Expect fireworks, trash talk with unique WNBA All-Star Game format

Arike Ogunbowale drives around Candace Parker during practice for the WNBA All-Star team on July 13, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

It’s been two years since the WNBA last had an All-Star Game. But on Wednesday night, many of the best players in the game will be lacing up to tip off in a new format at Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas.

For the 17th WNBA All-Star Game, fans will see WNBA All-Stars face the USA Basketball Women’s National Team, which features the all-time league leaders for points (Diana Taurasi), assists (Sue Bird) and rebounds (Sylvia Fowles).

That said, it’s looking like Taurasi won’t actually hit the court. The 39-year-old missed a month of play after suffering a fractured sternum on May 16, and is skipping the All-Star Game in hopes the extra rest will help her win her fifth gold medal at the Tokyo 2020 Games at the end of the month.

“I probably won’t play,” Taurasi said during a media availability on Tuesday. “My goal is to be ready for the Olympics, and preparation is key. So at this point in my career, I think being ready for Tokyo is what’s best for our team and me. I’m taking it day by day and I’ll be fine once the real games start.”

Another member of Team USA chasing her fifth Olympic gold, Bird will be making a record 12th WNBA All-Star Game appearance Wednesday night.

“We just had our first practice and are training and getting ready.” Bird said on Tuesday. “So during the All-Star Game, we will try and do what we learned on Tuesday and also have fun putting on a good show.”

And it looks like a good show will be had as fireworks and smack talk started early in the media availability. Satou Sabally and Arike Ogunbowale, two first-time all-stars from the Dallas Wings, got the ball rolling with a surprising challenge.

“You going to dunk on Brittney Griner?” Ogunbowale asked Sabally.

“Yeah!” Sabally said with confidence followed by laughter.

Griner, a member of Team USA and easily the most prolific in-game dunker in WNBA history, couldn't help but chuckle when she heard what Sabally had said.

“Can she dunk?” Griner said while trying to contain her laughter. “I mean, no one has ever tried to dunk on me. I had dudes try, but they didn’t succeed.

“There are going to be some dunks, but I wonder who is going to do them?” she said with a huge smile on her face, as though Sabally had just poked the bear.

Candace Parker, voted into her sixth All-Star Game in her first year with the Chicago Sky, has her eyes on Chelsea Gray, a former Los Angeles Sparks teammate who is now with the Las Vegas Aces.

“I am going at Chelsea Gray, just FYI,” Parker said in her media availability. “She was my teammate for years, but the first time down the court in the game, I just need a back screen and her on the block and that’s all I need.”

“Listen, that’s my homie,” Gray said in response. “I’m super proud from her to be in the All-Star Game and compete against her, but I’m going to try and go one-on-one against her a little bit, sauce her up a little bit, and she will probably try and post me up and do a little fake move over my head, and I swear I am not going to go for the fake.”

With this being Team USA’s first game before the Olympics, and many of the WNBA All-Stars trying to prove that they are better than the Olympic team, the match-up on the whole is expected to bring more intensity than the average defence-light All-Star Game.

“I think it’s fools gold to think that team on the other side isn’t going to try and beat us,” said Skylar Diggins-Smith, who made Team USA’s Olympic squad for the first time. “At the end of the day, we are going to be competitive, and I know I ain’t going to let anyone get no free lay-ups.”

Fellow Team USA member Breanna Stewart echoed those sentiments.

“It’s not so much an All-Star Game for us as it is preparation for the Olympics,” she said. “It’s going to be a lot more competitive because we are actually going to play.”

Stewart’s Seattle Storm teammate Jewell Loyd made the Olympic roster for the first time. It was a moment she had been working towards with friend and mentor Kobe Bryant before he died.

“This is the last challenge he presented to me — it was to go make the [Olympic] team and go win the gold,” she said on Tuesday. “It’s definitely special because I know that all heart-to-hearts and the workouts we had were made for this moment, and I am going to cherish it knowing every time I step on the court he is with me.”

Continuing the celebration of 25 years of the league, Team WNBA will be coached by Hoops Hall of Famers Lisa Leslie and Tina Thompson while Team USA will be coached by one of the greatest to play in the league, Dawn Staley.

When submitting content, please abide by our  submission guidelines, and avoid posting profanity, personal attacks or harassment. Should you violate our submissions guidelines, we reserve the right to remove your comments and block your account. Sportsnet reserves the right to close a story’s comment section at any time.
We use cookies to improve your experience. Learn More or change your cookie preferences. By continuing to use this site, you agree to the use of cookies.