverage!

      • @mathilde – apologies for the late reply. it’s been a bit of time, so specifics are fuzzy, and also people in the league seem to like him so maybe he’s not the asshat he was, but… when he was the coach for the Shock, he brought a bad boy/enforcer attitude with him from his playing days, so at games i would see his players initiate a lot of rough contact off the ball. he was pretty nasty to play against and then smug about. i hate that kind of play so the impression stuck.

        sucks because LVA has some great athletes and I would otherwise love to watch them.

        • @msanon – Thank you for your response. Honestly, fck him. Idk if he is the same anymore; I’m not great at telling if people are being rough off the ball. But I saw in his Wikipedia what he said about Maya Moore one time and I would like him to go to the sea as well, if there wasn’t already a pollution problem.

          • His response to A’ja Wilson re her trauma reaction to the shooting of Jacob Blake earlier this year was also bad:

            “As the Aces’ practice continued, Las Vegas head coach Bill Laimbeer, noticing something wasn’t right with the star forward, pulled Wilson aside.

            “Just get through it,” Laimbeer said, referring to Las Vegas’ practice. “Get through it and then you can go to your room and then you can think about it or not think about it.”

            While the physical and mental demands of this basketball season, in which players have competed every other day, already presented a high potential for holistic fatigue, players have also grappled with the additional emotional trauma stemming from their activism.”

            From: https://theundefeated.com/features/the-emotional-fatigue-of-the-wnba-bubble/

          • @mathilde – i’ve only noticed rough contact when i was at games, so obviously not this year. but i didn’t watch any lva games either. anyway, go Sun!

            @britnidlc – hadn’t read that piece on the undefeated yet – was feeling a bit too worried for Seattle players for a heavy piece. now that they seem to be OK, appreciate the reminder. and this column… so much!

  6. Totally agree on adding more series to the playoffs. I love the craziness that comes from a one game elimination but you still want the better teams in the end. Adding more series means minor injuries does not derail playoff chances.

    Even a best of 3 for the early rounds, and then a best of 5 for the later ones would be better. You still might have some upsets to continue the craziness but the better teams are still more likely to rise to the top.

  7. As a new WBNA fan, this column has been awesome. It’s given me really important context for this season. For example, I did not know that women’s NCAA basketball is known for being a homophobic environment. (😥) That really makes Crystal Dangerfield’s statements about her girlfriend even more meaningful.

    Thanks for your great work as always, Britni! I’m really excited for the semifinals and for your coverage of the rest of the playoffs! 😻

  8. I have loved having this column to help me get into the WNBA this season! The number of queers! The activism! I have gone full fan, bought merch and and am constantly telling my friends and fam about the WNBA’s greatness!
    My main sport I’ve watched is soccer where it’s always single game elimination and there aren’t series like this so I find the difference interesting.
    Currently stressed about Seattle but so excited about the semis and finals!

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