The (Untimely) WNBA Playoff Rooting Guide

The WNBA playoffs are at last about to begin! have begun.  If you’re here, it must be because you’re looking for the best team to cheer on.  Look no further, and read on.

First, the ground rules. Eight teams (67% of the league) advance to the playoffs, with the sixth and fifth seeds hosting the seventh and eighth, respectively, in the first round, which isn’t a series but a one-game elimination match. (Owing to the cruel auguries of time, and having nothing whatsoever to do with your humble guide’s inattention, this first round came and went on September 11; RIP Lynx and Mercury.)

In the second round, the lowest seeded team from the first round faces the fourth seeded team, and the highest seeded team from the first round faces the third seeded team, in another one-game elimination match. This mean that currently, (4) Las Vegas Aces will host (6) Seattle Storm, and the (3) Los Angeles Sparks entertain the (6) Chicago Sky. Penultimately, in the league semifinals, the remaining lowest-seeded team faces off against the first-seeded Washington Mystics, and the remaining highest seeded team opposes the second-seeded Connecticut Sun, in a best-of-five series. (The top two teams earn a coveted double-bye.) 

And last, the semifinal victors will contend for the title in another best-of-five series. The second round begins this weekend! The semifinals follow September 17, with the WNBA Finals set for September 29. This will work out well, because all of the good Sounders have left for their national teams; the Mariners are basically a funeral procession with Kyle Lewis on the side, and who really wants to watch the Seahawks get utterly devastated by the Steelers and Saints before losing in a heartbreakingly embarrassing fashion to the Cardinals en route to wunderkid Kyler Murray’s first career victory?

(Editor’s Note: As if. But probably yeah.)

To the first question, then, and answer truthfully: are you a fucking coward?

If not, congrats! You should root for the Seattle Storm, a team that, as we learned from a recent live podecast, would destroy literally any other mascot team. Little needs to be said about this Cinderella tale of a team, whose might and awesomeness angered the WNBA Gods, who cast a curse upon their best player. No problem, said the Storm. So the WNBAGs, ever retaliatory and full of wrath, doubled down and cursed their second-best player. Dope, the Storm replied, effortlessly and inviolate.

That the Storm have not only survived but played well is thanks to outstanding play from a variety of players who were never really expected to be more than the second-best player (mentally intersperse that McMahon WWE guy smiling dot gif) at their position (ditto but where the dude is laughing insanely dot gif) on their team (once more except falling out of the chair dot gif). To call their ascension to this level unexpected is to call a forest a leaf – not untrue, but wildly parochial.

Aside from being good, even if sporadic, this team is also fun; they play well together, and the sequence of dance-like congratulations they offer one another during free-throw drills before game time is the best thing you’ve probably never seen in your life. Indeed, you cheer for the Storm as a proof against cowardice — whether a demonstration, a prevention, or a fool’s errand (because they’re probably gonna lose; hello 2020, when the Storm will destroy worlds).

To those who choose not to root for the Storm: oh, so you are a coward then? Pity. Well, no matter; next question: how do you feel about the color blue? Or Chicago? Or vaguely ethereal things?

If you feel, I dunno, maybe mediocre about any of these things, or believe that they’re properly rated (Editor’s Note: How dare you), then you’re for sure a coward, and probably a Chicago Sky fan. To be serious for a moment, the players in the WNBA are superstar athletes to the last person, playing at a level of professionalism and athleticism that rivals any other league, while also playing year-round for a median salary that is 1.1% that of the median NBA salary. Let that drivel sink in for a moment. Really and truly imagine doing the same job as a colleague and making ten bucks for every thousand s/he earns. Okay, that said, I’m hard pressed to say anything informative or interesting about the Sky or their players. Their best scorers are all guards, and I’m not sure how that works. Cheyenne Parker seems very neat. I’m sorry; I’ve got nothing else.

Moving along under the presumption that you are a coward and have emotions about blue, Chicago, ethereality, etc.: how do you feel about players like Draymond Green?  Richard Sherman? Do they allow shit-talking in baseball or soccer?; if so, whoever in those sports are so skilled.

If you would die for the player whose tongue and wits are stronger and faster than Steph Curry rushing to miss a game-winning shot, or any QB fleeing Aaron Donald, then I have three words for you: Liz Fucking Cambage. Cambage is quite possibly the most dynamic player in the entire WNBA. She is utterly electric. Go watch a highlight reel of her play now, and enjoy the sensation of your eyes melting out of your face. In truth, there’s nothing I could say about her that would do her play or character justice.  So scream your guts out for the Aces if she sounds like your kind of player. I’d say this even if she was Las Vegas’ only player; but luckily for you, she’s not. Add to this mix of badassery A’ja Wilson, probably the most gifted forward in the league, and you have a front court that is nigh impossible to defend. Yet this strength is matched by a kindling hope in the backcourt: astonishingly nice-person, NCAA Division I women’s basketball all-time scoring record-holder, and 2017 first pick Kelsey Plum, who struggled in her first year but who seems to be rebounding (sorry but not too sorry), is now paired with the rookie of the year (in our hearts if not in fact) Jackie Young. The Aces are so good that it’s delightful but also scary that they are only the fourth seed.

