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Liberty’s Stewart wins WNBA MVP for 2nd time

Liberty’s Stewart wins WNBA MVP for 2nd time
  • PublishedSeptember 26, 2023

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NEW YORK — In her first season with the New York Liberty, Breanna Stewart has been named the 2023 WNBA MVP in the closest-three way race in league history, it was announced Tuesday.

Stewart and runner-up Alyssa Thomas of the Connecticut Sun were separated by seven points, the second-smallest margin between the winner and runner-up in the award’s history. The 13 points separating Stewart and the Las Vegas AcesA’ja Wilson, who was third, mark the narrowest margin between the top three MVP vote-getters in league history.

It is the second MVP award for Stewart, who won her first in 2018 while playing for the Seattle Storm in just her third season in the pros. Fast-forward to 2023 and she can’t help but reflect on how dramatically her life has changed as she etches her place in WNBA lore once more.

“That’s something that is really special to me when I think about it,” Stewart told ESPN on Tuesday. “My first one was in 2018. I was still under my rookie contract and now look to 2023, I’m married to a beautiful wife [Marta Xargay Casademont], have a baby [Ruby, born in 2021] and we’re having another one [due in October].

“Ruby is someone that’s going to be able to see her mommy get MVP, and that’s something that I definitely take a lot of pride in.”

The announcement came hours before New York was to host the Sun in Game 2 of their WNBA semifinal series (8 p.m., ESPN).

Seven months after signing with the Liberty in what arguably was the biggest free agency move in league history, Stewart sometimes still can’t believe she plays for New York. Now, she is the franchise’s first MVP and with six more wins could lead them to their first WNBA title.

The 2016 No. 1 overall pick is the eighth player in league history to win multiple MVP awards, fourth player to win it in their first season with a franchise and the second player to win MVP with multiple franchises.

“It’s definitely an honor to be able to say this is my second and to be able to do it in a Liberty jersey for the first time ever,” said Stewart, who was a two-time champion and two-time Finals MVP with the Storm. “I’m excited for what’s going to come tonight, and hopefully the fans are going to go nuts.”

Stewart also is the first Liberty player to be named MVP in the franchise’s 27-year history.

“Stewie’s first season with the New York Liberty has been nothing short of historic on every level,” Liberty general manager Jonathan Kolb said in a statement. “The constant resiliency, belief, selflessness, toughness, and professionalism she has brought to the Liberty on a nightly basis is an incredibly rare combination — culminating in such a special season, both personally and collectively.”

Stewart earned 20 first-place votes, 23 second-place votes and 17 third-place votes for a total of 446 total points from a national panel of 60 sportswriters and broadcasters.

Thomas garnered 23 first-place votes, which is the second time in WNBA history that an MVP runner-up has received more first-place votes than the winner. Lauren Jackson came in second to Sheryl Swoopes in 2005 despite receiving 20 first-place vote to Swoopes’ 16.

Wilson received 17 first-place votes.

“A tight MVP race is amazing for this league because that means multiple players are being talked about that can do a lot of different things,” Stewart said.

After a year-plus of anticipation, Stewart left the only franchise she’d ever played for to sign with the Liberty this past offseason. She was attracted to the franchise’s progressive viewpoints toward the WNBA’s development (specifically their support for the league allowing widespread charter flights) and playing in the country’s largest sports market, all in hopes that she could help, in her words, push the needle forward.

It also meant she could play in her home state of New York and relocate closer to family.

The “Stew York City” era kicked off on a high note when Stewart scored a career-high and franchise-record 45 points in 30 minutes in the Liberty’s home opener at Barclays Center. She was their most consistent player early on in the season especially as all the Liberty’s new pieces worked to jell on the court.

With Stewart as their centerpiece, the Liberty went 32-8 in the regular season, including finishing narrowly behind the first-place Aces. They caught fire after the All-Star break in particular, where their 81.8% win percentage was a league best and they won the Commissioner’s Cup Championship Game over the Aces in August.

New York is currently playing in its first WNBA semifinals since 2015, and could appear in the Finals for the first time since 2002 should it overcome a 0-1 deficit versus the Sun.

“To be able to come to a franchise like the Liberty and make an impact this quickly, it’s unbelievable. It’s something that is really difficult to do,” Stewart said. “In the beginning, there were bumps along the way, but we continued to trust the process and grind out wins and do whatever I had to do to help this team get the win.”

Stewart’s 23.0 points per game this season was the second-highest scoring average in a player’s first season with a new team. As part of that effort, Stewart recorded four 40-point games, a WNBA single-season record, as well as three games with 40 points and 10 rebounds, the most in WNBA history.

Stewart set career highs in scoring (23.0 points, second-best in the league) and assists (3.8), nearly hit her career-best rebounding mark (9.3, third-best in the league), while also compiling a career-best 20 double-doubles, third-most in the league. Earlier this postseason, she was named to her fifth all-WNBA defensive team.

Stewart and the Liberty’s other big offseason additions, Courtney Vandersloot and Jonquel Jones, came to New York with a WNBA championship top of mind. But Stewart said she did feel relief when she learned she won MVP from WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert last week.

“I want to be great every time I step on the floor, and that’s something that I pride myself on in my career, is bringing greatness wherever I am, whether that’s on and off the court,” Stewart said. “I think sometimes it’s a little bit taken for granted what I can do, the ability to play multiple positions, so for myself to have this year, but the team to have such a tremendous year and everybody else to see that, that’s where the relief came from. I’m just proud of myself and really want to share this moment with everyone.”

It’s the latest accolade for Stewart, who was a three-time national player of the year in college at UConn, four-time NCAA champion and Most Outstanding Player, two-time EuroLeague champion and Final Four MVP, and a two-time Olympic gold-medalist.

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