Confusion. That one word sums up how the majority of WNBA players were feeling after the Commissioner’s Cup Championship was announced before the 2021 season.
“At the beginning of the season, nobody really knew exactly what was on the line,” Connecticut Sun forward DeWanna Bonner said on Monday after her team’s practice. “Leading up to it, many players didn’t know what it was and what games counted.”
Well, the inaugural Commish’s Cup is finally here and there are still some questions surrounding it, so here’s a quick FAQ to get you up to speed.
What is the Commissioner’s Cup?
New for the 2021 season, the Commissioner’s Cup is the WNBA’s in-season tournament, which will culminate on Thurs., Aug. 12, when the ball goes up at the Footprint Center in Phoenix.
Before the league broke for the Olympics, each team in the league played 10 games to determine who would represent each conference in the Commissioner’s Cup Championship Game. “Cup Games” were the first home and first road game each team played against its five conference rivals.
The two teams — one from each conference — with the highest win percentage from those games will tip off against each other for the new prize.
Who is competing?
The Seattle Storm will rep the West and the Connecticut Sun will be the beast from the East. These two teams were supposed to see each other only twice before the regular season was over, but the Cup adds an extra game.
The defending WNBA Champs, the Storm, took both regular-season games — one in OT and the last in a blow-out. In both games, Connecticut was not at full strength.
“We know that we can play with them and we know that they are a really good team,” said Connecticut’s Jonquel Jones, who missed one of the team’s two meetings. “We have respect for them, but we know what we are capable of bringing to the table and we expect to win.”
— WNBA (@WNBA) August 10, 2021
What’s at stake?
The game doesn’t count towards the regular-season standings, but there is a prize-money pool of $500,000. Players on the winning team will be eligible to earn $30,000 per player while those on the losing team will be able to earn $10,000 per player. An additional $5,000 will go the game’s MVP.
All that means a win would almost double the rookies’ individual salaries.
How have the Olympics affected the lead-up to the championship game?
Five Seattle Storm players just returned from the Tokyo Olympics. That group includes future Basketball Hall of Famer Sue Bird, who just won her record-making fifth Olympic Gold medal in Tokyo.
The first basketball players with 5 medals pic.twitter.com/j3MSqza7Nz
— WNBA (@WNBA) August 8, 2021
Breanna Stewart and Jewell Loyd set foot back on U.S. soil Monday morning after capturing their second and first gold medals, respectively. Their teammates Stephanie Talbot and Exi Magbegor were also competing in the Olympics, but for the Australian women’s basketball team.
With the time change and gruelling Olympic schedule, will the Storm be playing at a championship level?
“We are ready,” said Seattle Storm forward Katie Lou Samuelson, who is back on the court and healthy after a positive COVID-19 test forced her to miss the Olympics’ 3×3 competition. “We are locked in with what we got because we want to be able to step up and take responsibility for this game if we need to. You never know how much we are all going to have to play because we can’t just count on Stewie, Sue and Jewell to save the day. They very well could, but we want to be able to help them out as much as we can and let them know that we got their backs.”
Connecticut has had nine practices over the last few weeks with their full roster; Seattle is hoping to get in two before the Cup. And the Sun will try to use both their opponents’ lack of prep time and potentially tired legs to their advantage.
“It’s just playing smart basketball,” Jones said about the potential of a large portion of the Storm potentially being jet-lagged. “We can probably get up and down the court a little bit quicker than them. We will just try to work them early to see how tired they are.”
While fans will be watching to see if the big three from Seattle are tired from their golden journey at the Olympics, others will be seeing if the top team in the East has a little rust on them.
“We have to get the cobwebs out — we haven’t played a game in five weeks,” Sun head coach Curt Miller said. “That is the benefit that Stewie, Bird and Lloyd have. They played games throughout this whole stretch and while they may not be back with their core group practising as hard as we practised, there is no substitute for games.”
What are the players saying?
Jordan Canada, Seattle Storm: “It’s an honour to be a part of the first Commissioner’s Cup and it’s special to be a part of this, but I think at the same time we are just treating it like another game. It’s also an extra game for us to get our flow back before going back into the actual back half of the season.”
DeWanna Bonner, Connecticut Sun: “We worked really hard during these two weeks. Coach Miller definitely didn’t take it lightly on us, that is for sure. We worked on our plays, our defensive schemes, we got in the weight room. It felt like college all over again.”
Mercedes Russell, Seattle Storm: “Honestly, I feel like those first four minutes may get us because we have been off for a month, but it will be nice to be back in game mode, and for it to be the first Cup of the WNBA is exciting.”
Jonquel Jones, Connecticut Sun: “I like the Commissioner’s Cup. It’s funny because I feel like in our league we do things first and then you see things on ESPN about how the NBA is thinking about doing an in-season tournament, and I’m like, ‘Been there, done that.’ We are always the first to do things and other leagues do it after that, and I like that we are always the first to bring things up.”