WNBA returns, celebrating 25th anniversary season

National Sports

FILE – Seattle Storm forward Breanna Stewart (30) gets between Las Vegas Aces center A’ja Wilson (22) and forward Cierra Burdick (11) during the second half of Game 3 of basketball’s WNBA Finals in Bradenton, Fla., in this Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2020, file photo. The WNBA will tip off its 25th season on Friday, May 14, 2021. (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)

NEW YORK (AP) — The WNBA is back and celebrating its silver anniversary.

It was a busy offseason for the longest running women’s professional sports league that will tip off its 25th season Friday night.

There was a lot of player movement in the offseason, headlined by Candace Parker heading home to Chicago after playing the first 13 years of her career in Los Angeles.

Defending champion Seattle will try to become the first WNBA team to win consecutive titles since Los Angeles did it in 2001 and 2002. The Storm still have a strong nucleus with Sue Bird, Breanna Stewart and Jewell Loyd leading the way.

They added veteran Candice Dupree, but need to find replacements for Natasha Howard, who went to New York and Alysha Clark, who went to Washington.

The Storm will have a lot of competition up top. Las Vegas, which lost to Seattle in the WNBA Finals last year, was picked by the league’s GMs to win the title. The Aces were also No. 1 in the preseason AP WNBA power poll. League MVP A’ja Wilson will have a lot of help this season with the returns of Liz Cambage and Kelsey Plum, and the addition of Chelsea Gray.

The league will have a nearly month-long break for the Olympics in July and early August before resuming with the inaugural Commissioner’s Cup championship game on Aug. 12. That game will be played in Phoenix.

Here are a few other things to watch for this season:

WELCOME BACK

New York Liberty guard Sabrina Ionescu returns after playing only 2 1/2 games last season before spraining her ankle and missing the remainder of the season. The No. 1 pick in the 2020 draft will try to help the Liberty improve on the league’s worst record last season.

Nearly a dozen other players who missed last season because of injury or opting out because of the coronavirus are set to return.

WELCOME HOME

The WNBA will be playing in home cities this season after the entire 2020 campaign was held at IMG Academy in Florida because of the coronavirus pandemic. While attendance will be limited to start the year, the league hopes to be able to have more fans in the arenas as the season progresses.

MOVING TO A NEW POSITION

Seimone Augustus retired Thursday after an illustrious career. She won four WNBA titles with the Minnesota Lynx and three Olympic gold medals. After 14 years with the Lynx, she played her final season with the Los Angeles Sparks last year. She will become an assistant coach for Los Angeles this season.

“It’s an honor to continue to serve the game that has given me so much,” Augustus said in a statement. “I’m excited to join the Sparks staff and look forward to developing in this new role.”

SIDELINED

While the league will be welcoming back a lot of its stars who missed last season, two have already suffered season-ending injuries.

Las Vegas’ Angel McCoughtry tore the ACL in her right knee and Connecticut’s Alyssa Thomas injured her Achilles tendon playing overseas and is also out for the year.

VIEWING OPPORTUNITIES

The WNBA will have 100 of its games on national television this season, as well as dozens of games on Twitter, Facebook and Amazon.

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