WNBA Finals Preview: The (Gay) Battle of the Superteams

Feature photo of the Las Vegas Aces and the New York Liberty, the two teams facing off in the WNBA Finals 2023, by Michelle Farsi/Getty Images

It’s been a little over a week since we got together for our last WNBA chat and so much has happened! Two semifinals wrapped up, the league added another franchise (and has a 14th on the horizon), Dearica Hamby filed a lawsuit against her former team and, on top of all that, we’ve got the WNBA Finals on the horizon!

So, of course, Heather and Natalie had to sit down and discuss it all and make their final prediction of the season about who will take it all.


Heather: We’ve had SO MUCH W news this week!

Natalie: SO MUCH!

Heather: Where should we even start today?

Natalie: Well, I think we have to start with the biggest news since we last talked: the WNBA is finally getting a 13th team. Yesterday, Cathy Engelbert announced that, starting in 2025, the league will have a team located in the Bay Area. The team, which doesn’t have a name yet, will be owned by the same team that owns the Golden State Warriors and will play their games in the Chase Center in San Francisco.

News about the expansion had gotten out thanks to a piece by Marcus Thompson II for The Athletic but yesterday it was finally confirmed. How do you feel about the WNBA expanding to the Bay Area?

Heather: You know, of course, that my main dream was to see the W back in Charlotte — and not just for you, but not NOT for you. But you made such a great case for a Bay Area expansion the last time we talked, I couldn’t help but get so excited when the announcement finally came down. I think it’s going to be great for the league. The Phoenix Mercury already announced a new standalone state of the art practice facility, similar to what the Aces have and the Storm are getting (though less stylish than both). Teams are really going to have to up their games if they want to attract veteran players now, especially with the expansion.

Plus! The rumor is that Portland is next on the list, which is, obviously, an excellent choice. Portland is such a women’s sports city and such a queer stronghold. And once the left coast is all settled, I will still be cheering for more W action down south. More teams is more roster spots too, and thank goodness for that because these cuts are getting harder to handle every year. What’s your feelings now that we know for sure, and what are you hoping are the next steps beyond this?

Natalie: So, can I be honest and say that I’m both excited and a little disappointed? I mean, obviously, I’m thrilled to see the W expanding… it’s been long overdue. And, certainly, if ever there was a man who had shown a real, genuine love for women’s basketball, it’s Golden State’s majority owner, Joe Lacob. He is a true fan and I believe he’ll be a good steward of the game moving forward.

I’m excited for Bay Area sports fans who, one year after the debut of their new NWSL club, will have a WNBA franchise to cheer on right in their backyard.

Heather: Yes, all great points! What’s got you feeling disappointed?

Natalie: But I’m also a bit remiss that the team’s not going to be in Oakland. There was a substantial push to bring a team to the Oakland that was led by some prominent queer women, including Rebecca Kaplan, a member of the City Council, and former WNBA great, Alana Beard… so I would’ve loved to see that be successful. Plus, I think there’s been an exodus of sports teams from Oakland — first the Warriors moving to San Fran and now it looks like the Athletics are on the verge of leaving — that it would’ve been nice for the new team to truly have been part of that city.

I’m still excited about the new team, though, and I’m hoping that the Portland team — which, according to The Athletic, seems to be in the final stages of approval — will come online for that 2025 season as well.

Heather: I agree. It feels like a W team in Oakland could have been the beginning of a real sports renaissance there too, which is so wild to really think about in terms of the overall trajectory of women’s sports.

Natalie: Absolutely . Two more questions on this: first, we heard a lot of potential cities named as possible sites for WNBA franchises. Were you surprised that San Francisco and, particularly, Portland, beat out the other cities?

Heather: That’s a great question. I don’t feel like it’s a coincidence that they’re in cities with NWSL teams. There’s been a lot of symbiotic growth in NY/NJ because of the crossover of Gotham FC and the Liberty, and I could easily see that becoming more common all around the country. Portland surprised me the least because of the popularity of their women’s soccer team and also just the general vibe I mentioned. The thing that surprises me about the Bay Area is that it is SO EXPENSIVE. WNBA players are underpaid, especially younger players, and that’s one of the most expensive places in the world to live. I also feel like it’s going to make players even more adamant that they need charter flights all the time because that’s a lot of cross-country flying. I’m overall really excited and hopeful, but I do think the choice of places with higher costs of living is going to exacerbate a lot of the conversations the players have been trying to push for a while now. Which, honestly, is probably a good thing for them.

