The Gayest Stories of the 2022 WNBA Season (So Far)

The 2022 WNBA season is in full swing, and the stories out of the league are as gay as ever this season. We’ve got Candace Parker — who is still breaking records — and the Vanderquigs showing why the Chicago Sky deserved that Championship last year, and why they might deserve another one this year. Sue Bird is on her farewell tour. Diana Taurasi and Elena Della Donne didn’t make the All-Star team, much to Mercury coach Vanessa Nygaard’s very public chagrin (which caused the Phoenix player who did make the All-Star team, Skylar Diggins-Smith, to call her own coach a clown on Twitter). AD Durr returned from Long Covid, came out as non-binary and announced their new name, was cut by the Liberty, picked up by the Dream, and is now playing lights out in Atlanta. Reigning MVP Jonquel Jones covered ESPN the magazine in a profile by queer non-binary reporting star Katie Barnes and talked about how endorsements are still rare in the W. Breanna Stewart is battling her heart out for one last championship for Sue and another league MVP title for herself. And, of course, Brittney Griner remains wrongfully detained in Russia, where her trial started today, and despite the activism of the league, there’s still no word on when she might return home. Oh and so much more!

Heather and Natalie got together to talk about all that and more — and what they think the rest of the season hold.


Heather: Natalie, hi! Welcome to our first chat of the WNBA season, with you fresh off of kicking my butt in our fantasy league. There’s so many gay things for us to talk about — obviously the most important one being the thing that’s hanging over this entire season, and that’s the fact that Brittney Griner is still being wrongfully detained in Russia.

How do you feel about the way the league has been handling this infuriating and heartbreaking situation so far?

Natalie: I feel like every time I muster up words about this situation involving BG, it feels woefully insufficient… like nothing can truly capture how brokenhearted I am about this whole situation…  and I’m just a “regular” fan, you know? So I’ve been thinking a lot — worrying a lot, really — about how the league is dealing with the players. I mean, I appreciate the outward signs of support for BG… her initials on the court, her being a part of the upcoming all-star game, etc… but I want to know what’s being done for the players and their mental health.

I was watching the Mercury-Mystics game last week and I thought about how Skylar Diggins-Smith and Elena Delle Donne were part of the “three to see” with BG when they were drafted… and now one piece of that trio is missing. How are they handling it? How are her Mercury teammates really dealing with BG’s absence? I think about Courtney Vandersloot and Jonquel Jones who both play for BG’s Russia team… the survivor’s guilt they must be grappling with…

I just hope that the league’s doing something to support these women because I’m just a fan and I’m broken up about it…

What about you?

Heather: I feel the same. There hasn’t been a single morning since the BG news broke that I have even gotten out of bed without thinking about her. I feel absolutely sick about it. Heartbroken, furious. The photo of her today showing up for another pantomime of a court hearing, she looks absolutely terrified. I just broke down crying when I saw it. So, like you say, I’m just a fan — I honestly cannot even begin to imagine how these players must be feeling. And on top of just these feelings of fear and anger, they’re having to piece together what they feel like is the best way to honor Griner, to communicate with her that she is not forgotten and is still an integral part of their lives and the league, and to try to build some kind of effective activist response — all without (apparently) any guidance at all from the White House or State Department. Just imagine not knowing if speaking up is going to make things better or worse for her? Thinking about her calling her wife ELEVEN TIMES and no one being there to connect them? It makes my blood feel like it is on actual fire.

And, of course, there’s always the truth that if, oh, Tom Brady had been wrongfully detained in Russia, he’d have been home on day five.

Natalie: That story about the missed phone call just… gosh, I hate it so much.

Heather: I get teared up every time I even think about it. There’s really obviously no way to resolve this, but we do know a lot of WNBA players read Autostraddle, so I just want to share our love and support and solidarity with them. I just want BG and everyone close to her to know we’re holding them in our hearts and we will not settle for anything less than her immediate safe return.

Natalie: Absolutely. I love the game of basketball and I’ve been excited about this season of WNBA action but this is something that’s bigger than basketball: the mental health of the players and bringing BG home to her wife and family. I pray for a resolution every single day.

