Does this improve Canada’s chances of getting a WNBA team?
The WNBA is coming to Canada.
On January 18, the WNBA announced that it would hold a preseason game in Toronto this season. The game will be held at Scotiabank Arena, the home of the Toronto Raptors. It will mark the first time that Canada has hosted a WNBA preseason game and just the third time that a WNBA preseason game has been held outside of the United States.
It’s not the first time that WNBA players have competed in Scotiabank Arena. Tammy Sutton-Brown, a Canadian basketball legend and former WNBA All-Star, and Elena Delle Donne, a current WNBA player with the Washington Mystics, took part in the NBA Celebrity All-Star Game in 2016 when the event was hosted in Toronto.
On May 13, 2023, there will be 10 WNBA players on the floor. The Chicago Sky will be taking on the Minnesota Lynx. What’s particularly notable about the choice of teams is the fact that the Minnesota Lynx had two Canadians on their roster in the 2022 season. While Natalie Achonwa will be unavailable for the game because she is expecting her first child, the Minnesota Lynx extended a qualifying offer to Bridget Carleton on January 14, so she will likely get the opportunity to play in front of a home crowd.
For Canadians who play in the NCAA (Carleton played for Iowa State) and then go onto the WNBA, there are very few chances to play in front of their friends and family. Shayeann Day-Wilson, a guard at Duke, spoke about how much it meant to her to play at GLOBL JAM (a U23 basketball tournament) which was hosted in Toronto this summer: “Man, it’s a good feeling. It just feels really good to be back home, playing in front of my supporters and everything like that. I haven’t done that since like four years ago, so it’s a great feeling, it’s still surreal. I love every moment of it.”
Bridget Carleton had the opportunity to play in her hometown of Chatham, Ontario in 2018 during her last year at Iowa State, but aside from a few national team games in the years following her graduation, has not really had the chance to compete in Canada.
If the game goes well, Carleton may find herself getting to play in Canada more frequently. While making the announcement about the preseason game being held in Toronto, Cathy Engelbert, the WNBA Commissioner, reiterated that Toronto is on the list of cities that is being considered for expansion.
“We’re excited to see how the market responds and certainly the fans in the country from a viewership perspective as well,” said Engelbert.
“I know that this market is hugely into women’s sports too, because that’s important. I think playing at Scotiabank Arena is a really important part of this, where the men play, to get that equality message out there that we can draw out in an arena like that.”
The appeal of Toronto as a potential market has partially stemmed from the growth and success of the Raptors franchise (which won its first NBA championship in 2019), and it certainly helps that Masai Ujiri, the President of the organization, expressed interest in bringing a WNBA team to Toronto during the Raptors’ final press conference of the 2021-2022 season.
While there are currently only three Canadians in the WNBA—Bridget Carleton, Natalie Achonwa, and Kia Nurse—with Aaliyah Edwards (UConn), Laeticia Amihere (South Carolina), Shayeann Day-Wilson (Duke), Shaina Pellington (Arizona), Phillipina Kyei (Oregon), and Yvonne Ejim (Gonzaga) having impressive collegiate careers in the NCAA, it’s likely that the WNBA will see more Canadians being drafted onto teams over the course of the next few years.
The matchup between the Chicago Sky and Minnesota Lynx on May 13 is about more than just 40 minutes of WNBA preseason action. It is a chance to welcome basketball home to the country where it was invented, it is a way to inspire young Canadian athletes, and it is a day for Canadians to fall more in love with basketball. Who knows, the next time that Canada welcomes WNBA players to Toronto might not just be for a preseason game—it might be for the real thing—the home opener of Canada’s first-ever WNBA team.