The WNBA will conduct their 2020 season at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, FL. All 12 teams (consisting of 144 players) reside on the campus; their competitive quarantine is nicknamed the WNBA “Wubble.”
The Los Angeles Sparks traveled to the Wubble in early July and has since begun preparing for their new normal and a new season.
Los Angeles Sparks head coach Derek Fisher and the coaching staff is concerned about the mental and physical well being of the team.
“The first couple days of practice and workouts have been great,” Fisher said. “[We] really try to be thoughtful about our process and not putting ourselves in jeopardy too fast.”
A big lesson that Fisher learned from last season is the importance of culture on the team. The culture of the Sparks was the first thing guard Brittney Sykes noticed. During practices, the players tend to hold each other accountable.
“If we do our rep and it’s not good enough, we’ll do it over,” Sykes said. “We’ll end on a better rep.”
When Sykes finally met her new teammates in person at a team meeting, she noted enjoying being in their company and not being secluded.
“Being together, it’s been dope,” she said. “The message hits different when you’re up front and everybody is paying attention to that one person talking.
Being the president of the WNBPA, Forward Nneka Ogwumike must practice for the season while tending to the needs of all the players. Ogwumike called it a “balancing act” and she is still learning it. Through her experience creating the new collective bargaining agreement and adjusting to life at the IMG Academy, she believes the relationship between the WNBA and their players has been changed.
“I have an amazing team on the executive committee and of course the staff and working with Cathy (Englebert) and the league has been a great experience,” Ogwumike said. “I feel as though I need to make myself accessible to a lot of the players and staff so that we can really address everyone’s concerns and do what we were geared to do in this bubble.”
Living in the Wubble is similar to life playing professionally overseas, according to guard Riquna Williams. She does not mind having low contact with people, describing herself as a “homebody.”
“There’s not many places to go overseas once you’re in your contract,” She said. “Some teams allow you to have cars, some don’t.”
Settling into quarantine life was a slower process for guard Chelsea Gray; she noted how the living situation reminded her of AAU tournament living arrangements. Players had the option of living in the hotel without roommates or live with teammates in a suite, hotel accommodations come without a kitchen.
“I think people that have kitchens are able to have their own and kind of go with their dietary restrictions a little bit more,” Gray said. “People in the hotel rely heavily on people to cook for them.”
For center Kristine Anigwe, the WNBA Wubble reminds her of the Team USA trials. She is grateful that the 2020 season can go on and that she is around people who are ready to compete.
“Everybody here wants to win a championship and we’re all kind of going with that mindset,” Anigwe said. “The bright side is … we have a lot of WNBA players here in one place and we have really cool resources.”