Canada Prepares to Give the WNBA a Warm Welcome, eh?

The excitement is swirling around Canada’s first ever WNBA game, and fans are ready to show the league what they are made of.

It’s an exciting week for women’s basketball in Canada, as the first ever WNBA exhibition game will be played in Toronto on Saturday May 13. In January, the WNBA announced that the Chicago Sky and Minnesota Lynx would face off at Scotiabank Arena (the home of the Toronto Raptors), and the anticipation has been building ever since. The game sold out in about 20 minutes—the whole arena, not just the lower bowl—showing how pumped Canadian basketball fans are to welcome the WNBA to Toronto. 

This has been a long time coming for day-one fans of women’s basketball, which has a rich history in Canada. As a city, Toronto has been slowly establishing itself as a basketball city—proved by the reaction to the Raptors 2019 NBA championship, as well as the amount of talent from both Toronto and Canada as a whole coming into both men’s and women’s basketball over the past decade.

With the expansion and sustained improvement of the Canada Basketball program, these players who wear the red and white are becoming household names. The women’s team is ranked number five in the world by FIBA, coming off an impressive fourth-place finish at the FIBA World Cup in Austrailia last fall. The work continues as they prepare to take on the Paris Olympics in 2024, with eyes set on the podium. Kia Nurse, who plays for Canada as well as the Seattle Storm, said in a Storm pre-game press conference that she is always thinking about Canada Basketball in her day-to-day work, noting that playing against the best every night in the WNBA helps prepare her for moments where she represents Canada. It also helps that she plays under head coach Noelle Quinn, who serves as lead assistant coach for the Canadian women’s team—a relationship that will only help as Canada goes for glory next summer.

The men’s team is gearing up for their World Cup appearance later this year, with top NBA talent already signed up to play on the roster under head coach Nick Nurse. There is a whole roster of talent committed to the team through next year’s Olympics as well, after just barely missing the opportunity to play in the Tokyo Olympics. 

With the expansion of youth basketball opportunities across Canada, young fans deserve the opportunity to watch professional basketball in all forms, regardless of gender. Among the fans in the crowd this Saturday, expect to see a lot of youth basketball teams in Canada Basketball gear getting their first ever glimpses of professional women’s basketball. You also can’t count out those who have been supporting the WNBA north of the border for decades and have seen the work that has been put in to get to this moment. All of it has come together, and the true diversity of basketball fans in the city of Toronto and Canada as a whole will be on full display for the WNBA to experience. If this really is a test of Toronto’s ability to support a WNBA expansion team, the fans are ready to show the world what they are all about.

The local community has also been showing out ahead of the game. The league announced a list of local vendors and stores that have released exclusive and limited edition products to celebrate the game. Fans can get WNBA-themed clothes, decor, teas, hair accessories, and more. There is also a long list of sponsors who signed up to be a part of the big day, showing the community is excited to invest in women’s basketball. 

In terms of the game itself, both the Sky and Lynx franchises are excited about the opportunity to participate in this historic event. While still a preseason game, talent abounds, with the likes of Kahleah Copper, Marina Mabrey, Dana Evans, Napheesa Collier, and even Canada’s own Bridget Carelton. Tweets and chatter have been ongoing about the idea of seeing Copper drive to the basket, Mabrey’s impressive shooting, and Collier’s official return to the court post-maternity leave. Carleton recently returned from overseas play, but that won’t stop her from becoming the first Canadian player to play a WNBA game on Canadian soil. She’ll be the only Canadian available to play that day, as the Lynx’s other Canadian talent, Natalie Achonwa, is on maternity leave. (Nurse plays for the Storm, and the newest Canadian WNBA draftee—Laeticia Amihere—is in Atlanta.) 

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A ton of young talent will be on display in Saturday’s game. As both teams are in the middle of some tough roster decisions ahead of next week’s roster deadline, these young players should get solid minutes. The Lynx drafted a handful of exciting players in last month’s WNBA draft, including Diamond Miller (the No. 2 pick out of Maryland) and Dorka Juhász (UConn). After winning the 2021 WNBA championship, Chicago is in a light rebuilding phase, having lost Candace Parker and Courtney Vandersloot in free agency. Their young roster is looking to make names for themselves in this new era of Sky basketball. 

If you missed out on buying a ticket in the first 20 minutes of the sale, or are not able to be in Toronto this weekend, you can still watch! This will be the only preseason game the league broadcasts on television, with both Canadian outlets TSN and Sportsnet showing the game, as well as WNBA League Pass for international viewers. These numbers will affect how the league measures the success of this game, so make sure to tune in!

As the WNBA prepares to announce expansion teams, Toronto is going all out to make sure they are top of mind. Don’t count Canada out now, next year at the Olympics, or when it comes to supporting basketball. These are some of the best fans in the world, and the WNBA is going to see that in full force come Saturday.

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