During a quiet moment a few days ago, Breanna Stewart reminded Jewell Loyd what she meant to her.
The Storm stars began a relationship 11 years ago as teammates on the USA Basketball under-17 team. They became collegiate rivals, Stewart at the University of Connecticut and Loyd at Notre Dame.
Their paths intersected when Seattle selected them No. 1 overall in consecutive WNBA drafts (2015 and 2016), which led to two league titles.
And now the three-time All-Stars are USA Basketball teammates once again preparing for the Summer Olympics.
“Having the opportunity to play with Jewell is something that we both take a lot of pride in and we both appreciate,” Stewart said Tuesday during a teleconference interview from Las Vegas. “Jewell and I have gone through everything together almost.
“She obviously was drafted a year before me, but we began this journey together as newbies still on our rookie contracts. Now young vets. Now both of us are on the USA team. I said it to her the other day, win or lose I appreciate the opportunity of going through it with you and being on the court with you. What we have and what we’re building in Seattle is just going to continue to grow as we get into our prime.”
The 26-year-old Stewart and Loyd, 27, are two of the brightest young stars featured in the WNBA’s All-Star Game 4 p.m. PT Wednesday, which pits Team WNBA against Team USA that’s heading to the Tokyo Games.
“We’re getting ready for Tokyo,” Loyd said. “We’re understanding every day that we can’t take anything for granted and we want to make sure that we’re ready to go regardless of if we’re playing top WNBA players or playing our exhibition game against Australia. We want to make sure that we go into every game thinking and knowing we’re preparing for Tokyo. We’re excited.”
Five years ago, Loyd was on a select team that nearly upset Team USA before falling 88-84 during an exhibition on July 25, 2016, in Los Angeles. It was the closest margin of victory for the U.S. women’s national team, which claimed its sixth straight gold medal at the Rio de Janeiro Games.
Historically, All-Star Games have been fan-friendly showcases void of defense and filled with no-look passes, uncontested dunks, long-distance three-pointers and playful trash-talking between the best players in the league.
However, this year could be the exception in which fouls are committed and the exhibition actually resembles a regular-season game rather than a free-flowing spectacle.
“It needs to be a little bit competitive,” Loyd said. “That’s what people come to watch. I know they want to see a little bit of showmanship, but that also comes through playing hard and playing competitive. Obviously, you want to be smart with everything. But for us, it’s also just making sure we know what we’re doing and we’re feeling good about how we’re playing on both ends of the floor.
“And when you’re playing really well, you always put on a show.”
The 12 members of the Olympic team, chosen by USA Basketball, automatically became All-Stars. And the 12 other All-Stars were selected by the league’s coaches from a pool voted on by fans, media and the players.
It’s the first time since 2000 the WNBA has chosen All-Stars during an Olympic year, which is a point of contention for Stewart.
“Don’t get me started on that,” she said. “That should have happened years ago.”
Stewart believes Storm guard Sue Bird, who is making her record 12th WNBA All-Star appearance has been unduly robbed of recognition. By most accounts, the 18-year veteran would have played in 16 or 17 All-Star Games if today’s rules were in place years ago.
“It’s a great way for the USA Team to get ready, it’s a great way to prepare for us and it’s also a great way to showcase the top talent,” Bird said. “The national team is 12 of the top players obviously and so is the WNBA side of it. It’s 24 of the top players going out there. One side is going to be preparing for something, but all in all hopefully we’ll put on a good show.”
In addition to the Storm stars, the U.S. national team includes: Phoenix’s Diana Taurasi, Brittney Griner and Skylar Diggins-Smith; Minnesota’s Sylvia Fowles and Napheesa Collier; Washington’s Tina Charles and Ariel Atkins; and Las Vegas’ A’ja Wilson and Chelsea Gray.
Meanwhile, Team WNBA features: Connecticut’s Jonquel Jones, DeWanna Bonner and Brionna Jones; Chicago’s Candace Parker, Courtney Vandersloot and Kahleah Cooper; Las Vegas’ Liz Cambage and Dearica Hamby; Dallas’ Arike Ogunbowale and Satou Sabally; New York’s Betnijah Laney and Atlanta’s Courtney Williams.
“It’s not so much an All-Star game for us, but a preparation game for the Olympics,” Stewart said. “It will be a lot more competitive because we’re actually going to play … before it’s a been a little bit of a mess.”
It’s also the first time Stewart and Loyd will team up at the WNBA All-Star Game. Loyd was not chosen in 2017, which was Stewart’s first appearance. Stewart missed the 2019 season with an Achilles’ injury the year Loyd made her second appearance.
And in 2018, they were on opposite teams. Loyd scored 12 points off the bench for Team Parker while Stewart tallied 10 points as a starter for Team Delle Donne.
In addition to winning the WNBA All-Star Game and an Olympic gold medal, Loyd is focused on building her friendship with Stewart.
“We eat breakfast together every morning,” Loyd said. “We live together. Our growth as friends has definitely been building in the right direction. Having her here with me and being a part of history with her has been amazing.
“Sometimes I get caught up in just watching her play and watching greatness. It’s amazing what she’s been able to do in her career. Having her here has been amazing. She’s a great friend. We’ve been through a lot together and seeing each other grow and knowing that we’re able to enjoy this journey together is something that’s super special and I can’t take for granted.”
— Taurasi, who has missed the previous three games due to a hip injury, said she probably won’t play in the WNBA All-Star Game and will focus on getting healthy for the start of the Olympics.
— At halftime of the WNBA All-Star Game, Loyd will compete in the 3-Point Contest against Chicago’s Allie Quigley, who won the event in 2017 and 2018, Connecticut’s Jonquel Jones and New York’s Sami Whitcomb.
— The league will honor the 1996 U.S. Olympic team that started off the run of six consecutive gold medals that the Americans have won. Lisa Leslie, who helped win the first four golds, will co-coach the WNBA team with Tina Thompson. Dawn Staley who was on the 1996 team with Leslie, is the U.S. Olympic coach.