Cathy Engelbert WNBA Commissioner

The WNBA’s 25th anniversary season has begun, and a league that many predicted wouldn’t survive has not only stayed in business, but greatly broadened and expanded its reach and exposure. Though it still doesn’t get anywhere near the coverage given either men’s pro or college basketball, there are now more WNBA games on different networks through a new deal that puts the WNBA on multiple cable and broadcast entities.

But there are also major changes. All 12 WNBA teams will have new uniforms, and Nike has created three looks for each franchise. There’s also a new Wilson basketball being used in their games, the first time in its history that the WNBA hasn’t used a ball manufactured by Spalding.

However the impact of COVID-19, which cut last season down from the usual 36 games to 22 and forced the teams to hold their games in the WNBA version of the bubble (nicknamed the “Wubble”), isn’t totally completed. There will be 32 games in the 2021 season, in part due to some residual impact of the virus but also because of the Olympics. The league will take a break from July 15 to August 11, assuming that the Olympics will still be held. There’s also still attendance prohibitions in three markets, with fans allowed to attend games in other arenas depending on city and state mandates. WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert said last Friday that the league is “hoping as we go into the Olympic break and come off of that maybe we can have more full arenas.”

The league also hopes that some big offseason moves made by top stars will generate more attention. The biggest saw former Tennessee star and multiple WNBA All-Star Candace Parker leave the Los Angeles Sparks and sign with the Chicago Sky. Parker, who also has made a name for herself as a broadcaster on TNT, grew up in Chicago. “Chicago is where my family raised me, where I first learned the game of basketball and where I first fell in love with this orange ball,” Parker told ESPN “I am excited to continue the next chapter of my career where it all began.” By doing so, the Sky have established themselves as title contenders.

Another key move saw the Las Vegas Ace trade Kayla McBride for Chelsea Gray. By adding a three-time All-Star, Las Vegas is getting one of the league’s most dynamic playmakers to an already loaded roster.

But perhaps the biggest move came off the court. The Atlanta Dream were able to get former Senator Kelly Loeffler, whose political stances were totally at odds with the WNBA’s image, out of their ownership group. A three-member team that includes former Dream star Renee Montgomery along with Larry Gottesdiener and Suzanne Abar purchased the team.

“It is a privilege to join a team of inspiring women who strive for excellence on the court and equity off the court,”Gottesdiener told the Associated Press when the deal was announced in February. “I would like to express my gratitude to Commissioner Engelbert, Commissioner Adam Silver (NBA) and the WNBA and NBA Board of Governors for the opportunity.”

The Dream finished only 7-15 last season, and were a team in turmoil. Whether they substantially improve on the court, this sale is one more feather in the WNBA cap and one more sign of its maturation as the 25th season gets underway.