CHICAGO -- All-star games regularly showcase a combination of a league's seasoned vets and its promising young stars, but Sunday's 2022 WNBA All-Star Game at Wintrust Arena -- a 134-112 victory for Team Wilson -- felt more than most as a passing of the torch from the W's old guard to the new.
Sylvia Fowles and Sue Bird, named to their eighth and 13th All-Star Games, respectively, bowed out of their final showing in the event in style, with co-captains A'ja Wilson and Breanna Stewart presenting them flowers at midcourt during the game. Fowles got the crowd going late in the first half with a breakaway dunk, and she and Bird -- who finished scoreless for the first time in a WNBA All-Star Game -- received a standing ovation from the crowd as they checked out of the game for the last time.
But as Fowles and Bird said adieu, the likes Stewart, Wilson and top scorers Kelsey Plum (30 points), Jonquel Jones (29) and Jewell Loyd (21) came through to assure all that the WNBA remains in good hands as its longtime legends step away.
Plum, who was named MVP after tying Maya Moore's WNBA All-Star Game scoring record, wasn't the only first-time All-Star to turn some heads, as Sabrina Ionescu (19 points) and Rhyne Howard (13) also made impressive debuts.
"The best part about all these players is they are, what, like 26 and younger, and I can tell you now, it's only going to get better," Bird said. "You're only going to get smarter, and you're only going to get more skilled, you're going to work on things. So when they enter their prime, which you could argue is 28 and up, they are going to be even that much more exciting to watch."
ESPN's Mechelle Voepel and Alexa Philippou offer their takeaways from the changing of the guard that was on display and other All-Star Game happenings.
Bird, Fowles (and possibly Parker) go out in style
With more games behind them than ahead of them, the richly intertwined Fowles and Candace Parker will no doubt go down as two of the league's greats, and it's fitting that at least Fowles (and maybe both) got to conclude the All-Star experience playing alongside such a similarly illustrious contemporary on Team Wilson.
One special moment that the general public did not witness was Parker and Fowles -- who went No. 1 and No. 2 in the 2008 WNBA draft -- share the podium at the postgame news conference.
When asked about the impact Fowles made on her, Parker -- who has indicated this could be her final season as well but that she won't likely know until the offseason -- offered a thoughtful answer.
"I'm a big 'do as they do and not as they say' [person] because I think a lot of people say a lot of stuff," Parker said. "But Syl, man, she does it every single day. You know it's going to be a battle every time you play against her ... it's been unbelievable to play against [her] for all these years. Just honestly the advice I've gotten is watching her. She just makes me level up my game."
Parker also was one of Fowles' biggest cheerleaders when she threw it down in the second quarter.
"It's mutual," Fowles said. "Candace is very skilled. Nothing like something I've ever seen in a post player. And she brings it every night. I think people don't give her credit for that.
"Yes, she can win. Yes, she can score points. But it's how she leads too. She came from two different organizations, and she leads. That's something you can always respect about a player. I love the way that she carries herself, as well." -- Philippou
Which players stood out Sunday among the younger stars?
When she saw that Stewart had not picked Plum first in the captains' draft, Bird said she was worried, expecting the Las Vegas Aces guard to have a big performance in Chicago. That proved to be prescient, as Plum added the All-Star MVP Award to her Olympic 3x3 basketball gold medal from last year as among her career highlights thus far. This after Plum struggled with the lowest score in Saturday's 3-point contest.
"Especially [as] anyone saw yesterday, I had to redeem myself," Plum said. "I'm not a rack shooter. I'm more of a game shooter. I'm glad it worked out.
"I was a kid in a candy store. I'm having fun running; I could have just run up and down the whole time and I would have been content."
Plum, the 2017 No. 1 draft pick who will turn 28 in August, is having the best season of her WNBA career after finishing as the NCAA's career scoring leader while at Washington. She is leading the Aces in scoring (19.9 points per game) and is second in assists (5.7 per contest).
