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Inside the W with Michelle Smith: 2020 Season Recap

It’s been almost two weeks since the extraordinary 2020 WNBA season came to an end with the Seattle Storm defeating the Las Vegas Aces to hoist a trophy in, of all places, Bradenton, Florida.

Almost two weeks since three-and-a-half months of social justice, sisterhood and on the court struggle between some of the best female athletes on the planet.

The 2020 season will always stand out in the annals of the WNBA for what it was, and even what it was not. It was a show of strength and unity and faith in league leadership to pull off a season at a single site. It was a show of courage and stamina for the players who entered the campus at IMG Academy and weathered their own emotions, the separations from family and friends, and the isolation and the sameness of having the same routine day-after-day. It was a show of commitment for the players and the league to stay focused on their “why,” to use the league’s platform and the profile of its players to shine a light on issues of justice, of police brutality, of inequality, and of important societal issues that desperately need to be resolved.

I have covered the WNBA since the day of the press conference that announced its existence. I have never, not for a moment, been anything but proud of the remarkable women who have played in this league since 1997. Always admirable, always role models, always worthy of respect that has been, at times, difficult to achieve.

When the league started, the players were pioneers, paving new ground, laying the foundation for what still stands proudly 24 years later. How many WNBA players weren’t even born when the league tipped off in Los Angeles on June 21, 1997? More and more every year.

These players of 2020, these women who put “Breonna Taylor” on the backs of their jerseys, who did not take the floor for two nights in late August when Jacob Blake was shot and paralyzed by a police officer in Kenosha, Wisconsin, these players who inserted their social justice “causes” into countless interviews, and literally wore their messages across their chests.

This 2020 campaign set a tone and a standard for all of the seasons that will come after it. Because of them. It is why 2020 will be unforgettable.

There are so many moments I know I won’t forget:

I won’t forget the sadness and disappointment just three games into the New York Liberty’s season of seeing star rookie Sabrina Ionescu clutching her ankle and the news that she wouldn’t be back.

I won’t forget seeing Chennedy Carter light up the scoreboard for the Atlanta Dream, putting up 35 points against the eventual champion Seattle Storm, one of the toughest defensive teams in the league, in just the sixth game of her career.

I won’t forget tearing up at the sight of the league’s players stretched across the court locked arm-in-arm in solidarity following the shooting of Jacob Blake.

I won’t forget being excited that Breanna Stewart could come back from an Achilles tendon injury that cost her the 2019 season to look like the incredible player she always was, and perhaps even better.

I won’t forget watching A’ja Wilson take charge of her Las Vegas Aces team and will them to the best record in the league with her MVP consistency.

I won’t forget a rejuvenated Candace Parker, who has always looked to me like perhaps the best player in the world when she’s at her best, consistently filling the stat sheets for Los Angeles.

I won’t forget the calm, resolute leadership of Nneka Ogwumike.

I won’t forget the way that Layshia Clarendon and Elizabeth Williams stood up and stood out for their teams.

I won’t forget watching Arike Ogunbowale hit shot after shot and thinking that there isn’t a defender in the league that can stop her. She’s just a bucket.

I won’t forget watching Diana Taurasi and Skylar Diggins-Smith find their groove as backcourt mates and thinking just how much fun this twosome was going to be.

I won’t forget Shey Peddy’s stone-cold 3-pointer from the corner at the buzzer to lift the Phoenix Mercury to a first-round playoff win over the Mystics.

I won’t forget the undeniable guts of Alyssa Thomas, playing with a dislocated shoulder, and still putting up 23 points, 12 rebounds and four assists to lead the Connecticut Sun to a huge Game 3 win in their semifinal series against Las Vegas.

I won’t forget Bill Laimbeer’s headband or Curt Miller’s leisurewear.

I won’t forget the staff of the WNBA and its teams and the sacrifices they made to make this season possible. I won’t forget league commissioner Cathy Engelbert and her empathetic leadership during this most important season.

I won’t forget that we were missing Elena Delle Donne and Tina Charles and Chiney Ogwumike and Liz Cambage, and I can’t wait to see them back.

I won’t forget being amazed by the ageless wonder that is Sue Bird.

I won’t forget the way that players like Myshia Hines-Allen and Betnijah Laney took advantage of their opportunity this season to lift their games to another level.

I know I’m missing things. Moments and memories that will show up as soon as I press send. But know this, the WNBA season wasn’t just one to remember.

It was unforgettable.

Longtime WNBA reporter Michelle Smith writes a weekly column on throughout the season. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the WNBA or its clubs.