Saturday’s WNBA Tip-Off presented by Verizon marks 206 days since the Los Angeles Sparks defeated the Minnesota Lynx in exhilarating fashion to conclude the WNBA’s 20th season.
The Sparks headline this season’s tip off festivities with a match up with the Seattle Storm live from the Staples Center in Los Angeles at 5 PM ET on ESPN.
Prior to tip-off the Sparks will raise their third championship banner to the rafters; giving some long-awaited company to the franchise’s first two banners from 2001 and 2002.
After the highlight montage finishes, the banner is raised and the championship rings are awarded, then it will be time to get back to work as the Sparks attempt to become the first team to successfully defend the WNBA title since the Lisa Leslie era Sparks teams did so a decade and a half ago.
In their first test of the season, the Sparks will face a Storm team eager to get back into the championship picture, as it has been seven years since the Seattle squad won its second WNBA title.
A key player for both of Seattle’s championship teams is point guard Sue Bird, who returned to practice for the first time this week after having arthroscopic knee surgery last month. Her status for Saturday’s game remains unknown.
Bird provides the veteran leadership for a Storm team building for its future behind back-to-back No. 1 picks and Rookies of the Year Jewell Loyd and Breanna Stewart. Seattle returned to the playoffs last year but were ousted in the first round. With eyes set on a deeper run this season, the Storm get an early test against the defending champs.
“We have nothing to lose,” Storm head coach Jenny Boucek told StormBasketball.com. “They’re the team the beat. We’re trying to get to where they are. We’re going to get in there, give it our best shot and battle.”
While the Sparks and Storm are the marquee game of WNBA Tip-Off presented by Verizon, there are plenty of intriguing story lines to follow on opening weekend. Here are five more to keep an eye on as the 2017 season gets underway.
Kelsey Plum Makes WNBA Debut
Saturday: San Antonio at New York, 3 ET (NBA TV) | Tickets
The first game of the season features the first player selected in the 2017 WNBA Draft as Kelsey Plum and the San Antonio Stars will be in New York to face the Liberty on NBA TV.
Plum enters the WNBA after scoring more points than any player in the history of Division I women’s basketball during her storied career at the University of Washington. After showing off a cannon for an arm at a Spurs playoff game, scoring her first basket in her preseason debut and getting through her first training camp (a sprained ankle included), Plum gets her first opportunity to show what she can do on the pro level in a regular season game.
San Antonio’s first game comes against a New York squad that finished atop the Eastern Conference in each of the last two seasons behind the outstanding play of Tina Charles. Last season Charles became the third player in league history to lead the league in both scoring and rebounding in the same season. What will she do for an encore this season?
Delle Donne Dons Mystics Uni For First Game
Sunday: San Antonio at Washington, 3 ET (League Pass) | Tickets
It was the biggest deal of the offseason – and one of the biggest in the history of the WNBA – as 2015 MVP Elena Delle Donne was traded from Chicago to Washington in January. Back near her native Delaware, Delle Donne will make her regular season debut for the Mystics, who have been in search of a franchise player of her caliber for years. Another local product joined the Mystics this offseason as DMV native Kristi Toliver signed with Washington as a free agent after winning a WNBA title with Los Angeles last season. These two additions give Mystics fans reason to be optimistic about the team’s present and future and get their first glimpse of the new-look squad at the Verizon Center on Sunday.
First Live Game on Twitter
Sunday: Dallas at Phoenix, 6 ET (Twitter) | Tickets
WNBA fans have a new avenue for viewing games this season as the league announced a three-year deal to broadcast 20 live games per season on Twitter, beginning with the Dallas Wings facing the Phoenix Mercury on Sunday. The WNBA will be the first professional women’s sport to be live streamed on Twitter.
In addition to the 20 games on Twitter, fans can also catch WNBA games on the ESPN family of networks (16 regular season games, the 2017 All-Star Game and the entire postseason) as well as NBA TV (45 regular season games) and League Pass (remaining non-televised games, subject to blackout restrictions). Fans can catch a free preview of League Pass during WNBA Tip-Off weekend.
The first game on the new platform features the Skylar Diggins-Smith and the Dallas Wings visiting Phoenix to face Diana Taurasi, Brittney Griner and a new-look Mercury roster looking to challenge the likes of L.A. and Minnesota out West.
Minnesota Revenge Tour Begins
Sunday: Chicago at Minnesota, 7 ET (League Pass) | Tickets
On Thursday, WNBA.com released its annual general manager survey with the Minnesota Lynx named the favorites to win the 2017 championship. The Lynx are seeking their fourth WNBA title after falling just short during the epic conclusion of last year’s WNBA Finals.
The painful fashion in which the Lynx lost the title – Nneka Ogwumike making a fadeaway putback with 3.1 seconds to play after her first attempt was blocked by Sylvia Fowles – won’t be forgotten anytime soon. “The way we lost, obviously it was heartbreaking. It just gives that fire and that hunger and that little chip on the shoulder to fight to get there again,” Maya Moore told LynxBasketball.com during training camp. “Nothing like life hitting you in the face to make you live life even harder and fuller.”
The Lynx step onto the court for their first meaningful game in 207 days on Sunday as they host the new-look Chicago Sky, who will see Stefanie Dolson and Kahleah Copper make their regular season debut after coming over from Washington in the Delle Donne trade.
FanDuel Partnership Offers Fans A New Way To Engage
This week, the WNBA announced a partnership with FanDuel to offer the league’s first-ever one-day fantasy game. Similar to Twitter, this is FanDuel’s first partnership with a women’s professional sports league.
Beginning on Saturday and throughout the entire season and playoffs, fans will be able to access the “Official One-Day Fantasy Game of the WNBA” and compete for daily prizes ranging from WNBA merchandise and memorabilia to courtside tickets to regular season games and unique WNBA experiences.
In addition to the one-day fantasy game, there will also be a “WNBA Tip-Off Challenge” during the opening week of the season (May 13-20). Fans can enter special free-to-play games for a chance to win WNBA Store credit, tickets to games, and a grand prize that includes courtside seats to the WNBA Finals with a basketball legend. Click here for more details and to enter the WNBA Tip-Off Challenge.