Sabrina Ionescu Is Ready To Use Her Voice To Take The Liberty To The Next Level

NEW YORK – Sabrina Ionescu has certainly had a busy offseason. The former number one pick and first-time All-Star in 2022 took another step forward in her development, earning All-WNBA Second Team honors as the Liberty earned the seven seed and lost their first round series to the Chicago Sky.

But off the court, she’s been taking inspiration from everywhere. Ionescu was recently named Director of Athletic Culture at Oregon, made the Forbes 30 under 30 list, hosted her SI20 youth camp, and attended British Vogue’s Forces for Change dinner last week in London. While each doesn’t directly impact her scoring output or rebounding and assist numbers, they showcase the growth Ionescu is making as she continues to find her voice as a representative for the league and a leader for the Liberty.

Ionescu is also taking part in the American Express x NBA 2K23 Gaming Lab this weekend in SoHo, which features gaming areas with coaches so those who drop in can improve their 2K game. She joked during a fireside chat that she might take advantage of that coaching, since she hasn’t had enough time lately to pick up the sticks and stay sharp. But she enjoys playing as herself in the game, and has been wowed by how similar some of the moves are to ones she actually does on court.

Ionescu took a few minutes to speak with Dime about her continued growth as a leader, where the Liberty go from here, the impact the league can have, and the relief she felt that Brittney Griner is finally coming home.

First off, with today’s news, I know how hard all of you worked on getting Brittney back. How does everyone feel today? Just, is it relief?

Absolutely, yeah. I mean, relief, honestly, for her and her family. No one really knows what she’s had to go through, and I think we’re all just really happy to see her safe return back home and be able to be with her family. And obviously, I think it speaks a lot about this league and what we’ve done and keeping her at the forefront of all conversation and in every aspect.

There’s a lot of things that the league is great for, but I mean the W as a whole, if there’s a message, if there’s a cause, no one in sports does a better job than y’all do about keeping the main thing the main thing, whatever that is. And it seems like this was a powerful, concerted effort to not let anyone forget that she was a human being and she needed help.

Yeah, for sure. We talked about it from when we heard the news to now, whether we were writing letters, sending emails, had pins on our jerseys in the All-Star game, wore her name on the back of our jerseys, whatever it was, we were making sure to use our platform and voices. And so we know that she saw the support that we all had and that probably helped her a lot in time of need. And so at this point, you could look back. But I think it’s looking forward and we’re really excited that she’s going to make her safe return and just be able to be back with her family on U.S. soil.

And to talk about looking forward after the season that y’all had. I mean, seeing teammates make the growth that they had with Han Xu and Marine [Johannes] and other players who made a leap, and you’re obviously improving too. Where do you think that you can go from here?

I think sky’s the limit. We’re still young at our core. But obviously free agency, we’ll start here in a couple months and we’ll see, continue to tweak pieces to the puzzle and figure out how we can continue to get better and work on the things that we have to work on. And our coaching staff, now that we’ll have a second year with and just know them a little bit better and know the offense and defense we’re trying to run and the goals we’re trying to set. And so, we’re not really starting at ground zero anymore. We have room to grow and improve. And so that’s what we’ll do next year.

How do you respond to the support that you’ve seen in the team in the time that you’ve been there? It seems like every year it’s louder. There’s a more vocal fan base and it really seems like people have really embraced the Liberty.

Every year the fan base has grown, the support has grown, ticket sales have gone up. And that’s all a part of what this organization is trying to build here in New York. From the Nets to us, having great owners that are putting women’s sports at the forefront of what they’re trying to do and treating us equally and really standing behind us and making sure our voices are heard. And so I’m excited. I know that this year is going to be even better than the last, and I think that’s really important.

For you individually, I know it’s so important to continue to keep adding things to your game. Where are you looking for inspiration and what are the things that you’ve really honed in on this offseason?

Just continue to improve on everything and anything. Looking back at last season, what I wanted to get better at, which was just speed, quickness, being able to create my own shot and not rely on others to have to get me in that position. And so I think obviously having a healthy season and being able to play, you can really dissect into the off season. And so that’s what I’ve been doing.

And how was London?

It was fun! Went to British Vogue and that was really fun and Nike’s a big investor in that. And so it was nice to be able to see the crossover between Nike and fashion.

What are your takeaways when you get to experience opportunities like that? Because I know it’s not always comfortable at first, but then when you get into that world, there’s things that you kind of walk away with – and it’s hard not to get swept up and that romanticism of the fashion industry.

I think honestly being able to be there and be like a sponge absorbing everything. There’s a lot of great women in that room that are really strong and stand for something in their sport and in their art and what they’re trying to accomplish, not only for themselves but for the world and society as a whole. So I think it was just inspirational. It was nice to go out there and see what that was like because it was my first time.

What do you want to keep doing moving forward with your voice and your platform?

Just continuing to be loud and strong in what I believe in. And there’s going to be 100 people that tell you that it’s not right or they don’t believe it. But I think as long as you hone in on that, nothing else really matters. And so I think just making sure that I’m aligned with my values and everyone else in my circle is as well. And just staying true to that.

In terms of that growth you’ve taken almost as a leader, not just on the court for your own team, but off the court, is that something you grew up thinking you would want to be when you started to see the trajectory that you had and the profile that you had? Or has that been a little bit difficult? I mean, not everyone always grows up thinking, “Oh, I’m going to be loud. I’m going to be the loudest voice in the room. I’m going to really use that platform.” But they kind of grow into it.

For me, I really try and lead by example. I’m not normally the loudest voice in the locker room or kind of the hoorah type of player, but I think when I do speak, I want my voice heard and I know by leading by example and making sure I do what I’m preaching, that will all happen. So I think, obviously being a young player in this league, there’s a lot of room for me to grow in that category, but I think year by year and season by season, that’s all just going to unfold.

It kind of takes care of itself. And then lastly, what does it mean to you personally to be able to be a part of events like this, to continue to have your face out there, to continue to promote women’s sports like this? I mean, even five years ago, you weren’t always getting W players at 2K events. You’re not getting yourself in the game. There’s still a lot of work to do. But I mean there’s got to be a lot of young women out there who see you at things like this and think, “Oh, maybe that could be me someday.”

I think it shows the values of American Express, NBA 2K, and how they positioned us. It’s an honor for me to be able to be here representing the WNBA at this event and be able to come back tomorrow and actually play and interact and have fun. Yeah, I’m really excited and honestly very thankful.

This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.