How old am I talking about the cost of living? I just want all these athletes to be okay!

Natalie: LOL. That’s such a Heather response, though.

I think you’ve hit on a really important point about the growth of women’s sports that I want to seize on: the growth of the NWSL and the WNBA… I really could talk for hours about this…. but the one thing I want to mention here is that women don’t have to be in competition with each other for dollars. I think a lot of times it feels like we’re fighting for the scraps but let’s be clear: women’s sports are the whole meal… the whole damn buffet... and people and cities should be fighting for the opportunity to invest in it. The NWSL and the WNBA can and should thrive and grow together.

Heather: Heck yes! I could LISTEN to you talk about this for hours! Your passion for this is making me a soccer fan!

Natalie: The second thing I wanted to ask on this…you are one of the most creative people I know and, so far this Golden State WNBA team does not have a name (though, apparently, it’ll be “Golden State________________”)…. What’s your pick for the new name of this team?

Heather: Oh my gosh, what a brilliant question. I’m going to think on this but right now the only thing that’s stuck in my head is that tomboy lesbian bear who’s the mascot of Golden Crisp cereal. I was also thinking maybe some kind of feminist play on Warriors, like Themyscirans (the Amazon warriors in Wonder Woman) but that’s only funny to me personally and maybe like three other people. Do you have any ideas?

Natalie: 🤣

Someone I saw suggested the Valkyries and that idea’s kinda stuck with me. I’m not even sure that makes sense… I think I just want to imagine a team whose mascot is Bisexual Icon Tessa Thompson.

Heather: SOLD! Give me the merch!

Natalie: When we last talked, teams were still making their way through the playoffs: the Las Vegas Aces swept the Dallas Wings in three games and the New York Liberty dispatched the Connecticut Sun in four. Before we talk about the Finals match-up, let’s pause for a moment and talk about the Wings and the Sun. What’d you think of their post-season performance and what pieces do you think they need to advance beyond the semifinals next season?

Heather: You know, you said something that I haven’t been able to stop thinking about. (This happens all the time, by the way.) That the way the MVP voting was announced, the timing of it, it just wasn’t fair to those players.

I think it was least fair to Alyssa Thomas because I don’t think she, DeWanna, or the team really recovered from the blow of her losing that award, despite getting the most first place votes and doing things no one had ever done in the league before (and, as AT herself said, will likely never be done again, unless she does it). AT went down after getting tangled up with Jonquel Jones in Game 4, the last one of the series, and had to be basically picked up and carried off the floor by two trainers. I was crying outraged, furious tears while it was happening because it was just so unfair. You never see her like that, and after the blow of the MVP thing and how it was clearly affecting her, I was livid on her behalf. And if I’m at home cry-yelling at my TV on her behalf, when she’s playing against my own team, how much more must the Sun have been affected by that?

I hope they figure it out before next season because I think it was a major factor in the Sun not at least pushing that series to a Game 5. They had what it took to beat the Liberty, they really did.

Natalie: I definitely think the timing of that announcement really had a negative impact on the spirit of that Sun team. They’d just been through so much all season, with the roster changes, the head coaching change and the injury to Bri Jones, that it felt like it was just the last crushing blow. To their great credit, they still fought… I’m not sure if they had what it took to beat the Liberty or if AT just wills that team to believe it… but they were on the precipice of pushing that series to a Game 5.

Heather: 100%

Natalie: There’s some cause for optimism in Connecticut. I think Stephanie White is absolutely the right coach for that team and she’s got DeWanna Bonner playing like she’s in her prime. Hopefully Bri will recover fully and be able to run it back. Olivia Nelson-Ododa stepped up during the series with the Liberty so I’m excited to see how she improves in the off-season and what she can do in the future. But the Sun need better guards…or at least more consistent guards… so I’m looking forward to seeing what they can do in free agency.

Can you imagine a team with Natasha Cloud and Alyssa Thomas on it? My Lord.

Heather: My eyes just bugged out of my head like a cartoon wolf, lol.

Natalie: What about the Wings?

Heather: The Wings? I just don’t think they had the talent to match up to the Aces. They played their kind of basketball, they got great numbers out of their best players, and so much effort — but the Aces were just too much for them. In fact, in these playoffs, the Aces have looked like that unstoppable team we saw at the beginning of this season.

