The Seattle Storm were the favorites entering the bubble. A big part of this came down to Breanna Stewart’s return. The one-time UConn superstar quickly justified her first-round draft pick status. Alongside Jewell Loyd and Sue Bird, the Storm have once again become a major playoff threat.
They’ve just finished dismantling the Minnesota Lynx. Now, Stewart and company are on their way to the first — and hopefully, last — WNBA finals in the bubble. While Stewart went off from the moment she entered the space, she’s had some issues with the format. And she isn’t scared to share why.
How Breanna Stewart recovered after a terrible injury
Stewart had an elite pedigree well before her current bubble rampage to the WNBA Finals. She was a superstar power forward/center with UConn, one of the top feeders of superstar-level talent for women’s basketball worldwide. According to ESPN, she won the Final Four Most Outstanding Player Award a record four times during this run.
There was no question she’d go straight to pro ball. In 2016, the Storm snapped her up with their first overall pick. Her transition to the league was almost seamless. She took on the Rookie of the Year honors, winning the vote by a landslide via the WNBA website.
Her breakout to true superstar status came in 2018. This was when, according to Sports Reference, she scored four 30+ point games, won the league MVP award, and was instrumental in the Storm’s Finals win that year. The team was poised to become a dynasty.
That changed with one unceremonious moment playing European ball during the WNBA offseason. As seen in the video above, she took a shot, finished, and took a bump on the way down. Her awkward landing finished her season immediately, similar to Kevin Durant’s infamous injury. She insisted she’d return to the WNBA after her mandated year away like she hadn’t missed a beat — and she did.
Stewart’s experience in the WNBA bubble
Going into the bubble, no one was sure what version of Stewart would show up. Even Kobe Bryant slowed noticeably after his own Achilles injury. Could this be the sudden end of the Storm’s resurgent dynasty?
She certainly didn’t start slow. ESPN‘s WNBA bubble rankings place her firmly at the top of the list. By the midpoint of the season, she put up 18.5 points per game, shooting 52% overall. This was not a recovery season for Stewart, despite the awkward conditions of the bubble. And she didn’t slow down, either.
The Associated Press reports that Stewart is better than ever. She recently put up a career playoff high of 31 points, completing a brutal sweep of the Lynx. Whatever happens in the Finals, her legacy is cemented as one of the best players of her generation.
Why Stewart feels the bubble’s rules are ‘contradictory’
She already came into the bubble with a chip on her shoulder, eager to prove that her Achilles injury wouldn’t permanently mar her play. Once in the bubble, she found herself frustrated by her surroundings. She told the New York Times that the very concept of the bubble was “contradictory.”
At the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, every team was sequestered in a campus described as somewhere between the Olympic Village and summer camp. Everyone is mandated to wear a mask whenever possible. Most follow social distancing protocols by riding bikes, to keep their distance and move quickly past people.
Stewart points out that much of these careful mandates are dashed by the simple fact that most of the people present are players. And said players are mask off, getting close, trading air and sweat as they guard and drive past one another.
The time spent isolated has a mental toll, and to Stewart, doesn’t quite make sense given the realities of playing a full game of professional basketball. The WNBA went off without much interruption, at least from the virus, though, so overall it appears to have been a success.