To get in, you’ll want your ID. Present it to the doorman, after which take the elevator. Flip left. There’s a white door down the corridor; in there, a digicam crew is crammed wall-to-wall. There are portraits of former Brooklyn Nets gamers in all places, however that’s not who everyone seems to be watching proper now…
“EVERYBODY ON MUTE!”
Jonquel Jones, the charismatic New York Liberty star, belts out the lyrics to Beyoncé’s “Vitality,” a music off her Renaissance album. It’s August, and we’re all inside a workroom-turned-glam room on the Nets follow facility, the place Jones, Breanna Stewart, Betnijah Laney, Sabrina Ionescu and Courtney Vandersloot—the Liberty’s beginning 5—have spent the previous hour or so getting their hair and make-up accomplished earlier than the massive second: their first-ever SLAM cowl shoot collectively as a newly-formed squad. The power contained in the room is a bit hectic, as videographers and producers shuffle out and in, checking to see if our cowl stars are prepared.
Nearly. However for the primary of many instances right this moment, we’ve received Beyoncé lyrics to sing. After JJ, who’s sitting proper subsequent to Sab and close to Betnijah, cues everybody to go silent (an iykyk pattern tied to Beyoncé’s Renaissance tour), the music continues.
“Go searching, it’s me and my crew. Large power…”
In one of many salon chairs, a hair stylist is ending curling Breanna Stewart’s lengthy, brunette locks. Sitting close by, Courtney Vandersloot is getting eyelash extensions and smiling to herself as she covers one eye, noticing the distinction. Sab is the primary one prepared for images, and we comply with the All-Star guard throughout the corridor to the follow courtroom, which has been changed into a set with a white seamless backdrop and tons of studio lights.
Off to the facet, there’s a desk stuffed with classic goodies—old-school digital cameras, an precise flip digicam and a polaroid digicam—which Sab instantly gravitates to as soon as she’s accomplished posing for flicks. It’s then that we find out how a lot of a woman’s lady she is, which is internet-speak for somebody who respects and values their feminine friendships. One minute Sab is hyping her teammates up, the subsequent she’s posing Sloot for her personal photo-op second with a glass of champagne that somebody introduced on set.
This is identical Sabrina we as soon as topped the “Subsequent Queen of New York” on the quilt of SLAM 231, however who mentioned a queen has to rule alone? Sab got here into the W because the NCAA’s all-time chief in triple-doubles, the No. 1 general choose in 2020 and, undoubtedly, one of the crucial standard younger gamers within the League. Then the staff signed Betnijah Laney forward of the 2021 season, and since then, pleasure has been steadily constructing in Brooklyn. Now, with Sab, Laney, JJ, Stewie and Sloot main the way in which, the New York Liberty are the No. 1 staff within the East at 32-8—the franchise’s greatest regular-season report ever.
Whereas the media pushes the narrative that the WNBA has entered a “superteam period,” historical past reveals that superteams ain’t new within the W. The Houston Comets gained the primary 4 championships within the League’s existence between ’97-2000, after which the L.A. Sparks gained back-to-back ’chips in ’01 and ’02. The next yr, the Detroit Shock gained their first title after which one other one in ’06. The Minnesota Lynx gained 4 titles in seven years between 2011-2017.
To name this Liberty squad a superteam makes it sound like they’re a machine that’s been programmed to dominate, fairly than a gaggle of ladies who’ve come collectively and determined—each individually and collectively—that they need to be one of the best.
“I believe we’re simply tremendous people,” Sab says when requested in regards to the superteam label. “I simply really feel like all of us have a narrative to inform, and we’re all at such completely different elements in our careers, however once we all come collectively, that’s actually the enjoyment in being a part of a staff.”
The story of how this squad joined forces didn’t begin with Stewie—JJ was technically the primary to affix the Libs when she was traded again in January—however Stewie’s free company announcement did shock the world. It was one factor for the Liberty to have a brand new celebrity in JJ, however when Stewart began posting these emoji-filled tweets, everybody, together with Kevin Durant, was hyped. One other star teaming up with JJ?! “They cookin’,” KD said on his podcast, The ETCs. “They bringing one of the best expertise to New York.”
