Denial. Anger. Bargaining. Depression. Acceptance.
For fans of the underdog, of the come-from-behind victory, of the heroism of David overcoming Goliath, it’s been a long road to processing this year’s New York Liberty and Las Vegas Aces meeting in the WNBA finals.
With the Aces riding high off their 2022 championship, and New York’s star-studded roster moves in the offseason, the leading media narrative pitted these two superteams as the clear dominant forces setting the pace of the league this season, if not for an entire era of professional women’s basketball in the United States.
But since when do sports pundits know anything? Since when do hacky blog writers have any special insight into the ineffable chaos of what plays out under pressure on the court, the discrepancies between what a team looks like on paper versus how they gel together in practice?
Safe bets be damned.
Why go into the 2023 season saddled by unimaginative, low-hanging predictions when you can look towards the limitless possibilities of sport, the unlikely triumphs of the human spirit! The WNBA has been clamoring for expansion for years, and with only 144 total players, each team is just brimming with some of the most talented female athletes in the world.
When the WNBA Playoffs started, many fans I talk with thought, “surely other teams will step up in these playoffs and be fueled by their historic challengers to reach even greater athletic heights themselves?”
Take the Washington Mystics. They won their season opener against the Liberty this year and capped the regular season with another narrow victory over the Liberty, this time at the Barclays Center.
This scrappy group — plagued by injuries throughout the year that threatened to sideline up to half their roster on certain days — was finally starting to reach a place of real consistency in August. Might the 2019 WNBA champions finally make their comeback and fend off these titans?
Nope. The Mystics were summarily taken out by New York in the first round of the playoffs.
That might’ve been less despairing if the Liberty had gone on to face a closer battle with the Connecticut Sun, second place in the Eastern Conference under the leadership of out coach of the year Stephanie White.
Out west, the Aces went undefeated against the Chicago Sky and Dallas Wings in two series that might understandably make a fan consider hanging up their shirsey.
In the end, the Goliaths would not be denied.
The WNBA Finals will start on Sunday, Oct. 8, tipping off in Nevada. There is nothing to do now but embrace the action-packed showdown between two of the most stacked teams the league has ever seen and pray for a cutthroat series that goes all the way to Game 5.
This year’s league MVP Breanna Stewart, and last year’s MVP A’ja Wilson, will be going head to head, bolstered by some of this generation’s greatest basketball talents on display on both teams.
For those still looking for a (relative) underdog to root for, the Liberty are the team for you. The Aces are the defending title holders, and New York would be breaking a 21-year championship drought if they manage to go the distance over the next several weeks.
While this year’s finalists surprised no one, the battle for superteam supremacy will certainly be an eventful one to see the best of the best push each other to even greater heights.