Sky’s Gabby Williams excited for WNBA’s return, but remains wary until health protocols are finalized
The WNBA and WNBPA return-to-play plan was met with mixed emotions this week as it left players and fans with more questions than answers.
The WNBA and Women’s National Basketball Players Association return-to-play plan was met with mixed emotions this week as it left players and fans with more questions than answers.
The WNBPA on Monday approved a tentative plan to start an abbreviated 22-game season in late July at the IMG Academy campus in Bradenton, Florida — a state where COVID-19 cases continue to rise at an alarming rate.
Sky forward Gabby Williams, one of the Sky’s two union representatives, applauded the league and the union’s executive committee’s efforts to get players full pay and benefits despite playing 14 fewer games than what was originally scheduled. She also said she’s excited to rejoin her teammates, who are hungry to redeem themselves after last season’s heartbreaking playoff loss.
But behind the optimism for what’s to come, Williams said she’s hesitant about having a season, especially since there are a lot of details still being ironed out.
“I think it’s a bit rushed,” Williams said of the league’s move to start the season as early as July 24. “I’m not sure that anybody has the answers to everything right now as far as safety and protocol. There’s still a lot of things that are unanswered, so I am definitely really nervous, for sure. It’s just kind of like, what kind of sacrifices am I willing to make?”
Williams also acknowledged having a season is “super risky.”
Commissioner Cathy Engelbert repeatedly has stressed that safety is at the forefront of every decision made for this season, but the WNBA’s testing protocol, the logistics of the “bubble” and general safety procedures weren’t outlined in the league’s initial release.
It’s assumed players will be tested upon arriving at the campus, but it’s unclear how often players will be tested afterward. It’s also unknown what the protocol will be if one or more players test positive.
The unknowns concern Williams, especially after hearing teammate Stefanie Dolson’s experience with the coronavirus.
Players also are worried that Florida has seen a surge of COVID-19 cases in the days since the league’s announcement. On Friday, the state had a record-high 3,822 new cases.
Engelbert told The Next’s Howard Megdal that the league has “fallback contingency destinations” if Florida is deemed an unfit host.
“Everybody has a personal decision to make,” WNBPA president Nneka Ogumwike told the Sun-Times in a phone interview. “This was never about forcing players to play . . . it was about presenting the most optimal scenario for players to enter market and play, and I would certainly say we did that.”
The deadline for players to choose to sit out the season is Thursday. Coach James Wade believes the question marks around the league’s return might deter some players from opting in.
“We want to know what’s going on, what precautions and what protocols we’re going to take,” Wade said. “And I think that’s going to have some hesitancy of buying in, but I feel like the WNBA is going to do everything in its power and to put everybody in a safe place and make sure the proper protocols and the safety, so I’m confident in that.”
Wade and Williams gave the impression that the entire team will choose to play this season.
“Everyone has their concerns,” Williams said, “but I think we’re also really excited to get back together and we’re realizing what we can do if we’re all together versus just some of us, because I do think our team has good chemistry and a good bond.”
Said Wade: “We’re all together on the things we want to focus on outside of the basketball court [in terms of social-justice advocacy], and we’re all on the same page about all the things we want to focus on on the basketball court.’’