Heather: I’m absolutely with you. I feel like there’s no way to segue elegantly to talking about anything else — which is probably how the league feels too — but there are a lot of other really big LGBTQ+ stories coming out of this season. Some of our longtime faves, for example, are on their farewell tour.

Natalie: Oh gosh, I can’t even begin to imagine a WNBA without Sue Bird.

Heather: Me and you are the only people I know who can even remember a WNBA without Sue Bird. There’s almost no way to begin to describe her impact on the league, on women’s sports as a whole, on sports activism, on just the modern pop culture fascination with queer women in sports…

Natalie: With her and Sylvia Fowles’ impending retirements, it really does feel like we’re at the end of an era in the WNBA.

I’m grateful that both of them have announced their retirements early so that the fans and the league can give them their flowers before they depart.

Heather: I absolutely agree. Did you see the Sky gave Syl a recliner/throne?

Natalie: I did! Watching Sue’s last game in New York recently or Syl going back to Chicago for one last farewell felt really special.

Heather: During that pre-game ceremony, when she lifted Vandersloot off the ground when she was hugging her — I felt exactly like what you’re saying, like this is the end of something very special, and we’ll probably never see anything like it again. It’s very fitting that they’re retiring while these Title IX celebrations are on-going and when we’re all looking back to that 96 Dream team. They’re living legends, they really are.

It was similar with Sue in NY of course!

Natalie: How do you feel about their retirements? Do you feel like they’re coming at the right time? And do you see any more coming down the road… * cough * DT * cough * Candace * cough *

Heather: I think they’re right on time. Diana Taurasi’s already caught up in the “she’s washed” conversation, and her play style is getting more, um — I mean, look, I’m 42. I grunt when I bend down and stand up. Bodies just don’t do what they could do when we were in our 20s! So I get it! But her play style is getting more kinda lackadaisical? Like she’s just flagrantly fouling people cause she can’t keep up. While like 70% of her shots came from creating her own space and getting in the lane in the heyday of her career, she’s only launching threes now. I think it’s time. It’s hard to say that about Candace Parker, though, still breaking triple-double records!

I do think with Candace, though, there does seem to be a really clear sense of her passing the torch, leaving all her wisdom on the floor for the Copper’s of the world!

Natalie: I think when we talked at the end of last season, I was more interested in seeing Bird come back for another season and Diana Taurasi hang it up and now it’s surprisingly the opposite?

Heather: Yeah it’s very bizarre to me that DT isn’t on this tour with Sue.

Natalie: I think Bird’s at a point where she really has nothing else to prove and she’s established enough of a profile outside the WNBA that I think she’s ready for the next step in her life.

Heather: Exactly.

Natalie: Fowles… I wish she could stick around for another year or so because I think she’s still able to play the game at such a high level which is so remarkable for a post player… but she’s always been candid about wanting to move on and do other things (mortuary science!) and I don’t begrudge her that opportunity.

But for Taurasi… look, you know as well as anyone that she is not my favorite player in the league… and I think sometimes she acts like a petulant child… but she’s better than this.

Heather: If you say so!

Natalie: She’s one of the greatest players in the history of the game and I think she’s carrying a lot of emotional weight from BG’s absence (if I remember correctly, it was DT who recruited BG to Russia)… so it’s hard for me to say, this is what’s natural for a 40 year old playing this game vs. this is just an off year for DT

Heather: Yes, I really do sincerely agree with that. Frankly the times I’ve seen her speak about Griner have been the most genuine and heartfelt emotion I’ve ever seen from her when she’s not talking about her family. There’s always that Geno edge to everything she says to the press, but there’s something very raw about the way she’s speaking about BG.

Speaking of “does she still have it” — Do you think we’ll see Angel McCoughtry again?

Natalie: Oh gosh, I hope so but I’m not optimistic?

Heather: Shall we move on to one of my favorite topics which is GAY POWER COUPLES! Bonner/Thomas + Vandersloot/Quigley. The gays that just keep on giving. DeWanna Bonner’s game remains as smooth as the day she was drafted. And Alyssa Thomas is, I believe, someone who has actual superpowers. She has like one working shoulder and she’s still tough as anything!

Natalie: I really do not understand how Alyssa Thomas makes it work… I really don’t

Heather: Even just the physics of her shot? Like I see Han Xu at 6’10” out here getting blocked and Alyssa Thomas literally shoots with one arm and is eight inches shorter than that and she is unstoppable!

