June 24, 2023 

The mystique of New York’s Marine Johannès

Why Johannès is one of the Liberty’s most fascinating players

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BROOKLYN, N.Y. — New York Liberty guard Marine Johannès could see how great of a seal forward Jonquel Jones was about to create even before Jones had a foot in the paint at Barclays Center.

Johannès whipped the ball to Jones, and Jones took a step into the restricted area and finished the layup. Jones began to run back the other way, but Phoenix Mercury head coach Vanessa Nygaard called a timeout. The Liberty had a 7-0 lead with 8:41 remaining in the first quarter.

As the Liberty’s starters approached the bench, Jones made sure her teammate got some props for the basket. “What a pass, my man,” Jones said.

The pass forced Jones to speed up her roll into the post. Typically, Jones turns her back for a moment and then opens back up to be able to receive the ball when she has advantageous positioning, but that goes flying out the window when receiving a pass from the Liberty’s third-year player from France. Jones has to pay close attention to Johannès at all times and be ready for the unexpected.

“The first assist she had and she kind of just slung it,” Jones said following the Liberty’s 89-71 win over the Mercury. “And I was like, ‘Oh shit.’ I grabbed it and got a layup. It was just, it came so quickly.”

Johannès has been characterized as someone who plays with flair, spice, verve, swagger and even a little bit of magic. In addition to her crafty whip, no-look passes and behind-the-back passes, she sometimes hits threes and mid-range jumpers on one leg. She has mastered how to finish at the rim with one hand, often looking like the Statue of Liberty, the namesake of the team she plays for. Sometimes she even finishes with a hesitation that makes her look like she’s pitching a softball underhand.

The expectation for someone who plays the game with such swagger is that they have innate confidence or an outgoing personality that takes up a lot of space. That’s not Johannès. The 28-year-old from Lisieux, France, a city in the countryside about 135 miles northwest of Paris, maintains a quiet, almost withdrawn disposition. That was something that took a lot of her Liberty teammates aback. While teammate Sabrina Ionescu continues to perfect how she celebrates 3-pointers, a “3-point celly” isn’t something that comes from Johannès.

Jocelyn Willoughby and rookie Nyara Sabally have both observed how Johannès can be so mellow and trot back so casually after she creates something that makes the bench and the home crowd roar. Las Vegas Aces head coach Becky Hammon likened Johannès to “lightning in a bottle.”

“Even to this day, it catches me off guard when she does certain things and has no reaction to it,” Willoughby said. “But we’re all just like, ‘Woah, that was elite.'”

How has this rising superstar continued to find herself in a foreign country where she’s still learning the language? What is it about Johannès and her personality that makes her unlike any of the top players in the world?

The first impression she made

When Johannès first arrived in New York in 2019, the Liberty were in a period of uncertainty. They didn’t play at the Barclays Center yet and were struggling to determine the direction of the franchise. The new general manager, Jonathan Kolb, was trying to understand what he had before imposing his stamp on the organization. But he signed Johannès in his first transaction as general manager.

The chance he took on Johannès, who came to the Liberty after playing for France in EuroBasket that season, paid dividends immediately. In her first home WNBA game, she did not miss a shot against the Los Angeles Sparks, shooting 6-for-6, and she repeated the feat less than a month later against the Chicago Sky.

“I think fans realized that she’s a keeper,” Kolb told The Next. “For me, the best part of the Marine experience is watching or hearing from people that watch her for the first time.”

That first impression she made has stayed with fans. Before the Liberty’s home opener this season, a little kid watched pregame warmups with her family. When it was time to leave the courtside seating, the girl hopped along in a circa 2019 Johannès Liberty jersey.

“We love [Johannès],” the girl’s dad told The Next. “Every time we’re here, she bangs off seven or eight threes.”

Johannès had not arrived in New York yet because she was still playing in the French League, but the family couldn’t wait for her arrival.

But what if Johannès hadn’t chosen New York? According to Liberty head coach Sandy Brondello, Johannès was down to two WNBA teams before signing with New York.

Brondello’s Mercury were agonizingly close to getting her rights. To this day, Johannès says her decision came down to two factors: New York was a much easier plane ride for friends and family than Phoenix, and she had familiarity with the Liberty’s roster. She’d be joining her French national team teammate Bria Hartley and her French club teammate Nayo Raincock-Ekunwe in New York.

Brondello’s chance to work with the budding superstar was delayed a few years, but it wasn’t denied.  