Then, on February 1, Stewie pulled a transfer paying homage to when Yoncé dropped Lemonade: she posted solely a Statue of Liberty emoji and a video of her switching right into a teal-colored lengthy sleeve warm-up shirt. Only a day later, Courtney Vandersloot pulled her personal WNBA insider second by tweeting that she’d additionally signed with the Libs. To place in perspective simply how loopy elite a trio of Stewie, JJ and Sloot is, we’re speaking three WNBA titles, 14 All-Star appearances, seven First Crew All-WNBA picks and three All-Defensive First Crew picks, plus Stewie’s two Finals MVPs, common season MVP and Rookie of the Yr title, Jonquel’s Sixth Lady of the Yr award and Courtney Vandersloot’s place within the report books (she’s ranked second all-time in assists). They’re all undoubtedly future Corridor of Famers.
Nonetheless, it’s loopy to suppose that there was a time when Stewie’s determination virtually didn’t occur. “I used to be backwards and forwards loads, actually,” Stewie tells us. “It was between Seattle and New York.
“The three of us [Sloot and JJ] had been speaking loads throughout free company,” she continues. “But in addition realizing who was on the Liberty earlier than us and that’s Sab and B ensuring that we need to come right here to win.”
Now that she’s in Brooklyn, Stewie has continued to solidify her rightful place as one of the crucial versatile gamers to ever play the sport. She was out right here setting information on day one, actually—in her Barclays Heart debut towards the Indiana Fever, Stewie scored a franchise-record 45 factors. She’s presently averaging a career-high 23.3 factors per sport (second within the W) and as soon as once more being talked about within the MVP dialog.
On set, Stewie is poised and exudes a cool and picked up sort of confidence; she’s even rocking her personal signature sneaker, the Stewie 2s, in all of the images. For the subsequent 10 minutes, the 6-4 star is simply as concerned within the inventive as she is in being the principle topic. She poses with the camcorder and asks if we’ve received a pair of sun shades she will be able to throw on, too. The lights find yourself inflicting an excessive amount of glare on the silver shades, however with just a few minutes left to get the right shot, she shines the brightest. At one level Stewie turns and stares straight into the lens together with her blue eyes, giving us that look. Lights flash as our photographer snaps away. Pop! Stewie tilts her chin down, this time holding her gaze. Pop!
All through her seven years within the W, Stewie has accomplished all of it: gained championships and MVPs, been the face of the Storm alongside the legendary Sue Chook. At this level, what fuels her to maintain taking part in at such a excessive stage?
“Mine might be perspective,” the previous UConn Husky says when requested about her supply of motivation. “Clearly loving to win and loving to compete, but additionally realizing that these moments don’t final endlessly, and having a glimpse of that by means of an harm. A few of us have been by means of accidents the place we’ve needed to be out for seasons and stuff like that. So, by no means taking something as a right, but additionally realizing that I’ve Ruby at dwelling, trying as much as me [and] watching each single transfer that I do, and ensuring that I’m persevering with to assist make this staff and this League higher for her if she desires to play, but additionally the subsequent era.”
Stewart and JJ entered the WNBA in the identical yr, 2016, because the No. 1 and No. 6 picks, respectively, and have performed collectively abroad on UMMC Ekaterinburg. For JJ, her transfer to New York occurred after a commerce request previous to the beginning of the 2023 season. “I didn’t know who was becoming a member of me but,” Jones says. “Once I checked out it, I used to be like, no matter who joins me, I really feel actually strong with that call.”
Now that she’s discovered her groove with the Liberty, JJ has reached one other stage: she’s had 11 double-double performances thus far and simply dominated within the Commissioner’s Cup Championship in August with 16 factors, 15 rebounds and a couple of blocks, all whereas taking pictures an environment friendly 50 % from the sector. She shines on set, too, cracking jokes and flashing her ever-present smile in many of the images we take. The staff’s PR particular person asks if we wish photos of her together with her Commissioner’s Cup MVP trophy, and because the 6-6 ahead holds her newest achievement, that smile will get even wider.
