Good morning, I’m Dan Gartland. I’m not getting the tickets from Kevin Durant, but I’m going to have to get to a Liberty game this summer.
In today’s SI:AM:
🔄 Tom Brady’s impact on the QB carousel
🦖 Landing spots for OG Anunoby
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A budding superteam in New York
On the sports calendar, Feb. 1 in the WNBA is what July 1 is in the NBA: the beginning of the new league year, which means that’s when free agents are able to sign with new teams. While some news did trickle out before yesterday’s official opening of free agency, most players played by the rules and waited until the signing period began to break the news. Let’s look at a few of the biggest decisions.
After seven years with the Storm, Stewart is returning to her home state and signing with the Liberty. Stewart, the 2018 MVP and a two-time champion with Seattle, was the top player available on the market and is the Liberty’s second major acquisition of the offseason. New York landed star center Jonquel Jones from the Sun in a three-team trade Jan. 16. Stewart and Jones will join point guard Sabrina Ionescu, who enjoyed a breakout season in ’22, to form one of the league’s most impressive cores.
Stewart really leaned into the suspense of her free agency, teasing fans with a series of cryptic tweets over the past two weeks. In the end, she narrowed her choices down to remaining with the Storm and moving to the Liberty. She also met with the Lynx and Mystics. According to ESPN, Stewart made charter air travel a priority in her meetings with teams and believes discussions about that issue will continue even now that she’s signed.
Vandersloot is another top player who will be on the move. She announced Tuesday that she would be leaving the Sky after 12 years in Chicago. Speculation is rampant that she could join Stewart in New York and make the Liberty an even more formidable contender. Vandersloot is currently playing overseas on the same team as Stewart (Fenerbahçe in Istanbul), and ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne previously reported that Stewart and Vandersloot might collaborate on their free-agency decisions.
The defending champion Aces made the first major free-agency move when Candace Parker announced Saturday that she was leaving her hometown Sky after two seasons to sign with Las Vegas. Parker said she made the decision because it’s what is best for her family.
The Aces’ core of Chelsea Gray, Kelsey Plum, Jackie Young and 2022 MVP A’ja Wilson will all be returning next season. Vegas has three free agents (Kiah Stokes, Sydney Colson and Theresa Plaisance), none of whom averaged more than four points per game last season. The Aces also made a swap of centers with the Sparks last month, sending Dearica Hamby to Los Angeles in exchange for the negotiating rights to Amanda Zahui B. They’re gearing up to defend their championship.
The best of the rest
Nneka Ogwumike is the other big name who has already made a decision. She’s reportedly staying with the Sparks. Brionna Jones, who won Sixth Player of the Year in 2022, is a free agent. Diana Taurasi is also a free agent but, at age 40, has said she intends to play next season and isn’t expected to leave Phoenix, where she’s played her entire career. Brittney Griner has said she intends to play next season after being free from prison in Russia and is a free agent as well.
The best of Sports Illustrated
- Clare Brennan looks at what Breanna Stewart’s departure means for the Storm.
- Conor Orr analyzes how Tom Brady’s retirement will impact the quarterback carousel.
- Rohan Nadkarni ranks his favorite possible destinations for Raptors trade target OG Anunoby.
- Pat Forde was in Chapel Hill last night, where Pitt assistant coach Jason Capel went on an angry rant about being disrespected at his alma mater.
- Kyle Shanahan said he doesn’t believe Jimmy Garoppolo will return to the 49ers next season.
- Mike McCarthy is taking over play-calling duties for the Cowboys after the team fired Kellen Moore.
- Top quarterback recruit Jaden Rashada, whose NIL-centric recruiting saga played out for months, is signing with Arizona State.
Tickets to the Super Bowl have reached astronomical heights, starting at $6,051 and topping out at $40,723, per SI Tickets.
The top five...
… things I saw yesterday:
5. Donte DiVincenzo’s ballhandling and bounce pass to set up a Kevon Looney dunk.
4. Pavel Zacha’s two third-period goals to help the NHL-leading Bruins snap their three-game losing streak.
3. Damian Lillard’s shot from the opposite free-throw line. (After the buzzer, but still.)
2. Chris Stipdonk’s near-record performance in the knuckle hop at the Arctic Winter Games. (Knuckle hop is one of the traditional indigenous competitions at the biennial event.)
1. Azzedine Ounahi’s goal in his debut for Marseilles.
When the National League was founded on this day in 1876, which of the following cities did not have a team in the eight-club league?
- St. Louis
Yesterday’s SIQ: Who was named MVP when the Steelers beat the Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII on Feb. 1, 2009?
- Ben Roethlisberger
- Hines Ward
- Willie Parker
- Santonio Holmes
Answer: Santonio Holmes. His tip-toe touchdown catch in the corner of the end zone with 42 seconds left to play gave the Steelers a 27–23 victory.
In the final seconds of each half, the Steelers made two of the most famous plays in Super Bowl history. At the end of the first half it was James Harrison’s interception and 100-yard return. And in the final minute of regulation, Holmes made an absurdly difficult catch to win the game.
Holmes’s catch was a master class in how to establish possession in bounds. He planted the very tips of his feet in the corner of the end zone while he reached his arms far above his head to snag the ball. Every element of it was perfectly executed. In 2016, NFL Network ranked it as the third best catch in league history.
Lost in Holmes’s brilliance is just how flawless Ben Roethlisberger’s throw was. The Cardinals’ defense had the Steelers’ receivers blanketed. Roethlisberger’s best option was to throw over three Arizona defenders to Holmes. He put it in the only place he could—high enough to get over the trio of defenders but low enough that Holmes could grab it while keeping his feet on the ground. After Roethlisberger’s terrible performance in the Steelers’ Super Bowl XL win three years earlier (9-of-21 passing for 123 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions), he was much better in his second Super Bowl (21-of-30 passing for 256 yards, one touchdown and one interception).
Although Hines Ward was the team’s leading receiver during the season, Holmes was Roethlisberger’s favorite target in that Super Bowl. He caught nine passes for 131 yards, including a 40-yard reception that put the Steelers in the shadow of the goal line and set up the winning play.
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