Meanwhile, New York Liberty guard Ionescu, another former Pac-12 star and No. 1 pick, had a perfect weekend. She won the skills challenge on Saturday teaming with high school player Zoe Brooks and then had six rebounds and six assists on Sunday to go with 19 points on 60% shooting from the field for victorious Team Wilson.
"It was nice; it's always great being able to share the court with the best players," Ionescu, 24, said. "A lot of us that are young and kind of new in this league have been able to watch what these veterans have done and how they've conducted themselves on and off the court. They've given us the keys to be able to take this where we want to go. Those are big shoes to fill, but everyone is doing it in their own fashion and really staying true to themselves."
Ionescu leads the Liberty in points (17.4), rebounds (7.6) and assists (6.3), and she has two triple-doubles this season and three in her career. The "triple-double watch" fans got used to with Ionescu in college at Oregon has transferred to her WNBA career.
"The game is just more fast-paced now," Ionescu said. "It's not really, 'Come down and run a play every single time.' It just gives people even that much more opportunity." -- Voepel
She was a tad overshadowed in the All-Star Game, but Atlanta Dream rookie Howard, the 2022 No. 1 overall pick, made her presence known all weekend. She had a strong first round in the 3-point shooting contest, tying Ariel Atkins for second with 24 points to earn one of three spots in the final round, and then was one of seven players to finish with at least 13 points -- to go along with five rebounds and four assists -- on Sunday.
What stood out most, though, was the effusive praise that older WNBA players heaped upon Howard when asked about her potential. Three-point shooting contest winner Allie Quigley even said that she and wife/teammate Courtney Vandersloot predicted Howard would be Quigley's toughest competition given how smooth her jumper is.
"Rhyne is a beast," Parker said. "[Las Vegas coach] Becky [Hammon] and I were talking about Rhyne Howard and how she's just different, like the way she moves, the way she pulls up. I know there's little things maybe the fans don't see but us players see, like the spin she puts on the ball when she's laying it up. She's different." -- Philippou
Who 'won' All-Star Weekend? Was there a team or set of players that shined brightest?
Overall, it was a great weekend for basketball in the Windy City: The weather in Chicago was beautiful; Quigley, who played here for DePaul in college, won her fourth 3-point shooting contest on Saturday; Wintrust Arena was sold out for Sunday's game; and Vandersloot was Team Wilson's assist leader and part of the winning team along with Parker. Chicago Sky coach James Wade and two Sky players, Kahleah Copper and Emma Meesseman, were on Team Stewart.
This was the first WNBA All-Star Game staged in Chicago, and the timing was perfect coming on the heels of the Sky winning the league title for the first time in October and currently being in first place.
While Plum led Team Wilson in scoring, the Connecticut Sun's Jones, the 2021 WNBA season MVP, would have picked up the 2022 All-Star Game MVP if Team Stewart had won. Jones led the Stewie crew with 29 points and 13 rebounds, to go with five assists, and became the first player in WNBA All-Star Game history to tally at least 25 points and 10 rebounds.
Jones has dunked in the All-Star Game before, in 2017, and she enjoyed Fowles' dunk on Sunday. Jones -- whose third career double-double passed Tamika Catchings (two) and Yolanda Griffith (two) for most in All-Star Game history -- said she appreciated what Fowles told her during the game.
"She said, 'You know, you're next. This is your league,'" Jones, 28, said. "I definitely don't take it for granted." -- Voepel
How did the 4-point shot and other rule changes pan out?
The shortened shot clock ensured a nice pace, and the elimination of free throws for all but the final two minutes was a good call, although Parker getting fouled on a four-point shot in the game's final 10 seconds and taking four shots from the charity stripe was pretty humorous.
I liked the inclusion of the 4-point shooting zones, because why the heck not. That said, the players went 5-for-30 on those shots, with only Jones, a 6-foot-6 forward/center (!), making multiple. Players might want to practice more 28-footers leading into the game in future years, but Iowa star Caitlin Clark, a rising junior, is already eager for it. -- Philippou
The 4 point shot in the WNBA All-Star game>>>> :)— Caitlin Clark (@CaitlinClark22) July 10, 2022