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    Wednesday, May 22, 2024

    Has the CT Sun outlived its usefulness to the WNBA?

    This is not a particularly cheerful topic, not with the Connecticut Sun having become an institution here in our corner of the world. But then as philosopher Ayn Rand once wrote, “The hardest thing to explain is the glaringly evident which everybody has decided not to see.”

    The glaringly evident: The franchise’s place in the WNBA is growing less relevant.

    The two-minute drill version: The WNBA is suddenly awash in the “super team” narrative, evidenced recently by the big hauls of New York and Las Vegas. Combine that with Connecticut’s modest market size and the history of its players eventually going elsewhere - to bigger cities - and this proud franchise has outlived its usefulness to the WNBA.

    Team and league officials may bristle at this, offering all the bromides about the loyal fan base and how important Connecticut has been for the growth of the game. But the behavior of the players suggests that Connecticut might as well be the league’s Elba.

    Jonquel Jones left, per news reports, for a bigger market. Chiney Ogwumike did the same a few years ago. And while neither would call the experience here unpleasant, they’d agree Connecticut can’t offer the same opportunities as New York, Los Angeles, Washington, Seattle, Chicago, Atlanta and Las Vegas.

    Free agents really don’t want to come here. Draftees play here, prove their worth and leave. It’s hard to blame them. Think about it: New York, Los Angeles and … Uncasville?

    Now comes the concept of the “super team.” It was even a talking point earlier this week on “Around The Horn,” with four male panelists who probably thought “Swin Cash” was a method of payment 10 years ago. Now they’re blathering about women’s basketball frequently, how super teams create the rivalries sports fans want to see. Somebody named Harry Lyles Jr. even announced that the first New York v Las Vegas game this year would be June 29 and a must watch.

    This just in: A super team isn’t going to develop in this market. Not enough big names find eastern Connecticut appealing. The Liberty just got Jones and Breanna Stewart to complement Sabrina Ionescu. The Aces just got Candace Parker, who left Chicago to play with A’ja Wilson, Kelsey Plum, Chelsea Gray and Jackie Young.

    “I want to go to the place where I can continue to help this league become better, to continue to raise the standard, and I feel like why not go to the biggest market in all of sports. And I’m really excited to go after their first championship,” Breanna Stewart told ESPN earlier this week.

    “Super teams are the new thing, as you can see. So we’re just trying to make sure we’re as good as possible, we have all of our boxes checked. And when you look at the talent, there’s a lot of amazing players on this roster and we’re gonna go after the championship.”

    The Sun franchise hasn’t done anything wrong. It is simply a victim of location, location, location. It may be a difficult concept for us locals, who love living here. Beautiful scenery, a mix of shoreline and rustic, not much traffic, casinos, beaches … a nice slice of the pie. That does not, however, necessarily appeal to twenty-something professional women who may seek more hustle and bustle.

    Any accurate memoir of the WNBA would speak fondly of the Sun’s contribution to the league’s growth. Mohegan Sun has been home to draft nights, all-star games and scores and scores of nationally televised games with enough butts in the seats to sell the product nicely. Most games at Mohegan Sun Arena have been infomercials for the passions that run throughout the league.

    It should speak to the coaching acumen of Mike Thibault and Curt Miller, both of whom got the Sun within a gnat’s eyelash of winning the championship. They had difficult times attracting free agents and watched players leave for greener grass more times than they’d have liked. So sure, the coaching was better here, the interest greater and the crowds bigger. But what truly appeals to today’s WNBA player are brighter lights and bigger cities.

    Connecticut can’t compete with that.

    Again: Not the most pleasant topic. Sun games have been fun here for a great while. But the idea that this franchise can compete for a title any longer is becoming more fictional. The Sun helped the WNBA grow into the more popular league it is becoming. But like parents watching their kids move away, their work here is done. They did the dirty work and now others get the benefits. Not particularly fair. But the truth nonetheless.

    This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro

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