I love to watch the Sun play, and not just because they’re the gayest team in the league.

Natalie: Unrelated, I missed this moment during the Sky/Lynx game:

Heather: This is so lovely!

Natalie: Right?

Heather: I bet they’ve known each other since AAU ball.

Natalie: I love watching the Sun play as well… especially those post players…

I will say, though, that Connecticut being without one half of their other power gay couple — that is, Jasmine Thomas, who’s out for the rest of the season due to injury — worries me a little bit. Hopefully as the season continues, Natisha Hiederman will settle into her role at PG more but in the near term I feel like they have lost a bit in JT’s absence.

With the Sky… I mean, Courtney Vandersloot is just fuckin’ amazing… she hit her second game winning three this season against the Lynx?

Heather: And so chill, just like some regular inbounds play or somethig, some middle of the second quarter shot, no panic at all.

Natalie: I cannot believe that the Sky were being so ridiculous in the offseason and were lowballing her. She drives that team.

There’s no panic in the sky at all! it’s amazing… and it really comes from their gay leadership: the Vanderquigs and parker.

Heather: I have thought about that a hundred times this season. What were they THINKING? She could turn a team like the Liberty or the Wings into championship contenders in one season.

Natalie: When they were down to the aces last week?

Heather: That was unbelievable. I could not believe I was watching it. That’s the biggest comeback in WNBA history, right?

Natalie: Right? And absolutely no panic after the Aces come out and put up these historic numbers in the first quarter.

Heather: I feel like that game was the perfect encapsulation of the Sky’s whole deal. Like that game was a condensed version of their season last year when they won it all. Just steady and stay at it and believe and do what you need to do — and they came out on top, almost impossibly.

Natalie: I think you’re absolutely right.

And I think there was a sense after last season — because of injuries in Seattle, because of the upset of the Sun in the playoffs — that the Sky winning the championship was kind of a fluke and they’ve come out this season and shown that they are very much a championship caliber team.

I think what’s great about the team is that everyone’s contributing and no one is overexerting themselves.

Heather: Absolutely. And I want to joke about how you need queer elders to succeed, but honestly, the Sky doesn’t have the hottest shots in the league, but they do have an unprecedented level of leadership all over the floor. Good leaders, too. Generous and gracious leadership. And it allows everyone to fill their role while feeling satisfied. And no one gets burned out, and the older players can rest, and they have so much trust in each other. Even when they’re on a slide in a game, or when they lose, there’s no doubt they’ll bounce back. I wonder if Stefanie Dolson wishes she’d stayed in Chicago (speaking of classic post gays).

(I hope they’re ready to pay Kahleah Copper in the off-season.)

Natalie: Well, I really do love what Emma Messemann has brought to the Sky and I’m not sure she would’ve made the roster had the Sky kept Dolson and Stevens.

Heather: Emma Messemann is tuff!

Natalie: I think in both of the buzzer beaters that I mentioned by CVS, if you watch the tape: there’s so many opportunities for other people to force the shot.

Heather: YES!

Natalie: Against the Lynx the other night, there’s a case for Emma to force the action there… or for Rebekah Gardner to try and get inside… but they both do these quick passes and get the ball back to CVS. And it’s just a perfect encapsulation of how and why the Sky work. I think the Sky have to pay Copper because chances are they’ll lose Sloot to Seattle.

Heather: I completely agree. And I don’t know how else to say it, but it is just so satisfying to watch. It’s just GREAT basketball.

The Sloot/Charles/Stewart/Loyd championship roster?

Natalie: Stewie’s heading to New York

Heather: Don’t tease me! (I do think her visit this off-season was about that tho!)

Natalie: 100%

Heather: And thank god, this is the straightest team in the league, it’s an embarrassment.

Natalie: It’s true! I just saw Betnijah Laney’s wedding photos. I think Stewie wanted to give Bird one more year and then move on.

Y’all need more gays.

Heather: We did lose one gay! AD making the move from the Liberty to Atlanta. I was so glad to see them get a chance somewhere else and I have been thrilled to see them come to life again on a different squad. They are a hero to me, the way they handled having Long Covid, to be able to come back from it, just the mental / emotional / spiritual toughness to be able to do that. I want them to have the world and I am so glad to see Atlanta being a good fit so far.