New York Liberty guard Marine Johannès dribbles the ball in her right hand and scans the floor.
New York Liberty guard Marine Johannès (23) surveys the floor against the Phoenix Mercury at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., on June 18, 2023. (Photo credit: Brandon Todd/New York Liberty)

Her return to the WNBA

Following the 2019 season, the Liberty and Kolb embarked on some pretty drastic changes. They moved to Barclays Center, hired a new head coach, drafted Ionescu, played the 2020 season in a bubble, and then fired that head coach following the 2021 season. In all that time, Johannès didn’t return to the WNBA. The COVID-19 pandemic made it incredibly difficult for overseas travel in 2020, and the Olympics and EuroBasket kept her with the French national team in 2021.

But when Brondello was hired in January 2022, she knew that the Liberty could try to lure Johannès back to the United States. When Brondello and the Australian Opals found themselves at the same World Cup qualifier as the French Les Bleues, Brondello tracked down Johannès and made sure no one else was around.

Johannès was nervous to speak to the person who would become her coach, but her pal on Les Bleues and four-year WNBA veteran Gabby Williams reassured her that Brondello was “pretty cool.” Brondello picked up on how shy the French guard was, and Johannès wasn’t completely sold on returning to New York. Who would she know there given that the entire roster, with the exception of Rebecca Allen at the time, had turned over? 

Brondello sold Johannès by telling her how much of a fan she was of her game and how she and her staff could improve Johannès’ game. The pitch worked.

“I’m a huge fan of Marine,” Brondello said. “I just think the way she plays, her creativity. I think everyone should get a chance to watch it. And she’s great and she’s gonna keep growing bigger and better for us.”

Still, Johannès was a bit nervous. It had been over two years since she stepped foot in New York. Her English was a work in progress. How would she find comfort outside of Brondello?

Marine Johannès and Stefanie Dolson sit at the podium for media availability and make faces at each other.
New York Liberty teammates Marine Johannès and Stefanie Dolson make faces at each other as they take questions from the media following shootaround at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., on June 7, 2023. (Screenshot from the New York Liberty’s Zoom recording)

When Stefanie Dolson signed a two-year deal with the Liberty in 2022, a mutual friend asked her to watch out for Johannès. On the first night Dolson met Johannès, her observation was that the French guard didn’t really speak much. But then they went to a bar and had a nice time. Something about Dolson allowed Johannès to feel comfortable enough to open up.

“I think that I’m a pretty open person,” Dolson told The Next. “I’m pretty transparent, and I’m an open book. I think I make people feel comfortable. Probably that and I think we both have [a] very similar sense of humor, the way that we have jokes, make jokes. And I think she learned that quickly, so she felt a little bit more comfortable.”

Dolson and Johannès have garnered a reputation online as a comedic duo. Dolson describes their brand of humor as “childish,” with Johannès sometimes being much more of a goofball than Dolson.

Their antics were on full display after practice on June 17. With a game the next day, the players lined up to compete to make a halfcourt shot, as they do prior to each game. Who was going to win the money that comes with making the shot?

An attempt from Jones hit a ceiling lamp high above the practice court. But after many players’ attempts, Dolson hit one. She followed the make with a celebratory dance, got high-fives from Ionescu and Sabally, and curtsied.

But the prize money wasn’t hers yet. Other players, including Johannès, were still in the running.

Johannès then hit her halfcourt shot, potentially offsetting Dolson’s triumph. Dolson chased Johannès around the court, tugging on her practice shirt, while Johannès stifled a laugh. Rather than try to break the tie, they opted to split the money and take each other out to lunch, which is common in their friendship.

“Her and Stef together, they’re amazing,” Brondello said about Johannès. “She’s quiet around the big group. But I think in small groups, I think she’s quite a character. I think she’s quite funny.”

For more, here’s Part 2.

Johannès’ brand of clowning around also includes expressive facial expressions that sometimes say much more than her actual words. In fact, she is so expressive that a Twitter account called “Out of Context Marine Johannès” captures some of her goofiest moments. 

How Johannès has improved under Brondello and her staff

Even with the clowning, Johannès doesn’t let that interrupt the work that has to be done. Liberty assistant coach Zack O’Brien noticed how she’s always up for a challenge. When she’s pushed outside her comfort zone on the court, she buys in and accepts the discomfort.

