Sabrina Ionescu Talks Upcoming WNBA Season, More Investment in Women's Sports, & New York Liberty's Potential

We sat down with New York Liberty star guard Sabrina Ionescu to talk about the New York Liberty's quest to bring home a title, investment in women's sports, and her partnership with Tissot.

Basketball players on court celebrating victory with press photographers around
Brian Babineau / NBAE via Getty Images
Basketball players on court celebrating victory with press photographers around

Last summer, at WNBA All-Star weekend, it took Sabrina Ionescu just 70 seconds to put together one of the most iconic shooting displays in league history. During the final round of the three-point contest, the New York Liberty star guard shattered the existing record—in both the WNBA and the NBA—by compiling an unprecedented 37 points. Steph Curry held the previous single-round high of 31. Ionescu knocked down all but two of her 27 attempts, reeling off 20 straight makes at one point. 

SABRINA IONESCU 37 POINTS 🔥

THE HIGHEST SCORE EVER IN THE WNBA OR NBA 3-POINT CONTEST 🤯 pic.twitter.com/2FsOcbjyfa

— Complex Sports (@ComplexSports) July 14, 2023
Twitter: @ComplexSports

The performance would go viral, with networks replaying swish after swish, but that moment was just the culmination of a process. Days earlier, as I covered the end of a practice at the Barclays Center, I watched Liberty staffers wheel out racks and set up shooting stations around the three-point perimeter. Players will tell you it’s a different skill, taking each ball and resetting between each shot, maintaining speed and accuracy while your internal clock ticks down. But it’s there, in these mechanics rehearsed time and again, that Ionescu excels, trusting the high-arcing trajectory will fall true. She looks for her next ball before the previous shot tumbles through the net in a dizzying rotation of alternating orange and white. 

Gather. Release. Reload.

“Every moment is precious,” Ionescu says in her Tissot announcement video, her voice echoing over a video montage of her dribbling a basketball. “Time is of the essence.”

Athlete in basketball uniform holding a ball, standing with confidence

Through countless hours spent in the gym, Ionescu has developed into one of the world’s premier shooters. For Tissot, who has been the Official Timekeeper of the WNBA since 2015, this partnership with Ionescu—who will feature in the brand’s Seastar Collection campaign—is just the latest highlight in the WNBA’s rapid growth in popularity.

In an exclusive interview with Complex, Ionescu took the time to chat with us about her new role as a Tissot ambassador.

(This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.)

How did the partnership with Tissot come about?
It started in Paris when I went out for the NBA game, and I was able to meet a lot of people. I spoke to Tony Parker, who has been a brand ambassador for a long time now, and just get familiar with everyone that has made Tissot what it is, and so it was really an awesome opportunity to be able to go out there and do that. I'm just so excited to be an ambassador.

A basketball player posing with a ball, seated by lockers, wearing a sports jersey and watch

Just last month, around the WNBA Draft, Tissot partnered with the league on a watch, and these past few years, we've seen brands begin to be more consistent in their investment in women's sports. How does that contribute to raising the profile of not just the league, but also its athletes?
It's huge, particularly with a company like Tissot, who is not only known in the States, but just around the world. Continuing to double down on our league and our players and understanding investment is really important in being able to tell our stories, but also represent the players who make up this league. So I'm obviously excited to be able to do that, but also understanding it's a lot bigger than that. Other brands are going to be able to see [their involvement] and hopefully continue to want to be a part of it as well.

I went kind of abstract with my question here because I was trying to connect it back to time and to watches. And when I think about time too much, it kind of breaks my brain. And again, it's kind of an abstract question, but as you head into your fifth WNBA season, what is your relationship with that idea of time, and the greatness that comes from putting that effort in?
Something I read in one of Kobe’s books that has always stuck with me is a quote that reads like, “If you wish to win, you must slow down time.” I think that's always been something that is in the back of my mind, in terms of just being in total control and understanding. Being able to process, being able to ride the highs and lows of the game.

Obviously, time just goes so fast, especially when you're sped up, but being able to understand that when you're composed, when you're able to take things in stride and take them as they are, you're able to come out on top. That's the first thing I thought of when you asked that question, the correlation between being your best self and also just being composed with the time that you have to go out there and win.

That was a much better answer than I had any right to deserve with that really weird question, so thank you. What is your earliest basketball memory?
My earliest basketball memory would have to be… probably just around like four or five years old. Trying to shoot granny-style on a big hoop. I have two brothers: my twin brother, and a brother that's nine years older who really started [us] on wanting to play basketball and be like him. I didn't want to shoot on the little hoop at that age. I wanted to continue to just strive to be like him, even in shooting on a bigger hoop and struggling to get the ball up there. And that started at such a young age, but I was just really doing it for fun, and now I'm able to continue playing this game because I still have fun doing it.

