WNBA superstar Breanna Stewart hoped she had broken her ankle after sustaining an injury considered a ‘kiss of death’ for professional athletes

  • Breanna Stewart suffered a torn Achilles tendon while playing overseas in April of 2019.
  • During an interview on the "Just Women's Sports" podcast hosted by USWNT star Kelley O'Hara, the WNBA superstar said she was hopeful she broke her ankle because "maybe that's two months or something and then I'll be back."
  • The 2018 WNBA MVP has since returned to the hardwood in peak form, a somewhat miraculous feat considering the severity of an Achilles rupture.
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Professional athletes don't often hope for an injury — much less one as severe as a broken ankle.

But on April 14 of last year, Breanna Stewart — arguably the best women's basketball player on the planet — was doing exactly that.

Less than a year removed from a championship season in which she won the WNBA's regular-season and finals MVP awards, the Seattle Storm superstar was in the midst of competing for another title — this time in the EuroLeague with Russian team Dynamo Kursk — when her career took a dramatic turn. With under a minute remaining in the first half of the championship game, Stewart rose for a shot from the top of the key.

Breanna Stewart.
AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack

She immediately fell to the floor, clutching her right leg.

"I was thinking in my head, 'Oh, I hope I broke my ankle,'" Stewart told Kelley O'Hara on the "Just Women's Sports" podcast. "Because I'm like maybe that's two months or something, and then I'll be back."

But Stewart recalls fearing the worst, and rightfully so.

"I remember I was on the ground, and I was like, 'I think I just ruptured my Achilles,'" Stewart said. "It was the weirdest feeling … I could only feel the heel. I couldn't feel anything else."

Stewart was carried off the floor in Sopron, Hungary, and eventually taken to a nearby hospital. When medical staff took an ultrasound of her heel, they informed the 6-foot-4 star that "We can't find your Achilles."

"I was like 'Cool, where's the vodka?'" Stewart recounted. "That's how I was. Like 'Where's my drink?'"

The following night, she took a direct flight from Vienna to Los Angeles, where doctors confirmed that she had ruptured her Achilles. But before she consulted any physicians or even disembarked off the plane, she had a message of support from perhaps the most famous athlete to ever suffer an Achilles tear: the late Kobe Bryant.

"When I landed on that flight from Vienna, Kobe's text was the first one I saw," Stewart told O'Hara. "To have him be there and just be in support of me right away — right from the jump — knowing that someone like him went through the process… I was set up to meet all the same doctors that he used. He was there for support, he was a sounding board, and he would check in with me throughout my journey."

Breanna Stewart dribbles up court while playing a game for USA Basketball.
AP Photo/Wade Payne

Recovery was far from a walk in the park, as Achilles ruptures are some of the most debilitating and catastrophic injuries a professional athlete can face. Stewart had surgery and began rehabbing as soon as she was able, but the process "was a rollercoaster."

"Some days I was just like 'I don't know if I'm going to be able to do this,'" she said. "It was just nuts. I couldn't walk until July, and I got hurt in April. And it was my right side, so I couldn't drive."

Some nine months after the injury and just one day after the tragic death of Bryant and his daughter, Gianna, Stewart made her return in a US Women's National Team game against her alma mater — the Connecticut Huskies. And another six months after that, Stewart rejoined her Storm teammates to embark on the 2020 WNBA season at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida.

Breanna Stewart writes a tribute to Kobe Bryant and other victims of a January 26 helicopter crash on her sneakers.
David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

No one was exactly sure whether or not Stewart would return to peak form, but somewhat miraculously, she's enjoyed yet another MVP-caliber season in the WNBA's bubble. She averaged 19.7 points, 8.3 rebounds, 3.6 assists, and 1.7 steals per game to lead Seattle to the second seed and a double-bye in the playoffs.

Now, under the most unusual circumstances in league history, Stewart will look to guide the Storm to their second championship in three seasons. Seattle will return to the hardwood Sunday afternoon for a best-of-five series against the second-lowest seed remaining in title contention.

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