“I’m very glad to be in New York and be taking part in with these girls,” she says.
Sloot additionally needed to belief within the imaginative and prescient when it got here as to whether she’d go away Chicago, the place she spent over a decade with the Sky and set quite a few information, or take her abilities east. At first, she admits she was hesitant. “To be frank, I used to be looking for a cause to not [leave] as a result of the transfer to New York was simply, like, by no means within the playing cards for me,” she says. “The extra it went on, the extra conversations I had in fact with these girls right here, the possession and training workers and every little thing, it was similar to, this is a chance that I can’t go up on. That is what I work for. That is what I dreamed [of].”
As one of many smoothest, coldest ground generals within the W over the previous decade, Sloot’s led the League in assists per sport yearly since 2017, apart from final season. Once we caught up together with her for this cowl, she had simply handed Ticha Penicheiro for second all-time in assists.
That is what I work for. That is what I dreamed [of].”
– Courtney Vandersloot
It was through the playoffs final season that Sloot noticed what she was in for—the power and environment in Barclays, the followers and, most notably, what sort of squad the group was constructing. “We had been the away staff, in fact, and all people’s cheering towards us, however I nonetheless [remember] simply this power and I used to be similar to, Wow, that is superior. They’re actually constructing one thing right here…You would inform they had been in a extremely good place, they had been on an upward…”
“…trajectory,” JJ chimes in.
“Thanks, JJ,” Sloot continues. “I simply wished to be part of it, and I keep in mind that it was such a recent feeling for me after I was within the free company talks.”
That trajectory wouldn’t have been attainable with out Betnijah and Sabrina serving to set the muse. B, who’s in her eighth yr within the W, wants no introduction, and she or he actually didn’t must make one to her new teammates. Drafted in 2015, only a yr earlier than Stewie and JJ, she performed with Stewie for USA Basketball and attended numerous camps once they had been youthful. She was a rookie on the Sky when Sloot was in her fifth season and suited up alongside JJ in Connecticut in 2018.
“For me, the chemistry and every little thing, it simply sort of got here naturally,” she says.
JJ felt it, too. Whereas she admits that she “didn’t know Sabrina that effectively” initially, she did attain out to her earlier than deciding to come back to New York. Since becoming a member of forces, JJ’s been impressed with how effectively they’ve gotten alongside. “I’ve been so amazed with simply how effectively our personalities mesh on the staff,” she says. “That’s actually like my little sister, like we’re all the time goofing off collectively, all the time doing foolish stuff.”
Sabrina, averaged 17 factors, 5.6 boards and 5.4 dimes for the season, has dropped 30-pieces on quite a few events and practically broke the web together with her near-perfect efficiency through the All-Star Three-Level Contest in July. Return and watch the highlights. Discover her method, her type, her confidence. When she will get to the fitting nook, Sab smirks. It’s clear she’s having enjoyable. The group goes insane and the digicam pans to Sloot, who’s equally as hyped. All of us simply witnessed, in real-time, one of many League’s brightest younger stars go 25 of 27 from three and break the competition report for each the WNBA and NBA. That’s pure star energy proper there.
She wasn’t accomplished breaking information both. Within the Liberty’s 96-89 win over the Sparks on September 7, marking the staff’s eighth straight victory, Sab broke the WNBA single season report for complete threes (121), which was set by the GOAT Diana Taurasi in ’06.
“I’m actually proud to only watch the way in which that [Sab] has grown on this League,” JJ says. “Simply the extent that she has been taking part in at this season has been superb.”
Then there’s Betnijah, who exemplifies what it means to remain assured and true to who you’re, each on and off the courtroom. After having a breakout season in 2020 whereas on the Atlanta Dream—together with profitable Most Improved Participant and being named to the All-Defensive First Crew—Laney has elevated her sport on each ends of the ground since signing with the Liberty in 2021. Look past the field rating and easily watch the way in which she strikes from the second she will get the ball, pulling off behind-the-backs and spin strikes paying homage to a 6-0 dancer (Laney took ballet, faucet and jazz courses when she was a toddler).