Natalie: I think they actually had the pieces to give the Aces a run for their money but there’s a level of experience that comes with playing in the playoffs and the Wings just didn’t have that. The Aces were steady, even in down moments, and never lost sight of what their job was. The Wings, on the other hand, looked every bit like a team that had never been there before. They started to doubt themselves and their coaching and they fell apart.

Heather: Yep! The last play of the last game of the series, Arike got into a little squabble with Coach LT about the play she drew up. They were down by three. Then you could see Arike and Satou out there changing the play in real-time in the last few seconds. The wheels came off in the end — but they do have a lot to be excited about!

Before we talk about the Finals: Dearica Hamby has filed a discrimination lawsuit with the Nevada Equal Rights Commission and the EEOC due to the way she was treated by Becky Hammon and the Aces after announcing that she was pregnant. I’m curious about your thoughts on that, and I’m curious, in light of what we heard from Skylar Diggins about not even being able to access the Mercury facilities after giving birth — what do you think the WNBPA needs to push for to make sure players are protected and cared for when they choose to have children? What does the W need to be forced to do, because clearly they’re not going to do it unless it’s strictly mandated?

Natalie: So, I’m glad we’re talking about this. First, can I say that I was really surprised to see this from Hamby? Not that it’s not warranted — obviously it sounds like it was — but there are very few players in the W who would risk running afoul of the league by doing this so, honestly, I just want to praise Hamby’s courage. It’s such a brave thing.

Heather: So brave!

Natalie: I think, when this story came up at the start of the season, and the Aces were stripped of the draft pick, there were still so many questions that went unanswered. Like how an investigation took place without talking to any of the current players. I guess I’d assumed that the WNBA were just being cagey — as is their wont — and that at least the people involved understood what happened and why the Aces were dealt that level of punishment… but obviously that didn’t happen.

Heather: Right, part of Hamby’s lawsuit is the allegation that the WNBA didn’t even really investigate at all.

Natalie: I think you’re right that the W needs to be forced to do something… and they won’t be until the Players Association spells out what’s needed to protect the rights of mothers explicitly in the CBA.

Heather: I think that’s absolutely correct.

Natalie: To be honest, I think the league has kinda rested itself on the idea that players are either lesbians who won’t carry children and/or players who will wait on kids until after they’re done playing… and so, as part of the last CBA, you saw the allowance for freezing eggs. But now the league has to grapple with what it means to have mothers, and in particular, mothers who will carry their children, in the league…. and that’ll have to happen in the CBA.

Heather: I’m glad you said it because I think that’s 100% completely and totally true. Imagine telling WNBA players in 1997 that, ultimately, the league would WANT them to be lesbians.

I can feel Lisa Leslie’s glare on the back of my neck.

Natalie: LMAO.

Heather: I hope Hamby cleans up in this lawsuit. I know this sounds dramatic, but I think this could be Billie Jean King huge when we look back on it in the future. Women’s sports are only going to grow and get more and more popular, and leagues and teams have got to figure this out. If you can’t point to the damn WNBA as an exemplary organization in the way it treats mothers, who can we hope for?

Natalie: Absolutely right. #JusticeforDearica

Heather: I want to hear your thoughts on this, and I am also really curious what you think about — I guess I would almost call it animosity that players and coaches have expressed toward the sports media about how they’ve been pushing the Liberty/Aces narrative all season. Even Stewie was like, “Well, I guess y’all are most excited of all about the match-up since you haven’t stopped talking about it from the moment I signed here.”

Natalie: Honestly, since we’ve last talked, there’s been a lot of complaining from the two teams in the WNBA Finals. They want to complain about the media hype of this match-up, they want to complain about them being called superteams…. to which I just want to say, “STFU.”

Heather: I’m nodding!

Natalie: I am genuinely sympathetic to players on most issues but this feels like peak rich people problems, right? Like, c’mon… Breanna Stewart moved to a whole ‘nother coast and partnered with another former MVP and a championship winning point guard… like if that’s not a superteam, I don’t know what is.

Heather: She and JJ and Vandersloot have literally said they plotted this team together to win a championship while hunkering down in the Russian winters when they were playing overseas together! She’s the one who sent out all those cryptic emojis!

Natalie: Right! She has fed into this hype at every possible opportunity and now she’s like, “well, this is your narrative.” GIRL PLEASE!

Heather: Hahahaha!

Natalie: And while the reality is, three-fifths of that Aces starting line-up was drafted to that franchise so they’re only partially a superteam. Adding Chelsea Gray to your roster of three number one picks and then adding Candace Parker and Alysha Clark in the following off-season… like c’mon.

