The WNBA is in the pages of Sports Illustrated's 2022 swimsuit edition.
Nneka Ogwumike, Sue Bird, Breanna Stewart, Didi Richards and Te'a Cooper posed for the annual issue set to hit newsstands on May 19. They were photographed in black swimsuits in the U.S. Virgin Islands by Laretta Houston.
"The [Swimsuit] issue for so many years has been iconic and has represented a lot for women," Seattle Storm point guard Bird told SI's Dorothy J. Gentry. "Now you are seeing an evolution in what that can mean and what that can look like, and I think the WNBA players being a part of that is what makes it special. There is no better group of women to showcase that evolution.”
The swimsuit issue has evolved from pages of mostly skinny white models in bikinis to be more inclusive. That includes showcasing athletes like Naomi Osaka, who made history last year on the cover.
— WNBA (@WNBA) May 9, 2022
The short written piece focused on the league's continued social activism and stands for "respect, equal pay, recognition for sacrifices made and the right to be complex, multifaceted and have aspirations—all with a table tilted against them," Gentry wrote.
"These players not only dominate on the court but are tirelessly leading the charge in speaking out on social justice issues — fighting for racial justice and equality and working together to create sustainable change,” MJ Day, Editor-in-Chief of Sports Illustrated Swimsuit, said in a release. “Their participation in this year's issue couldn't come at a better time with the launch of Pay With Change and the work that we are doing to evolve and grow our brand. We couldn't be more thrilled to have such a badass group of women come together for this specific issue."
Stewart, a two-time WNBA champion, told SI:
"The WNBA has always been at the forefront of social issues. And we continue to be leaders in this space because we always have fought for more—and we don’t plan on stopping anytime soon.”
'More than' basketball players
The league's phrase this year is "more than" and it noted that WNBA players are more than just players in its sharing of the news.
Bird is also a co-founder of TOGETHXR, a digital media production platform to give more coverage to women's sports. Storm teammate Stewart spoke of being a new mom to daughter, Ruby, who turns 1 in August. Richards, the New York Liberty's second-year guard, is into modeling, design and fashion. And Cooper, who was waived by the Los Angeles Sparks before tipoff, has also broken into modeling and fashion.
Ogwumike, the players association president, said in a video for the Sparks social page she's trying to challenge herself more in photoshoots, acting and production.
— Los Angeles Sparks (@LASparks) May 9, 2022
WNBA opening weekend milestone numbers
Stewart and Bird were among the handful of players who hit significant WNBA milestones over the first weekend of the season. Sylvia Fowles led the crowd with her 6,000th point, making her the 13th player in league's 25-seasons-plus history to join the club.
Stewart scored her 3,000th WNBA point early in the Storm's loss to the Las Vegas Aces (2-0) on Sunday night. The two-time Finals MVP did it in her 151st game, tied for second-fastest in WNBA history. Elena Delle Donne did it in 148 games. Stewart is tied with Diana Taurasi and Seimone Augustus.
Bird has now made a 3-pointer in 30 straight games, the longest active streak in the WNBA. She was 3-of-4 with 11 points in a win over Minnesota to open the campaign and 1-of-4 against the Aces. Her only made baskets of the season so far are threes.
The Dallas Wings' Arike Ogunbowale (22) and the Indiana Fever's Kelsey Mitchell (20) have the next-longest streaks.
Other notable numbers from opening weekend include:
Washington Mystics guard Natasha Cloud reaching 800 career assists.
No. 1 overall pick Rhyne Howard of the Atalanta Dream joined Maya Moore and Bird as the only rookies to debut with four 3-pointers and four assists. Her full stat line also puts her in elite company.
Los Angeles Sparks guard Brittney Sykes collected nine steals in two games, the most over the first two games of any Sparks player in history.
All five Aces starters scored in double-figures in each of their wins.
The WNBA is off Monday but returns Tuesday with two games available on Facebook and/or WNBA League Pass.