If umbrage and death by caustic aren’t your cup of tea, then consider how you feel about redemption. Or siblings. Or both. If you would wish to prosecute any claim to sanity, you have at least some preference for one of these things, in which case the team for you is the LA Sparks. For over a decade, the Sparks franchise has been almost synonymous with the name Candace Parker, a player of almost legendary talent and skill: 2008 rookie of the year, two-time MVP, five-time all-star, and 2013 all-star MVP, in spite of having missed numerous games due to injury, and even one (1) pregnancy*. After injuring her hamstring in the preseason, Parker missed the first 7 games of the 2019 season, and played like a shell of herself on her return.

However, since then, Parker has returned to form, continuing to play her familiar but integral role: a Death Star Swiss Army knife. Yet Parker’s phoenix-like return hasn’t been the Sparks greatest spark (send help) yet; that honor belongs to the Ogwumike Sisters. Nneka — the 2012 first pick, a legend in her own right if not for Parker, and inarguably the Sparks’ most important player in 2019 — was joined by her sibling Chiney when the Sparks acquired her from the Connecticut Suns for a 2020 first-round pick. First picks in 2012 and 2014, respectively, they are the first duo of WNBA power forward sisters in all of time. It’d be like if you attached two gatling guns to a shotgun — impossible to imagine, absurd, and all too deadly.

* This is where we briefly recount how men are sissies in comparison to women, generally, and note that this comparison pertains to athletes as well.

Okay, okay, so… if: possessed of cowardice, and at least intermediated feelings about wind or blue or the ethereal, etc.; you would not die for an athlete; and find redemption and improbable weapons unappetizing; then you’re probably a secret Patriots fan. You love things like polo shirts, and are enraptured by the delusion that summers on the east coast are good. Your derangement extends to a love of aristocracies, and probably includes a fond, even romantic, but ultimately foolish, desire for their return.

If this is true, then the team for you is the Connecticut Sun. The state of Connecticut owns only one professional sports team, and it is the Sun. The team exists because the UConn Huskies have won the NCAA women’s basketball championship for the past 6,000 years, and there must be some team to bask in that glow. And that team plays like a team of communist divinities; unconcerned with things like individual success, its players do everything in their power to maximize victory. Because you won’t find a single star on this team — it is completely constellatory. Led by Jonquel Jones, who is probably the best center in the WNBA but who also shoots over 30 percent from three-point range; Courtney Williams, among the fastest and most opportunistic guards in the game; and three-point magician Shekinna Stricklen; this team is fourth in points per game, second in rebounds per game, second in assists per game, third in blocks per game, second in steals per game, and third in three-point accuracy. The point isn’t that this is the best team in the game or has the best player, but that — like aristocrats imagine themselves to be — they’re just so much better than so many others.

And finally, if none of these can tempt you, then perhaps you care, at a minimum, for justice. Who doesn’t want a more just world? Or failing that, a more vengeful one… 

Near the end of the 2018 WNBA season, the best team was not necessarily the eventual champion Seattle Storm, but could have been the Washington Mystics. Third-seeded due to poor injury luck and inconsistent play, the Mystics steamrolled through the Sparks in the second round of the playoffs, and seemed on their way to inflicting the same fate upon the second-seeded Atlanta Dream when horror struck.  Star forward (and fastest WNBA player of all time to 3,000 points) Elena Delle Donne suffered a brutal knee injury, missing the remainder of Game 2 and all of Games 3 and 4. While she was able to return for Game 5 and the finals, it was clear she couldn’t play as well or attack the rim with the same vigor as before. And so it happened that the Storm won almost easily, but not justly. Now, Delle Donne is back seething with the same fury as the rest of the team, among the oldest of the WNBA franchises, which had, up until last year, never even appeared in a finals, and which still hasn’t claimed that ultimate triumph. But now, with a full and healthy season behind her, Delle Donne has led the Mystics to the first seed, and looks to avenge last year’s losses, a culmination that was as unlucky and terrible and full of plot holes as Game of Thrones Season 8. If by the end you just wanted everyone to die and the White Walkers to win it all, the Mystics are your team.

(Editor’s Note: Yes)

Now we come to the end. If you still haven’t found what you want or need, you clearly can’t be helped. However, be thusly consoled: if you’ve actually read all the way to the end, you’re probably not a coward after all. 

Go Storm.