When the WNBA released the schedule for its pandemic-shortened season Monday, the list dutifully designated home teams for each matchup. But home may not mean much more than a jersey color this season because everyone is calling the WNBA bubble at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., home, where players “eat, breathe, sleep basketball,” Sparks guard Sydney Wiese said.
“For [the season] to even be happening is a blessing within itself,” Wiese said in a virtal news conference Monday. “So now, now that we’re here, we have to make the most of it, embrace it, roll with the waves that are presented to us.”
The Sparks start the 22-game regular season July 25 against the star-studded Phoenix Mercury with Diana Taurasi, Skylar Diggins-Smith and Brittney Griner. The season opener at 12 p.m. PT on ABC is one of 13 regular-season Sparks games to be broadcast on national television on ABC, ESPN/ESPN2 and CBS Sports Network. The remaining games will be available on Spectrum SportsNet or WNBA League Pass.
Players and staff members exchanged the comfort of their homes, families and friends for their careers this summer, but the controlled atmosphere also makes everything so simple, Wiese said. She’s enjoyed the structure so far. Sparks coach Derek Fisher said he thinks games will be better with teams on a level playing field with no one hampered by travel or time zone changes. It’s a simple silver lining to a situation clouded in controversy from the beginning.
When players first arrived last week, ESPN’s Kayla Johnson shared video sent from inside the IMG Academy campus showing a dirty laundry room with a mouse trap perched in the corner. A worm appeared to be on the floor of a room.
Social media blew up over the unsanitary conditions. During the past week, however, the problems have been rectified, Sparks guard Seimone Augustus assured.
“This is unknown, uncharted territory for a lot of people,” Augustus said. “So you got to give us a chance, give the league a chance to clean some of those things up.”
Augustus wore a mask while speaking to reporters via webcam Monday. She said she feels “as safe as we can feel.” She said trams are sanitized, hotel rooms are deep-cleaned every few days and practice courts are scrubbed between each team’s session. Everyone is careful to adhere to social- distancing outside of practices. They elbow-bump as greetings. They get tested every day.
Mantaee County, where IMG Academy is located in Bradenton, reported a record-high 470 new positive cases Sunday, contributing to Florida’s statewide total of 15,283 new cases.
“There is no time to become complacent in [health and safety],” Fisher said. “We feel like we can utilize the discipline it’s going to take to stay safe and healthy due to COVID is the discipline you need to be great at anything. So if we want to be great at being safe and healthy, you have to pay attention to the details and do them the right way. If we want to be great at basketball as a team, you have to pay attention to the details and do them the right way.”