WORDS MEAN THINGS!

Heather: I am doing praise hands at you like I am back in the Baptist church of my youth.

Also, do you know how many players and teams would chew off their own hand for a chance to have the kind of publicity these teams have had?

Natalie: Absolutely.

I think they feel like being a superteam dilutes their success somehow or that by talking about the “media narrative,” they’re lowering those super-expectations… but like, it’s just ridiculous to me.

One superteam is about to lose in the WNBA Finals… that doesn’t mean they weren’t super.

Heather: It also doesn’t mean they didn’t have to beat some seriously excellent teams to get here. The Liberty could easily have lost to either the Mystics or the Sun if just a few variables had been different.

Natalie: 💯

Heather: Well, and now we are here! First game Sunday! What are you expecting to see from both teams? What would excite you the most?

Natalie: What would excite me most is a five game series, of course. The more basketball the better. If the Finals go five games, that’ll leave just 13 basketball-less days until women’s college basketball kicks off.

Heather: HELL YES.

Natalie: But I think these are teams that know each other very well… they can say whatever they want but not only did we anticipate this match-up, so did they. I think they’ve been getting ready for this all season long.

I’m expecting a dominant performance from Chelsea Gray to be honest. I’ve said all along that I think the greatest weakness of the Liberty is their guard-play on the defensive end of the floor…and so I think as active as Chelsea and Kelsey Plum can be on the perimeter, it’s to the Aces benefit. Every time down the court, they’ve got to run Sabrina ragged…hit her with one screen after another…to throw off her rhythm.

For the Liberty, I’m expecting a dominant performance from Jonquel Jones. I just don’t think the Aces have a good answer for what she can do off the boards.

What about you?

Heather: You nailed it. You and I always get people riled up by saying Sabrina Ionescu can’t play defense, but Sabrina Ionescu can’t play defense. Probably my favorite non-play moment of the entire playoffs was when Tiffany Hayes told Sabrina, “You can’t guard me, you can’t guard me” — and during the playback, Rebecca Lobo was trying to read her lips in slow-motion. She was like, “She’s saying something to Ionescu. She’s saying… you.. can’t… guard… me.” And then Lobo cackle-laughed and said, “IT’S TRUE!” So that’s a huge weakness no matter who the Liberty are playing, but especially the Aces backcourt because there’s not a weak link! I mean they really might be the greatest backcourt in WNBA history! Their best hope for Jonquel is to get her in foul trouble, because she’s playing her MVP caliber ball right now. She is absolutely feasting on the boards.

Natalie: Yeah, I agree there: if the Aces can goad JJ into committing a couple of fouls early in the game, that’d be to their advantage. But I think as we saw in the series against the Sun, when she had to guard AT, JJ’s gotten better at playing aggressive defense without fouling… so it won’t be as easy to goad her into those fouls as it used to be.

Heather: I’m actually hoping everyone plays their best and no one gets hurt. This feels like a pretty huge moment for the sport so I want close games, great play, and — like you! — five games.

I also wish Monica McNutt and Pam Ward were calling the games, but that’s one dream too far. 🤣

Natalie: SAME!

Do you have a prediction?

Heather: I do! I think it’s going to go: Aces, Liberty, Liberty, Aces, Aces.

What about you?

Natalie: Oh gosh. I really don’t know.

I’ll say this, though: I think if this series goes five games, the Aces will win. If this series ends early, the Liberty are your champions.

So I think the Liberty in 4 or the Aces in 5.

Heather: You know, that’s a GREAT guess. That feels so true.

Natalie: It is exciting to not know what’s gonna happen.

Anyway, thanks for coming out of Autostraddle-retirement for this conversation, Heather. I’ve loved this conversation so much and I know our readers appreciate hearing from you any chance they get.

Heather: Natalie, it is my pleasure. I have missed talking to you about more than I can say!

Natalie: Remember, if you’re looking for Heather’s work, you can check out her newsletter and you can follow our in-game commentary over on Bluesky (Heather, Natalie).

Now, as usual, we round out this week for our look at WNBA fits with our fashion maven, Dr. Carmen Phillips! Who dressed to impress since we last spoke, Carmen?

Carmen: I’m sad Dallas is gone for many reasons, but at the top of that list is that no on left is doing drip like this:

Also this is technically the post is a little old but I missed it, so it’s new to me! I have never wondered before now if the person behind the @leaguefits account is a lesbian — the account is 85% NBA related, but they include the W every now and again, so I had assumed they were a male ally — until just now… Because this is a top tier gay joke. I’m rethinking everything.