Natalie: So, I agree with you, but I also need to back up and ask the question: WTF, Sandy Brondello? I think, like a lot of WNBA fans, I looked at AD’s minutes with the Liberty and consistently thought, “oh, well, they’re still dealing with the effects of Long COVID so that’s why they’re limited.” And so when they were cut, I was bummed but understood the tough place that the Liberty were in: like, you can’t keep a roster spot open for a player that can’t play, right?

But AD moves to Atlanta and they catch fire right away… like, no learning curve whatsoever… I think they dropped 20 in their first game right out the gate. And they’ve continued to do really well in that Dream lineup. So what the fuck was going on in New York that they couldn’t be used to their full potential? Like all this time, I’m thinking AD’s the problem but, no, the problem is the Liberty’s system

Heather: 100%. WTF, Sandy Brondello is exactly it. Obviously I’m a big Liberty fan so I’m watching every game, following every presser, and also I have Long Covid, so I absolutely, like you, thought, “You know, they gave it their best, but it makes perfect sense they couldn’t get back to that kind of elite shape.” I can’t even stand up for more than ten minutes at a time. But to see them succeed so swiftly in Atlanta, and in a position where the Liberty DESPERATELY need someone to be able to step up and score, take care of the damn ball, and be a force on defense? It makes absolutely no sense why they were on the bench. And it’s not like the Liberty are bursting with talent, there are three players on that team who are set in their positions and that’s Howard, Dolson, and Xu. Everything else is just a clusterfork most of the time.

I’m not saying Ionescu’s not a star, but they’re still not sure where to play her.

And she can’t play defense. So.

Natalie: In fairness, the Liberty do have talent but y’all have been hamstrung by injuries all season so I understand the struggles to an extent. But to have had someone of AD’s caliber — and I’m someone who watched them a lot when they were at Louisville — and to just not play them when we now know what they’re capable of… it’s malpractice, truly.

Heather: I absolutely agree. I think with that young talent in Atlanta + AD, that team can really go somewhere.

I guess that brings me to another gay thing I wanted to talk about which is this class of rookies. And, with that, expansion because it is RIDICULOUS how many world class rookies didn’t make rosters or have already been cut this season!

Natalie: It’s an amazing class of rookies, for sure, but I think Rhyne Howard in Atlanta and Shakira Austin in Washington are really the standouts. Have any rookies really impressed you with their play?

Heather: Oh yes, both of them. For starters, neither of them look like rookies to me. I don’t know if most people really realize how steep the curve is from college to the WNBA, but both of them are playing with serious confidence and just team-changing games. I think Rhyne Howard is a legitimate superstar. Look at what she did at Kentucky. KENTUCKY! I mean she was putting up All American numbers playing against some of the best teams in the country week after week, carrying that entire team. So it makes perfect sense to me that she’s thriving in a similar underdog environment in Atlanta — but that doesn’t make it any less impressive. (Shout out to Kentucky head coach and Lady Vol For Life KYRA ELZY! The first UT player to earn a Master’s while still playing SORRY!)

Natalie: Austin has really impressed me. I think the learning curve you talked about from college to the WNBA has been steep but that learning curve for post players is especially steep… and so for her to come in and contribute right away has been really impressive to me. I love everything about her game.

Heather: Oh that’s absolutely right. She’s like a hybrid old school/new school post player too. Like she has all that footwork, she’s strong, she can create shots in limited space, she does not mind banging around down there. (So many post players just wanna drift and shoot threes all the time now.) But she will make you PAY from range too, and she’s so smart about reading defenses when she sets screens which opens her up in so many ways AND gets her teammates open. She’s just fun.

Natalie: Absolutely

Natalie: So let’s talk about teams you’ve been really impressed by so far. We’ve touched on a few things, but I haven’t even given you a chance to talk about the Aces.

Natalie: I have been really impressed by the Aces this year… they have three players in the starting lineup for the All-Star game and honestly I can’t quibble with any of them… they deserve their slots.

Heather: Yeppp!

Natalie: The thing with the Aces, though, is that they have no bench whatsoever.