In 2022, the Liberty were incredibly thin when it came to reliable wing and perimeter defense. Betnijah Laney was rehabbing her knee for most of the season and Allen endured multiple concussions. The Liberty were running out of options and turned to Johannès. Her ability to buy into what the coaches needed stood out to O’Brien and showed the type of player and person Johannès is.

“We threw a ton at her defensively and really had these high expectations, and she met them and she’s been great on that end,” he said. “There’s still room for improvement. But I think from someone that can be that devastating offensively, to also be able to be that solid on defense is something that really jumped off the page.”


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She still is a work in progress on defense, but when she focuses and puts her mind toward stopping someone, she can. Against the Dallas Wings this season, the Liberty initially struggled to stop guard Arike Ogunbowale, as the game plan was to focus on wing Satou Sabally instead. Brondello went to Johannès to see if she could pressure Ogunbowale, but Johannès also struggled early, allowing two of Ogunbowale’s four makes in the first half.

However, according to O’Brien, she spoke to the coaches and her teammates at halftime about how she could disrupt Ogunbowale in the second half. After shooting 4-for-8 in the first half, Ogunbowale shot 3-for-12 in the second. One play in the fourth quarter showed exactly what Johannès’ mindset and approach was. 

New York Liberty guard Marine Johannès is in a defensive stance guarding Phoenix Mercury guard Moriah Jefferson on the perimeter.
New York Liberty guard Marine Johannès (23) defends Phoenix Mercury guard Moriah Jefferson (8) at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., on June 18, 2023. (Photo credit: Brandon Todd/New York Liberty)

After Ogunbowale intercepted one of Johannès’ passes, Johannès didn’t give up on the play. She backpedaled and turned to make sure she was ahead of the streaking Ogunbowale. As Ogunbowale leapt toward the basket, Johannès did as well with her deceptively long arms straight up. Ogunbowale’s field of view was obstructed, and she missed. Jones got the rebound and passed it to Johannès to transition back to the other side of the floor.

Johannès spoke about that individual play and her general defensive performance following the 102-93 win:

“I think it was something big for me, playing defense against her. She’s a great player in the league. So it was hard, but I had some film with Zack before the game about her and so we really talked about how to guard. But it’s not easy. … She’s gonna make some tough shots. So we just have to stay focused, and after the turnover, I did, I was just thinking about, how I can try to stop her and play hard with her? So yeah, I think we just have to [not] give up after a mistake and just play indifferent.”

Johannès’ defensive contributions have been noticeable this season. According to PBP Stats, the Liberty allow 100.2 points per 100 possessions when she’s not on the court, compared with 96.3 when she’s on the court. Also, opponents shoot 39.6% from 3-point range when she’s off the court, compared with 35.5% when she’s on.

That moment against Ogunbowale did more than illustrate her defensive buy-in, though: It was also a growth point for the 28-year-old who has struggled with confidence, perfectionism and the personal pressures she applies when she makes mistakes.

Assistant coach Olaf Lange took note of these “ups and downs” that Johannès has in her confidence. He and Brondello understand how they can get the best out of her.

“I know her worst enemy is herself, losing confidence,” Brondello said. “So I try and keep her confident because that’s how she’s going to help us the best and she’s an amazing player. She wants to do great, [but] it’s not going to be perfect all the time.”

Sometimes these ebbs and flows in her confidence occur during games. She often gets down on herself when she doesn’t make shots, especially when she’s engrained it in her mind that making shots is what she does. But what if I told you that Johannès’ most interesting magic trick didn’t come from a pass or a shot, but rather from a friend?

When Johannès is too much in her own mind and her inner critic is taking over, Dolson does what Lange calls a “pattern interrupt.” She tells Johannès a joke or does something goofy on the bench to make her laugh. Early in the game against the Mercury on June 18, Johannès didn’t take a shot. She wasn’t aggressive and looked out of sorts. In the second half, she scored 10 points, including one key 3-pointer that silenced the Mercury’s fourth-quarter run.

“Ten points don’t tell the story,” color commentator Sarah Kustok said about Johannès’ second-half performance. “It seems like they are timely ones and also some with a lot of sauce on them.”

Did Dolson play a role in Johannès flipping the switch?

“Yes, I did my job,” Dolson said postgame. “I made her laugh … and then she went out and made shots. You’re welcome. … She thinks too much. She gets in her head too much. She just has to relax. And that’s what I try to do with her, help her relax.”

