This was supposed to be the week of one massive return.
A whirlwind span of time where the women’s basketball news cycle spun around Breanna Stewart and her return to the WNBA. The Seattle Storm was scheduled to open its season Friday against the Dallas Wings at Alaska Airlines Arena.
Stewart suiting up for the Storm would’ve completed her comeback from rupturing her right Achilles tendon in April 2019 while playing in Russia.
In reality, life is calm as Stewart stays in her Belltown apartment with her mother amid the coronavirus pandemic. A steady routine of workouts was broken up April 14 when she noted the anniversary of suffering the injury.
“I had a little celebration for myself, just appreciating that I got back because in the beginning, you don’t see the light at the end of the tunnel,” Stewart said.
The 6-foot-4 forward was racking up awards and titles globally before rupturing her Achilles while playing for Dynamo Kursk in the 2019 EuroLeague championship game in Sopron, Hungary.
Stewart led the Storm to the 2018 title – the franchise’s third championship – and was named league and Finals MVP. Then, as Team USA won the 2018 FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup, Stewart collected that MVP honor plus the 2018 USA Basketball Female Athlete of the Year award.
Kobe Bryant was one of the many people to reach out to Stewart once her injury occurred. He tore his Achilles in April 2013, the beginning of three consecutive season-ending injuries that ultimately prompted his retirement from the NBA.
Bryant’s death in a helicopter crash along with his daughter Gigi and seven others was the day before Stewart made her official return to playing with Team USA in January. She wore Nikes with the victims’ names written along the side and finished with three points in 17 minutes.
“To have the news of his death the day before I was about to play my first game back on the court was crazy to me,” Stewart said. “He’s obviously a legend and an icon, but he was someone that was there for me when I was at my lowest. Once I was getting back, he wasn’t there.”
Emotion surrounding the deaths made the game an actual blur to Stewart. She accepted a contract to return to Russia to play, this time with UMMC Ekaterinburg where she reached a benchmark in her recovery in playing without time restrictions.
In her best EuroLeague regular-season matchup against a Turkish team, Stewart had 16 points, eight rebounds and five assists in 30 minutes. Shortly after, however, games were canceled as the virus began to spread across Europe and Asia.
“Practices were intense, I was playing with maybe six other WNBA All-Stars,” Stewart said of the roster that included Brittney Griner, Courtney Vandersloot and Emma Meesseman. “It challenged me and was exactly what I needed to get that confidence back. (But) right when I was getting into my stride and the momentum of feeling comfortable again, this (pandemic) kind of halted things. At the same time, I had to go at least six, seven months without really being able to do much on the basketball court so right now isn’t something that’s foreign to me.”
Stewart, 25, said a set of weights and a new Peloton Bike are her best friends. She finds peace in being overall healthy and able to spend quality time with her mother.
For now, the sports fix is through whatever replay ESPN is airing.
The WNBA hasn’t provided players with any updates regarding ways to hold its 2020 season. Some teams, like the Minnesota Lynx, have held “virtual training camps” but any workouts across the league are strictly voluntary.
The Storm clinched a postseason berth in 2019 despite not having Stewart and point guard Sue Bird (knee). After wining a single-elimination playoff game, Seattle lost in the second round to the Los Angeles Sparks.
“I hope we’ll know more information sooner than later,” Stewart said. “They want to have a season just like the rest of us and are looking to be very flexible to make that happen this year. It’s not going to be a season any of us are used to, but if we can still get on the court, I think that’s a win for everybody.”