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Natalie

A black biracial, bisexual girl raised in the South, working hard to restore North Carolina's good name. Lover of sports, politics, good TV and Sonia Sotomayor. You can follow her latest rants on Twitter.

Natalie has written 400 articles for us.

Heather Hogan

Heather Hogan is an Autostraddle senior editor who lives in New York City with her wife, Stacy, and their cackle of rescued pets. She's a member of the Television Critics Association, GALECA: The Society of LGBTQ Entertainment Critics, and a Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer critic. You can also find her on Twitter and Instagram.

Heather has written 1718 articles for us.

9 Comments

  1. Ha! I didn’t realize the players themselves were taking issue with the super team thing – I’m with y’all, I’ve never seen it as an issue! Both these teams have a large amount of the best players in the league on their team, that doesn’t take anything away from them being the best players!

    And I also think it’s a credit to the coaches and staff because we’ve seen how many super teams in the NBA don’t work, so the fact that these two have is awesome.

    (Maybe I’m biased because as a Liberty fan I’ve waited to long to have anything near a Superteam.)

    My rigid brain can’t stop thinking about how both expansion teams are in the West, even though conferences barely matter. But like, who is moving to the East??

    Thank you both again for another great conversation! I too am hoping for a 5 game series and can’t believe college basketball is almost here, though I’ll admit sometimes my sports-induced stress feels like it could use a break

  2. It also feels significant and worth mentioning that both historically and currently, the women doing the carrying and mothering in the league are and have always been Black. Swoopes, Candace, DB, Skylar, Dearica, Ruthie, Phee. Some of that is the demographics, but when you think about lesbians who don’t carry its Stewie and Diana (and BG, sorta) and then Bird is the one talking up egg freezing. So it’s also on those brand name players to have pushed for the kind of fertility benefits they’re interested in and left those other experiences by the wayside.

    • How about just saying “Battle of the Superteams”? This season has been the most entertaining and exciting in years! This headline is unnecessary. I’m sure you could have worded that better. I do not care who is gay or not! BTW, not all of the women in the WNBA are! It is their insane athletic ability and accomplishments that should be the focus, not their sexual orientation.

      • Hi Rachel, I’m excited this column is reaching all kinds of WNBA fans.

        We are a gay publication. We like the word gay. We use it a lot. And lesbian, bisexual, queer, trans. The whole alphabet. We use it jokingly and seriously, as a noun, adjective, verb, adverb. If something’s not gay, maybe it can be gay. If something is gay, maybe it can be gayer. Gay is fun. It’s fun!

  3. This is hugely exciting for SF and Portland! I can’t wait to see how an expansion draft will look and the new opportunities that will open up for more players to get a chance in the league. Personally I’m incredibly upset that Toronto is out of the running, so much of the greater Toronto area would have been thrilled to have a local team to support, but further expansion is hopefully on the horizon.

  4. Thanks for the post, I keep coming back every week refreshing the page to look for it because y’all’s take and thoughts on things is always insightful and refreshing. I’m gonna miss it once the season plays out.

    I got major feels for the Sun now. I just respect the players for their tenacity and grit. AT is just a legend for the league. I was holding my breath with her tie-up with JJ, I think every wnba fan watching felt anxious for her when they helped her off the court. And as a long time Auburn fan, I’ve always loved Bonner’s passion and drive. I think the team had a few unfortunate issues in the last few games from AT’s MVP snub to the sickness of several key players to the frustration that boiled over on the sidelines… it felt like the team had a bit more stacked against them, but I love they kept fighting til the end.

    I have mixed feelings on the “super” teams. I can see why some liberty and ace players are frustrated by it because it’s a hype and target hard to live up to. But like y’all, it’s a little eye-roll worthy to hear the players, who purposely built said super team for the purpose of absolute greatness, then complain of such title and attention they garner for it.

    I’m not a fan of stacking teams to create super teams. It takes the fun out of it for me. Of course, I’m an Auburn fan amongst the land of Bama, so I’m always going to root for the underdog, so that might by skewering my POV. But when you have a team become almost unbeatable… it gets old watching them after awhile, if you are not already a “super” fan of that team. It’s fun now because it’s the first year but if NY and/or Aces build a dynasty (I hate that sports term) then after awhile it feels like rinse and repeat.

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