Two former UConn women’s basketball stars took the court as 2022 WNBA All-Stars on Sunday, with Breanna Stewart and Sue Bird suiting up as starters and co-captains of Team Stewart.
Team Stewart fell to Team Wilson (captained by A’ja Wilson and Sylvia Fowles, who is also retiring after this season), 134-112, in Bird’s 13th and final All-Star game. Beyond the result, the game signaled the ceremonial passing of the torch to the next generation, with Bird’s career coming to an end in a matter of months.
Bird, who has been in the league since 2002, has been one of the most recognizable faces in the WNBA throughout her lengthy career, which includes four championships. With her impending retirement, younger players have opportunities to be more in the forefront, especially Stewart and Wilson.
“[Stewart and Wilson] have been neck and neck for the MVP race in the WNBA, neck and neck for the MVP even as teammates with USA Basketball. I think they’re really starting to establish themselves as players who can be the names for this league, players who can represent this league, players who are going to set the bar in terms of what that MVP player looks like, like what it means to be consistent every year. That’s how I would describe those two,” Bird said ahead of Sunday’s game.
Stewart and Wilson’s transition to being the new faces of the league has already begun. Both already have an MVP trophy to their name, are the frontrunners for this year’s award and earned their captainships this weekend by leading the fan vote among 2022 All-Stars. The retirement of some of the biggest legends of the game, including Bird and Fowles after this season, will cement that transition.
“I’ve talked to Stewie about it as well. It’s not lip service. They are really the future, especially when it comes to USA Basketball,” Bird said. “I think more than anything, it comes with setting that bar, setting that standard of what it is to be the best player in the world.”
That bar is something that Stewart doesn’t taken lightly and she’s glad to learn from Bird’s example over the early seasons of her WNBA career.
“I think just understanding all that Sue has done for the game and appreciating that and also sharing these moments with her, and being genuine and making sure that as we continue to strive for more in the WNBA and more for women, women in sports, things like that,” Stewart said. “That we are honest with who we are and what we do, and at the same time putting the league and endorsements and companies in uncomfortable positions that maybe they haven’t been in before where they need to get to, so then we can set the standard for something new.”
Stewart is already making strides of her own with endorsements, announcing the launch of her first signature shoe with Puma ahead of All-Star weekend. The shoe, which will be available in September as a part of a larger apparel collection from Stewart, is the first signature shoe for a WNBA player since 2011.
Even though there’s still time left in the season before Bird’s retirement becomes official, the All-Star game represented the perfect opportunity to pass the baton from one generation to the next.