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Tianna Hawkins and Natasha Cloud finish as the top two players in Athletes Unlimited

The upstart league had a successful first season with the two Washington Mystics players leading the way.

Las Vegas Aces v Atlanta Dream
Tianna Hawkins was the champion of Athletes Unlimited in the 2022 season.
Photo by Adam Hagy/NBAE via Getty Images

The WNBA offseason is long. While we here are focused more on the NBA or college basketball most WNBA players spend their time overseas. Some players are in countries like Australia and Korea, but superstar WNBA players generally earn salaries multiple times more than their stateside rates in Eastern Europe. Given the current geopolitical environment, it will be more difficult for WNBA players in Russia to go home because of increasing economic sanctions due to the recent Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Over the past month, Athletes Unlimited ran a wintertime women’s professional basketball league that ran stateside in Las Vegas. It was a five-week season with players drafted to new teams each week, where they were trying to lead their teams to victory, and also try to accumulate as many points as they could for themselves. The final game was held last Saturday on Feb. 26.

After the competition ended, Washington Mystics forward Tianna Hawkins won the individual title with 6,831 points, a combination of her accomplishments individually as well as the number of games she won. Along the way, Hawkins scored 38 and 46 points in back-to-back games during Week 2.

The news is even better for Mystics fans because Natasha Cloud was second place in the player rankings with 5.919 points. Cloud had three games where she scored 30 points or more and even dished 19 assists in the season finale. On Feb. 12, she had a triple double with 17 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists.

Before some of us (and especially me) get carried away with Hawkins’ and Cloud’s performance with Athletes Unlimited. Most of the league’s players were reserve caliber WNBA players or players who played professionally overseas but not in the WNBA. So Hawkins and Cloud were already among the better players in Athletes Unlimited.

That said, most WNBA players who play overseas will be among the best players on those teams they play on. So I believe that Hawkins’ and Cloud’s experience in Athletes Unlimited provides the best of both worlds. Both of them get an opportunity to play competitive games in the winter like other WNBA players who are overseas. However, they also get to do so at home and without complicating their obligations to the WNBA season this summer.

That leads me to my final question regarding Athletes Unlimited and the current situation the WNBA is in regarding the upcoming prioritization rules for 2023 and also the Russian invasion of Ukraine if it becomes a protracted conflict. Do you think Athletes Unlimited is a better winter basketball alternative for American (or any international) WNBA players than playing overseas in Europe? After all, many of the traditional European powers are in countries that aren’t friendly to the United States and the European Union (where some players hold dual citizenship).

Also to Athletes Unlimited’s credit, their games were regularly broadcast on FS2, CBS Sports Network and Bally Sports. I feel that this league has potential and the conflict abroad could be a way to help the league expand for an even better 2023.

Let us know in the comments below.