Heather: No if they don’t stay healthy, all the All Stars and Becky Hammons in the world won’t help them in the playoffs.

Natalie: Kelsey Plum and Jackie Young lead the league in mins per game and it’s just not sustainable.

Heather And they play so fast and physical too. They’re damn fun and exciting to watch, though. I cannot help it, I’m going to root for A’ja Wilson no matter where she goes forever.

Natalie: Oh, absolutely… when they’re on a run there’s no better team to watch… but they have to do something to rest their players. Hammon should know better than this, after all those years of watching Poppovich manage playing time for Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobli and Tony Parker… this isn’t sustainable. They can’t beat Connecticut or Chicago in a five game series with those minutes on their starters.

What do you think about Seattle?

Heather: I hate to be one of those people who’s eternally disappointed by thinking one person’s going to be THE THING, but I really do think when Tina Charles arrives in Seattle, the Storm are going to be impossible to beat (if they can stay healthy). They’re already so solid, and — much like the Sky — that level-headed veteran play just informs everything they do. They all want it bad for Sue, and Tina Charles has been wanting that WNBA Championship more than anything in her career for so long. I know it’s cliche, but they WANT it. I think the only thing slowing them down at this point is their injury situation.

I also wanted to say that’s a really great observation about Hammon watching Poppovich managing those limited minutes players. I hadn’t thought about that, but you’re exactly right. I think Hammon does have to be careful because she’s has come out swinging about having something to prove, and she remains one of the most intense players/coaches I have ever seen, but bodies can only do so much!

What about you and Seattle?

Natalie: So, it’s hard to imagine a situation where adding Tina Charles to your roster doesn’t help you but I do worry about the chemistry on the Storm. Like, I think that team is finally calibrated to operate on a certain frequency… and now, in the middle of the season, you’re adding a new piece… and not just a piece but a MVP-caliber piece… and I don’t know how a team handles that. I keep hearing people talk about Sue and Tina’s UCONN connection but Diana Taurasi went to UCONN too and it didn’t seem to make things tenable for Charles in Phoenix

Also? I think Ezi Magbegor is one of the best stories in the WNBA in this season and I really don’t want anything to come in and stymie her progress.

Heather: Oh, I agree with that for sure. I feel so confused by the reporting about Charles not getting along with her teammates? I just never saw it, I guess. She has always just struck me as wanting to work. I honestly thought she wanted to get out of Phoenix both because they’re not contenders and because, honestly, I’d want to get out too if I had to watch Skylar and Diana go at each other all the time! But it really will be interesting to see how this goes. I do think there’s a mighty big difference between the UConn connection of Taurasi and the UConn connection of Bird/Stewart.

Well, shall we touch on the place where all my personal teams live, which is the middle of the pack!

Natalie: LOL. Let’s do it. where do we start?

Heather: I think maybe: There was a lot of hype coming into this season about the Wings, the Liberty, the Sparks, even the Lynx before they started dismantling everything. A lot of “this could be the year!” What do you think’s keeping these teams stuck right in the middle as always?

So many young stars!

Natalie: The Wings are a conundrum because, on the one hand, you’ve got Satou Sabally who’s been out first because of her overseas commitments and then because of an injury. So you want to blame their struggles on not having such a key part of their offense. But I don’t think that’s the real problem.

Heather: Oh no, you’re gonna say it’s VJ, aren’t you?

Natalie: I mean…

Heather: Part of the issue obviously is Sabally, which is of course a larger WNBA issue because come on, pay these players! But yeah, I mean, the Wings and the Liberty are both in a constant roster shuffle that doesn’t seem to have anything to do with injuries. I do think VJ has it harder than Brondello, though, because she’s got two of the biggest hot heads in the league to deal with and, on the one hand, you can’t bench them every time they get agitated, but on the other hand, you can’t let them keep getting T’d up because the refs are starting to take it out on the entire team. At least Arike’s taking out her frustration on inanimate objects. I feel like Marina Mabrey is close to punching someone in the nose every second. I don’t know if you saw their last game, but she got T’d and started to rip off her face mask, and I swear to you if it hadn’t gotten caught in her ponytail, she would have launched it into the stands.

