New York Liberty forward Breanna Stewart, left, and guard Courtney Vandersloot pose for a photo during a WNBA basketball news conference, Thursday, Feb. 9, 2023, in New York. (AP Photo/Jessie Alcheh)

Despite what had just happened with the Brooklyn Nets, there was clearly a celebratory mood at Barclay’s Center on Thursday morning. Credit that atmosphere to the other basketball team owned by Joe and Clara Wu Tsai.

The New York Liberty introduced their free-agent signings — WNBA champions and All-Stars Breanna Stewart and Courtney Vandersloot.

“Stewie and Sloot are truly winners,” Clara Wu Tsai said. “Breanna is a two-time WNBA champion, 2018 league MVP, two-time Finals MVP and a four-year All-Star. Courtney is a WNBA champion, the third all-time assists leader for the league and a four-year All-Star. Of course, they join Jonquel Jones, the 2021 MVP, also a four-year All-Star, and they also join a very talented roster of highly motivated, highly competitive athletes.

“And I have to say that what unifies our roster really is this shared sense of purpose.”

That purpose is winning not just the Liberty’s first-ever WNBA title but also New York’s first basketball championship since Willis Reed and Phil Jackson (as a player) won the NBA Finals with the Knicks in 1973. It’s why Stewart and Vandersloot came to New York after establishing careers in other cities.

“The plan, the vision, it was so clear,” Vandersloot said. “It was not dependent on this or, you know, if this happens or this happens. It’s like this is what we see. This is what we're gonna go do. We want to bring a championship. We want to bring the best players here. We're going to take care of you.

“It was everything that, you know, that we're looking for. They're really pushing the envelope in all areas. I think we bought into how special it would be to bring a championship to New York.”

Before free agency started, the Liberty pulled off a three-team trade to acquire Jones, who played six seasons for the Connecticut Sun. Jones played with Stewart and Vandersloot in Russia, where they won multiple Euroleague championships. Now, the three newcomers to New York will get to play together and pursue an WNBA championship, joining All-Stars Sabrina Ionescu and Betnijah Laney.

With this team being put together in New York — and Candace Parker joining the defending champion Las Vegas Aces — discussion around the league turned to the creation of super teams and whether they’re good for the future of the league.

“If you think back a few years, I think the Minnesota Lynx had a bit of a super team, didn't they?” Liberty coach Sandy Brondello said. “I think there's been super teams all throughout the WNBA. I think it's great. We're trying to elevate the level. We're trying to promote our game and create those rivalries. I think that's great for the WNBA, with hopefully more fans can come and watch us and we're selling it.

“We think we got some pretty special players, but you know, Vegas got some special players. We're just focused on being the best team that we can be, and hopefully that answered the goal that we've set out for ourselves.”


New York Liberty forward Breanna Stewart and guard Courtney Vandersloot pose in front of Barclays Center before a WNBA basketball news conference, Thursday, Feb. 9, 2023, in New York. (AP Photo/Jessie Alcheh)

For the stars to align in New York, Stewart and Vandersloot had to take a pay cut. The WNBA has a hard salary cap, so despite what they’ve both accomplished in the league, neither has a max contract.

“They're taking less. They're truly taking less to come here, and that is not an easy decision. And New York is not easy,” general manager Jonathan Kolb said. “But they welcome the challenge with open arms. And I can't tell you how relieved I am that I no longer call them competitors, but instead to call them partners.”

Stewart has been on the forefront of fighting for charter flights and has served as the Seattle Storm’s player representative with the WNBPA. However, she doesn’t think taking less money will impact the financial futures of WNBA stars.

“I'm not worried about setting a precedent,” Stewart said. “I think what we're setting a precedent for is to be willing to play with other great players and to want to win and to do whatever we can to make that happen. It's not my decision that the WNBA has such a hard salary cap. But that's a discussion for the next CBA, so (there’s) not really much I can say about that one.

“But we, we want to make sure that everyone here is feeling appreciated, and that's what we're doing. You know, we're here for more than just money. And that's pretty obvious. We want to be around this franchise, this organization, and we want to win.”

“Taking less is kind of like a sacrifice that you have to make to be on a championship team. I mean, it just is what it is right now. And hopefully it's not always that way,” Vandersloot added. “But I think that, like Stewie said, that was not the main factor of us coming here. We want to sacrifice and play on a really good team so that we can compete for a championship.”

Parker also took less to sign with the Aces. Meanwhile, Las Vegas reportedly is under investigation by the league for allegedly offering under-the-table payments to its players.

The collective bargaining agreement is set to expire in 2025, the same year the WNBA’s television rights deal with ESPN will be up for grabs. Though the league has enjoyed considerable growth in ratings and attendance, the next two seasons will be crucial as it sets its direction for the next decade.

One thing is certain: The action in the WNBA, both on and off the court, will be thrilling.

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