The WNBA season might not even begin as scheduled on May 16, as Covid-19 continues to ravage the sporting calendar, but the league confirmed their draft ceremony will still go ahead as planned next month, just with no one in attendance.
The draft, where teams take their pick of the best college talent to graduate into the pro leagues for the upcoming season, is an event in American professional sport surrounded by much fanfare and media attention.
Though the WNBA acknowledged the uncertainty surrounding the start date of their season and could not confirm if pre-season training camps next month will go ahead at all, the league announced on Thursday that it will still go ahead with their draft ritual on April 17, simply in a virtual capacity.
WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert will conduct the draft live on ESPN, with top prospects taking part remotely from their homes as they self isolate amid the global pandemic.
“The WNBA draft is a time to celebrate the exceptional athletes whose hard work and dreams are realized with their selections in the draft,” Engelbert said in a statement on Thursday. “Safeguarding the health and well-being of our prospects, players, employees, and everyone connected to our game as well as the general public is paramount. With that in mind, we will work diligently with our broadcast partner, ESPN, to create a memorable but virtual event that appropriately honors these accomplished athletes.”
More than 65,000 people have tested positive for Covid-19 in the USA, and social distancing has halted all major sport leagues in the country, including the men's NBA. The women's college players included in the WNBA's 2020 draft had their own NCAA championships cancelled too, leaving final year players unable to see out their last season and no champion crowned. The news the draft will take place will likely be a comfort for those like Sabrina Ionescu, the University of Oregon guard and standout talent of her year group, who is expected to be chosen as the No 1 pick at next month's ceremony.
During the draft, the WNBA also plans to pay tribute to Kobe Bryant, the former NBA player and advocate for the women's league who tragically died in a helicopter crash in January. Bryant's 13-year-old daughter Gianna and her basketball teammates Alyssa Altobelli and Payton Chester also died in the accident, and are expected to be honoured too.