Natalie: That’s a good point. I’ll try and give VJ some grace. Those two are very difficult to wrangle.

Heather: Their problem also is they play better together and always have since Notre Dame, but they also feed off each other’s anger.

Natalie: Allisha Gray the best player on that team this season, though.

Heather: No doubt. The push for her to make the All Star team, from everyone, including even the game announcers, has been huge. In the end, it was only Arike, and I think that’s a huge mistake.

As for the Sparks, the fact that they’re able to play together at all is a mystery and a marvel.

Natalie: I think the Sparks are better than I thought they’d be… I mean, I looked at the roster at the beginning of the season and thought, “there’s no way that doesn’t implode.” I think the fact that they’ve been successful at all… well, I credit that entirely to Nneka Ogwumike.

Heather: I agree with you. And, frankly, if Nneka Ogwumike doesn’t start getting the credit she deserves — and I mean from the national team to the WNBA superstar conversation to the endorsements — I just. It makes me feel unhinged!

As we’re talking about this, the thing I’m noticing is that we don’t have any problem talking about the team identity of these top teams. They know who they are, they know what they’re about, they have the leadership and the young bodies. But these middle of the road teams, they are so all over the place, I couldn’t nail down WHO they are in even a single paragraph.

Natalie: Oh, you’re absolutely right about that. I think Dallas needs some strong veterans to anchor that team

Heather: I absolutely agree. They need a real point guard who’s got the experience to back up taking control. These poor assistant coaches having to constantly scruff Mabrey and Arike! Like mama cats!

Natalie: Obviously, I think Seattle’s going to be a top destination for CVS but Dallas would be nuts not to try to make a play for Vandersloot in the off-season. She’s exactly what that team needs.

Heather: God yes. I cannot even imagine! What do you want to see at the All Star game and beyond?

Natalie: Obviously, all I really want is injury free basketball, but your point about Nneka brings up something I’d really like to see: I want to see those players that have really stepped up this season finally get the shine that they deserve.

Heather: YES.

Natalie: Like, Natasha Cloud is just playing out of her mind this season… I think she’s had a double-double (points/assists) in the last few games and that’s just nuts.I love what Kelsey Mitchell is doing in Indiana.

Heather: Natasha Cloud is not playing around this season. She stepped onto the floor with something to say and she is absolutely saying it. Yes! And Kelsey Mitchell! I mean, they are an absolute joy to watch. Both of them. They both create their own shots, make other teams pay for both doubling them and sagging off of them, have the intuition to be in the right place at the right time every time. And they’re just energy, you know? They make everything electric. You have no idea WHAT they’re going to do, but whatever it is, it’s going to be awesome. I bet guarding either of them feels so daunting because they can make you pay in so many different, embarrassing ways.

Natalie: They absolutely can.

Heather: And Kelsey Mitchell’s offensive rebounding game has almost caused me to pass out multiple times this season from jumping up out of nowhere like WHAT? Where does she come from? She’s not even tall! And there she is, pulling down a board over Bonner somehow???

So I am with you. Give them what they deserve!

Natalie: It’s too early to make picks for who’ll compete for a championship but who are your frontrunners for the big awards. MVP? MIP?

Heather: If the Aces stay healthy — and I know that’s a big if — my money’s all in on A’ja for MVP. She’s a top ten scorer, top five rebounder, she’s a defensive mastermind, her leadership is just unquestionable. And I think — again, if they stay healthy — they’re gonna take it all.

Natalie: I agree with you there. I think Stewie’s a close second but A’ja’s the best player on the best team in the league right now she’s got the edge.

Heather: And I think Jackie Young’s got a real shot at MIP, especially if the Aces finish as strong as they’ve started.

Natalie: We agree on this one as well.

Heather: Surprise!

Natalie: LOL!

Heather: Now if the Storm start inching toward that championship, we’ll both probably be saying Stewie and Ezi Magbegor!

Natalie: AGREED.

Heather: Natalie, it is always my very favorite thing to talk basketball with you!

Natalie: Mine too… and I’m grateful that you didn’t cancel our chat just because I kicked your butt in fantasy basketball last week 🙂

Heather: I would never! I just went into my bedroom and destroyed the doorknob the way Diana Taurasi taught me.

Natalie: HAHAHAHA!


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