A German basketball player with a remarkable, idiosyncratic playing style is doing something special in North Texas. And no, this isn’t a flashback—25 years after Dirk Nowitzki started building a Texas-size legacy with the Dallas Mavericks, All-Star forward Satou Sabally is doing the same with the Dallas Wings, helping push a young, upstart team to the next level.

“Limitless.” That’s how fellow Wings All-Star Arike Ogunbowale answered a question about Sabally’s basketball potential earlier this month, after a game in which Sabally scored 27 points and collected fifteen rebounds. “She could be one of the best [at her position] to come in the league when her career is over. . . . She’s always been capable of this, so she’s just healthy and she’s showing how good she is.” Wings coach Latricia Trammell put it more simply after a win in late May: “She is brilliant. She’s been the X factor.”

Sabally brought a boatload of athleticism, international basketball bona fides, and college experience to a high-octane Oregon Ducks team alongside triple-double machine Sabrina Ionescu. The Wings picked Sabally with the number two pick in the 2020 WNBA draft—right after Ionescu went first overall. But thanks to nagging injuries and organizational flux (Trammell is the third head coach Sabally has played for in four seasons) it’s taken until now, her fourth season in the league, for all that promise to show up on the court. 

This year Sabally is averaging 17.5 points and 9.3 rebounds per game, and her team is heading into the All-Star break having just handed the defending champion Las Vegas Aces their second loss of the season. At six foot four, she can shoot from behind the arc (she made five three-pointers in a recent 40-point drubbing of the Minnesota Lynx) and move the ball as well as rebound and score inside—a model of next-generation basketball versatility. Her nickname is—what else?—”the Unicorn.”

“I’m really looking forward to it,” Sabally said earlier this week, speaking a couple days before she heads to Las Vegas to play in the All-Star Game as a starter. “I mean, I always want to close out games first, before I think of the next thing. But my bags are packed, so I’m excited.” She’ll compete in Friday’s Skills Challenge (3 p.m. CDT, ESPN) before hitting the hardwood with Team Stewart (that’s New York Liberty star Breanna Stewart, for the uninitiated) during Saturday’s All-Star Game (7:30 p.m. CDT, ABC). 

Reaching this career milestone required moving past a series of injuries that sidelined the 25-year-old Sabally throughout much of her first three WNBA seasons. In 2020 it was her back, and then a concussion that took her out right before the end of the season; in 2021 it was Achilles tendon soreness that nagged nearly all season long (in spite of that, Sabally earned her first All-Star selection, as a reserve); in 2022, injuries to her knee and then her ankle meant she only played in 11 of the Wings’ 36 regular-season games. She’s already started and played in 20 games this season, more than any other of her WNBA career—and the season’s only halfway done. 

As WNBA players have for decades, Sabally makes a significant portion of her income during the American league’s offseason by heading abroad (which, for her, is also closer to home). That schedule—essentially, year-round professional play—can be grueling, and Sabally’s Turkish team, which also includes former WNBA MVP Stewart and five-time All-Star Courtney Vandersloot on its roster, just won its third straight Turkish super league title. Sabally attributes the uptick in her production to the decision she made at the end of last season, after the Wings’ first-round playoff loss to the Connecticut Sun, to spend a few months resting and recovering in Dallas instead of immediately heading overseas to play in Istanbul. 

“I was just so full of injuries,” Sabally said. “I needed to step away a little bit, to recenter myself and get my body healthy before I could think about basketball.” She spent five hours a day working out, before getting physical therapy treatment in the afternoon and shooting around at open gyms in the evening—and getting lots and lots of sleep. 

Dedicating time and money to treatment—Sabally spent a lot of time at the Office Wellness Spa in Arlington during that recovery period, and she has continued using its facilities during this WNBA season—was an expensive step, but also a crucial one. “NFL players always get that,” Sabally says, alluding to the advanced technology and expensive recovery options available to most male professional athletes. “For a female basketball player to receive the resources that she needs, we’re not there yet. . . . We deserve that too.”

During her recovery period, Sabally sprinkled in other activities like boxing classes and hikes, but overall, those months were spent with an almost total focus on getting stronger and more durable. “It was a lot of sports,” she says with a laugh. “It was nice to use my body in a challenging way outside of basketball.” She returned to Turkey for the second half of the European season and came back to the W this spring, ready for the best season of her career. 

“She told me, ‘I want this to be my season,’ ” Trammell recalled of her first meeting with the young star last fall. “After her seventh straight double-double, I knew she was heading in the right direction for that.”

Now that Sabally has been able to stay on the floor, fans are finally seeing all the different ways she can impact the game—her skill on offense and athleticism on defense keep opponents off-balance. “I think her passing is probably the sharpest on our team, to be honest,” Trammell told me. 

“One thing people might not really see is how I can read the game,” Sabally said. “Seeing open players and where I’m needed—I don’t have to be the top scorer to make the biggest impact. I can kind of morph into every game.”

Off the court, Sabally is nearly as versatile. “Quite frankly, I’m disappointed in the decisions that have been made in Texas about women’s bodily autonomy, LGBTQ rights, the educational system—it’s just a lot going on,” Sabally said. The youngest member of the league’s Social Justice Council when it was formed in 2020, Sabally recently received the WNBA Cares Community Assist Award for her work mentoring youth at Café Momentum, a Dallas nonprofit dedicated to providing career training and support for people coming out of the juvenile justice system. “You can be adamant about complaining about things which need to be complained about,” Sabally said, “but it’s just as important to actually be hands-on and be in touch with the people who are affected by all these drastic, unequal decisions.”

Sabally also led Wings Community-Wide Book Club in reading Jim Schutze’s The Accommodation: The Politics of Race in an American City, which D Magazine once called “the most dangerous book in Dallas.” “My activism derives from actually learning more,” she says. “Both learning about history and staying up to date with what’s going on in politics. When there are things happening, I’m always going to be vocal.”

Even when she’s playing basketball, Sabally—like many of her peers in the league—strives to make sure that WNBA games are safe and welcoming for people of all races, genders, and sexualities. “I’m just playing the game of basketball and doing what I love, but in doing that, I’m able to help create a safe space for marginalized communities,” Sabally told me, alluding to the positive feedback she’s gotten at recent Pride and African American Heritage games. “I’m so happy that [the Wings are] pushing that forward, especially in the state of Texas.”

With the Wings (11–9) well positioned to make the playoffs for the third straight year, buzz is starting to build around Texas’s only WNBA team—especially in Arlington, where the Wings play their home games. Midway through the best season of her career, Sabally said she’s starting to get recognized around town. “In the beginning of the season, no one really accounted for Dallas,” she said, the chip on her shoulder audible in a phone interview. “We were overlooked. But we have truly amazing players, and we’re still so young. My first year, we won [seven] games—now, we’re really great.”

Nowitzki, for his part, will be watching (mostly from afar, since he leaves Texas during the scorching summer months). “He’s following the season,” Sabally says, “and definitely cheering us on.” Nowitzki even reached out to congratulate Sabally on her All-Star invitation—from one basketball unicorn to another.