Breanna Stewart, the 2018 WNBA MVP, ruptured her right achilles tendon while playing in the Euroleague title game with her Russian team Dynamo Kursk, landing awkwardly on the foot of fellow WNBA player Brittney Griner.
Stewart is expected to miss the entire WNBA season for the Seattle Storm, which starts in late May, but the positive news is the outcomes of achilles ruptures have become significantly better. What used to be a process lasting over a year with highly questionable post-injury performance has moved towards a seven-to-nine-month recovery with quicker return to pre-injury levels.
Two major recent examples are San Antonio Spurs’ Rudy Gay, who returned in eight months and put in a full season with numbers that aligned with his previous trends, and Arsenal captain and center back Laurent Koscielny, who at the age of 33 came back in under seven months and has played very well throughout the highly taxing English Premier League season.
It’s by no means a career-ender, and I have confidence that Breanna will be back at or near her previous levels of play in due time. That being said, this injury speaks directly to a major concern for WNBA players. Many are playing year-round basketball to augment their WNBA salary, which averages around $75,000, but at the possible expense of their mental and physical fitness.
Playing year-round opens any player up to increased injury risk, for a multitude of reasons. There’s increased wear and tear on the mind and body, increased fatigue levels, and not nearly enough time for mental and physical recovery. There’s no time for a methodical training plan to bolster weaknesses and build up a reserve, and lastly, when you’re playing more basketball, there’s simply more chances for getting hit a certain way, stepping awkwardly, or landing on someone’s foot, as we saw with Breanna Stewart.
Off-seasons are so critical for professional athletes. That time is when players recover and build up their mental and physical fitness. During the season, they’re just trying to maintain whatever they built during that preceding summer. If NBA commissioner Adam Silver purported to take them away from NBA players, there’d be riots. For WNBA players who don’t have that off-season, they’re always just trying to maintain and it puts them at huge risk.
Perhaps this injury to an MVP-level player like Breanna Stewart will be the catalyst needed for the Storm and the WNBA to take a harder look at player salaries and player safety moving forward.