Onto the Liberty organization: You guys are now coming off a franchise-best 32-win season and a WNBA Finals appearance. With another year of this All-Star starting five coming back and the season about to tip off, what excites you the most about this upcoming year with this group in particular?
Just being able to see how much we're going to grow in just one year's time. We've really been able to see it in training camp, just spending this time together and knowing so much more about one another individually. Collectively, it's helped us connect on a more personal level, but also be able to relate to each other, be able to push each other, hold one another accountable. There's just more opportunity for us to be able to lead within our group and within the organization as a whole just because we know each other and I think that goes such a long way.

Four basketball players looking up, wearing New York Liberty jerseys, numbered 22, 35, 14, and 10

Obviously basketball’s a lot about talent, a lot of wins and losses are really based off talent level, but a lot of that is also just team chemistry, and that's something that you can't really fast forward. It's just something you have to build over time, no pun intended. That's part of what we're all most excited about, just being able to see how much we're gonna grow from one year to the next. And even though we did have so many firsts last year for this organization, we're not even close to the potential that we can be and I think that's what excites all of us.

To follow up on that, it does take time to jell. Last season, all the new pieces took a little while to get onto the court. How did you guys, in the moment, slow down and be able to grow while still moving forward and still accomplishing all that you did on the court?
We just really gave our process grace, and we understood it wasn't going to be easy. There were going to be highs and lows, times that we lost games that we should have won, but our just team chemistry wasn't there yet. And we all really accepted that; understanding that that was just part of our process. Obviously, not being able to win what it was that we wanted to accomplish last year shows that you just can't fast forward. I think it would have been almost too good to be true if we were able to do it in year one. But being able to have the same five, the same core, come back this year, and having all gone through that, it just really helps us understand where we're wanting to go and what we need to be better at.

In addition to all of your team success, you've also racked up some really impressive individual accolades. Do you have any individual concrete goals that you've set for yourself for this upcoming season?
Not necessarily, just wanting to be better. Like, every year my goal is to be better than I was, and this offseason was my best yet. I was a part of USA Basketball for three training camps and was able to compete against the best, but I really had the best offseason that I've been able to have on a professional level this year with just being healthy and seeing the areas that I wanted to improve and get better on.

That's really what I love about the offseason, that I have that time to push and really kind of make myself uncomfortable in workouts so that when I get into the season, I can really showcase what my team needs of me. So, I'm really excited to see where that takes me – I don't know where it’s gonna take me, but I'm just excited to be better than I was last year.

And I've spoken to you enough over the years to know that if I push too hard there, you're just going to credit your teammates for your individual success. So I wanted to flip it on you: you're a facilitator on the court, you're a court spacer, you are a leader out there. What do you think makes you a good teammate?What I value the most in myself as a teammate is just being able to be there for everyone's needs and understanding that my passing ability and my ability to impact the game in more ways than just scoring for myself helps me be a better teammate in terms of understanding what everyone needs around me to be their best. And I think all my teammates know I want the absolute best for them and I want to help them get there.

Two female basketball players in action wearing team jerseys with the numbers 20 and 30

Being able to understand my teammates a lot better because we know each other better has helped me when I get onto the court be able to be that much better as a teammate in terms of holding them accountable. And that also allows me to be there when they do need a pat on the back or they do need help with something that they're struggling with. They can rely on me for that at any time.

I want to try to come full circle with another time-related question. How much do you look backwards at what you've accomplished? From playing growing up, to college, to now as a pro, how do you view time as a tool for setting future goals versus how much do you just focus on putting one foot in front of the other and continuing to move forward towards what you have not yet gotten to?
I do look back, more to put things into perspective, particularly with my professional career, understanding how much I've been able to do in a short amount of time. I have fought a lot of adversity in my first few years, just with injury and coming back to play too soon, a coaching change, and there's just so much pressure that was put on me at such an early age coming into this league. And I think there's some times where I need to just take a step back and look at how much I've been able to accomplish in such a short amount of time with the adversity that I faced and just appreciate that, knowing how much more is left I want to accomplish.

Basketball player in New York Liberty jersey smiling during a photoshoot with a basketball mid-air

But it’s also just being proud of that. I think, sometimes, we can get so sucked in as athletes into always wanting to do more and be more and be better that you don't really take time to appreciate how far you've come and what you've been able to overcome and how that's helped you become a better athlete. I've really tried to balance both of that. And it's not always easy, but I have definitely tried to do that more often than not.

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