Along with her physicality and fast instincts on protection, Laney’s sometimes tasked with guarding the opposite staff’s greatest participant, too. Her function, as head coach Sandy Brondello informed WNBA.com, is to be the “engine that will get everybody going.”
Provides Stewie: “I’ve recognized B for a extremely very long time, and the way in which she is as a two-way participant, making issues actually tough, profiting from no matter matchup she has offensively but additionally [being a] defensive stopper. Arduous-nosed participant, by no means stops, does [the] soiled work, does regardless of the staff wants.”
Betnijah additionally has a method of commanding any room she’s in. On set, it’s B’s present when she poses in entrance of the digicam—without having any route from our photographer, she effortlessly switches angles and stares deeply into the lens. To cite one among her favourite artists, Beyoncé, Betnijah’s giving I’m that lady power with every hair flip. Having spent the previous three years in Brooklyn, B is aware of what the town is about, from the meals scene (she’s received a complete checklist of one of the best meals spots) to the way in which New Yorkers carry themselves. “Brooklyn individuals simply present up,” she says. “That New York environment, that gritty, [it’s] loud, [they’re] into it, they’re backing us. They’ve proven up and confirmed out, and so it’s sort of a give and take. We’re giving them a present [and] they’re fueling us.”
Collectively, Laney and Sab have been on the forefront of what the Liberty have been constructing towards. With a brand new staff dynamic and roster modifications, it might’ve been straightforward for egos to get in the way in which of the Libs’ success this season, but it surely’s really been fairly the other. “It’s actually onerous to place a staff with this a lot star energy collectively and for it to succeed,” Sabrina says. “However I believe when you’ve got gamers that aren’t solely taking part in for themselves however taking part in for each other, and from the start, we’ve all dedicated to taking part in for each other and desirous to see one another achieve no matter it’s that that particular person desires.
“And we’ve actually been purchased into that as a result of I believe to our core, that’s simply who we’re as people, and I believe that’s why we’re taking part in the way in which we’re and we’ve been having the season that we have now been having in such a brief period of time [despite] probably not realizing one another and taking part in with one another for therefore lengthy, ’trigger it’s simply who we’re. And we’ve actually stayed true to that.”
As a lot as this story is about them, our cowl stars aren’t the kind of individuals to make issues all about themselves. Ask Betnijah about her “why” and what motivates her and she or he brings up her niece, JJ (who she calls “Little JJ” when she’s round Jones), and the way she desires to proceed to “encourage [and] be function fashions.” Large JJ desires to win, however she additionally desires to succeed for her household and all of the individuals “who’ve sacrificed” to assist her get to the place she is right this moment. Sab brings up the method, and the way they’re capable of “look again” and see how a lot the group has grown.
They’re all taking part in for one thing greater than themselves. As they appear to deliver a championship to Brooklyn, all of them acknowledge that this staff represents the brand new period of the W. An period of participant empowerment, of ladies making energy strikes. “I’ve clearly been within the League for a very long time, and for therefore lengthy there wasn’t a variety of participant motion and there wasn’t a variety of this,” Sloot says. “Stewie touched on it, our capacity to sort of management our careers and do what we wish, create this buzz. Ladies’s basketball is at an all-time excessive proper now, so why not benefit from that? Take management of our careers, do what we wish, be the place we wish. And for all of us, that was right here.”
For Stewie, it’s easy. “Everybody,” she says, “is chasing greatness.”
SLAM 246 COVER TEES AVAILABLE NOW
Welcome to The Stars Align Tour. Take into account this New York Liberty SLAM 246 Cowl Tee as our official “tour merch” because the Libs proceed dominating the WNBA.
Cowl Story: Deyscha “Sway” Smith
Photographer: Marcus Stevens
Cowl Design: Lester Padilla
Cowl Shoot Producers: Sway, Sole Ortiz Ruiz, Arvind Pitchai
Video: Eli Selva
Intern: Haben Fessehazion
Graphics: Erica Davis, Abdel Kyle Traore
SLAM Social: Arvind Pitchai
WSLAM Social: Sole Ortiz Ruiz, Mya Peterson