Dynasty talk as New York Liberty introduce new stars

ByAlexa Philippou ESPN logo
Thursday, February 9, 2023

BROOKLYN, N.Y. -- WNBA stars Breanna Stewart and Courtney Vandersloot were introduced as the newest members of the New York Liberty at the Barclays Center on Thursday amid talk of not just creating the league's latest superteam, but also of establishing a dynasty in Brooklyn.

"The ultimate goal is to create a dynasty," Vandersloot said. "It's not going to happen overnight... When we hear that word dynasty, it's about doing the things that you have to do to win championships and create a culture here that other players want to come in to because that's the kind of place it is. That's what they've started to create here, and that's what we wanted to be a part of."

Stewart, the 2018 MVP and a two-time champion with the Seattle Storm, and Vandersloot, a four-time All-Star and 2021 champion with the Chicago Sky, signed with the Liberty as free agents this week, both leaving the franchises that drafted them.

Stewart, a Syracuse native, returns to her home state of New York and entered Thursday's media availability sporting a jacket with Yankees insignia. Vandersloot chose the Liberty over the Storm, located in her home state of Washington and college program, Gonzaga.

The first player to join New York's star-studded roster this offseason was 2021 MVP Jonquel Jones, who requested a trade from the Connecticut Sun to the Liberty before the official start of free agency.

New York, rounded out by 2020 No. 1 overall pick Sabrina Ionescu and 2021 All-Star Betnijah Laney, has already been deemed a championship favorite -- all the more meaningful given it is the only one of the league's three remaining original franchises to have never won a championship.

"Christmas came in February," coach Sandy Brondello said.

Added Liberty governor Clara Wu Tsai: "It's truly a new era for the New York Liberty franchise. New York hasn't seen a basketball championship since 1973 [the New York Knicks' second title], and I think this team is ready to bring one home."

Stewart and Vandersloot, who alongside Jones all played together overseas on the Russian team UMMC Ekaterinburg, said they were in constant contact during free agency negotiations, hoping they could play together but understanding they would each have to make the best decision for themselves.

"Great players want to play with other great players," Stewart said. "And when you have those great players, they know and they respect the people to the left and right of them so much that they know that they can make this work."

Liberty general manager Jonathan Kolb said that since the fall he has had three targets on a whiteboard in his office: Vandersloot, Stewart and Jones. Now, the trio will join forces with championship aspirations.

"For me, it was just the plan, the vision right away was so clear," Vandersloot said. "It was not dependent on if this happens, or this happens. It's like 'this is what we see, this is what we're going to go do. We want to bring a championship. We want to bring the best players here. We're going to take care of you.' It was everything that, I think I speak for both of us, that we were looking for."

The duo joins a New York team that has made steady progress in rebuilding since a three-year absence from the playoffs (2018-2020) and a two-year relocation to the Westchester Community Center. In 2022, Brondello's first year with the team after being fired in Phoenix, she guided the Liberty to their first postseason win since 2015 before they fell to the Chicago Sky in the first round.

Coming in now, Vandersloot said, the pair "didn't want to come here and blow it up. We wanted to be additions [to what's already here], and I think that was the most important part."

By bringing in two MVPs and one of the best point guards of all time, attention and expectations will be high, across the league and in New York City.

"When you're playing basketball in New York, you're are automatically in the spotlight," Stewart said. "Everyone's being watched, people are paying attention to the Liberty here, [but] it's more about what we're doing internally than what's happening externally."

Their biggest competition is expected to be the defending champion Las Vegas Aces, who added two-time MVP Candace Parker and defensive standout Alysha Clark.

"We want to have a superteam. We want to create an incredible rivalry with the West," Wu Tsai said. "We're ready for it."

Stewart had publicly indicated a factor in her free agency decision would be finding an organization that aligns with her vision for moving the league forward both on and off the court, especially when it comes to pushing the league to charter flights. She said Thursday that she hopes the league at least goes from a 'no' to a 'maybe' on that front.

"When talking to Clara and Joe, they also feel the same way," Stewart said. "We're fighting to elevate the standard."

The Liberty were fined $500,000 by the league last year for the unsanctioned charting of flights to away games.

"I do believe that it's now enough of the topic within the league and several other governors that it is going to be addressed by the commissioner," Wu Tsai said.