There’s a special joy in watching Breanna Stewart go about her work. The 26-year-old archetype-busting star forward of the Seattle Storm stands 6ft 4in with a 7ft 1in wingspan that’s longer than LeBron’s, blending the size and strength of a top-drawer post player with the agility and coordination of an elite wing. When she’s not using her length and physicality to pick her teeth with muscle-bound defenders in the paint, you can find her on the perimeter, calmly sinking three-pointers or roasting opponents off the dribble to create chances for herself and her teammates.
Stewie wins everywhere she laces them up: for college, club and country. After capturing four NCAA championships and a record four Final Four most outstanding player awards in four seasons at the University of Connecticut, she was chosen by Seattle with the No 1 overall pick of the 2016 WNBA draft and picked right up where she left off in Storrs. Two years ago, when the Olympic gold medalist won the WNBA’s Most Valuable Player award and hauled her team to a championship, the Storm had every look of a dynasty-in-waiting.
Then disaster struck. Stewart ruptured an achilles tendon in April 2019 while playing for Dynamo Kursk in the Euroleague Women championship game. Not only did the rehab cost her the entire 2019 WNBA season, but the severity of the injury meant there was no guarantee she would return to her otherworldly form.
Somehow, the upstate New York native came back this year even better than before. Behold her performance in Game 1 of the WNBA finals against the top-seeded Las Vegas Aces in October. After three quarters, Stewart was on a game-high 23 points, but the resilient Aces had kept within touching distance throughout and only trailed by two entering the fourth.
That’s when Stewart found another level and simply took over, tearing off the first 11 points of the final period, restoring Seattle’s double-digit lead and finishing with 15 in the quarter. Driving finger rolls, turnaround fadeaways, cutting lay-ups, one three-pointer after another: she could not be stopped. Her 37 points were one shy of the finals record. It was one of the more dominant individual performances you will ever see on a basketball court.
She went on to average 28.3 points on 63% shooting in the Storm’s three-game sweep, sealing the club’s record-tying fourth WNBA title and her second WNBA finals MVP award.
Yet on-court dominance only scratches the surface of her impact. Stewart is not an attention-seeker by nature, but she’s never shied away from using her platform to turn a light on societal issues, like when she wrote about her experience as a survivor of sexual abuse in a deeply personal essay published back in 2017. She certainly wasn’t the only WNBA player to publicly encourage the league to back Black Lives Matter and dedicate its season to Breonna Taylor as a nation reeled amid a fresh wave of extrajudicial killings of black and brown people. A’ja Wilson, Angel McCoughtry, Nneka Ogwumike and Layshia Clarendon were among the many players at the fore of push, building on the WNBA’s lengthy history of shared urgency around social causes. Still others like Maya Moore, Natasha Cloud and Renee Montgomery chose to sit out the season to fully devote their efforts to racial equity.
But it always will carry additional weight when the face of a sport throws their weight behind a cause. Stewart did the work. She attended protests. She grappled with her privilege as a white star in a predominately black league. Most of all, she listened. And when the moment came, Stewart’s decision to stand with Clarendon before the opening game in the WNBA bubble and call for 26 seconds of silence in remembrance of Taylor, the 26-year-old African American woman killed by plainclothes police officers while asleep in her Louisville home, stood out as a model of allyship that deserves to be remembered long after the wins and losses fade into time.