‘She should be known more than just in France

Following her 2022 season, which included a pass that put the entire WNBA on notice, the Liberty knew that Johannès had to be a part of the equation in their pursuit of a championship. And Johannès seemed to enjoy her first year playing at Barclays Center. She felt like she was being taken care of, and she was on board to return in 2023 due to her friendship with Dolson and bond with Brondello. She even was part of the pitch that Kolb, Brondello and Ionescu made to land Jones this past winter.

Even with more superstars on the roster, the Liberty weren’t worried about Johannès and her role on the team they were building. They knew how selfless she was and how, for her, it’s all about how she can help rather than about her individually.

When Laney was asked how Johannès fits this new roster, the first thing she mentioned was how great of a person Johannès is. And Ionescu explained that Johannès is the “ultimate team player.”

“I don’t think I’ve ever heard her complain,” she said. “Whether she’s playing 30 minutes or she hasn’t played a lot, she’s just doing whatever it is the team needs [from] her. She sacrifices. She plays any role she needs to be put in in order for us to win.” 

Five New York Liberty players stand close together during a break in action. Among them, Breanna Stewart has her hands near her hips and Marine Johannès reaches to grab her lower leg.
New York Liberty players Breanna Stewart (30), Marine Johannès (23), Jonquel Jones (35, in back), Betnijah Laney (44) and Courtney Vandersloot (22, at right) stand together during a game against the Atlanta Dream at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., on June 13, 2023. (Photo credit: Brandon Todd/New York Liberty)

But before arriving in New York this spring, Johannès’ selflessness and commitment were tested. She, the Liberty, her agent and the French Federation spent months negotiating over whether she could play both in EuroBasket and for the Liberty. It’s been done in years past. But the difference this time was that Johannès wanted to go to New York first and get her bearings before leaving again. She didn’t want to subject herself again to the chaos of reporting to a WNBA team for the first time in the middle of the season.

The negotiations were exhausting and stressful for Johannès, and ultimately the French Federation did not compromise. France would be without its star guard, but Johannès would be with New York for the majority of the season.

The fallout was hard for her. She loves putting on her country’s colors, and she sometimes hopped on FaceTime before coming to New York and vented to Dolson. Dolson was proud of her friend for making a decision for herself, something that isn’t second nature for Johannès.

“We’re forever thankful and grateful for the commitment that she’s made to us and hope we can show her the commitment that we have to her just through the dedication as a person being there to support her,” Ionescu said. “Just being her family away from home and kind of embracing her with open arms as she returns and supporting her through her basketball career because I think she’s gonna have a really, really big year for us.”

This was a career-defining decision for Johannès. It came with risk, but it’s also more selfless than what’s on the surface. There aren’t many French mainstays in the WNBA right now. Besides Williams, who currently isn’t under contract, Edwige Lawson-Wade and the 21-year-old Iliana Rupert, not many French players have made names for themselves in the WNBA. There’s a reason that Sandrine Gruda didn’t have as fruitful of a WNBA career as her talent clearly warranted.

“I think with Marine, she should be known more than just in France,” Brondello said. “This is why you come to the WNBA. This is a global game and she should be known worldwide the way that she plays. And if you want to be the best, you want to play in this league.”


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Letting Johannès fly

Brondello has probably said the phrase “let Marine be Marine” over a dozen times. Lange’s version is, “She’s just a bird; you just gotta let her fly.”

What that means is that, when Johannès makes a mistake, teammates and coaches don’t discourage her from playing like herself. That played out on June 13 in the final moments against the Atlanta Dream.

The Liberty were down by three points with 1:04 left, and New York’s defense was close to forcing a shot-clock violation. Atlanta guard Allisha Gray picked up a bobbled ball with four seconds remaining on the shot clock and Johannès aggressively tried to get in front of Gray and limit her angle to drive. The whistle blew. It wasn’t a great foul, and Gray’s free throws sealed the victory for the Dream. 

The New York Liberty including Marine Johannès (23), Courtney Vandersloot (22), Jonquel Jones (35) and Betnijah Laney get ready to take the court at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, NY against the Phoenix Mercury.
New York Liberty players Marine Johannès (23), Courtney Vandersloot (22), Jonquel Jones (35) and Betnijah Laney (44) take the court at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., on June 18, 2023. (Photo credit: Brandon Todd/New York Liberty)

Johannès bent over with a serious, almost emotionless expression on her face. Laney approached her and put her hands on either side of Johannès’ head, then patted her on the back. It was a gesture of reassurance. Laney appreciated her teammate’s effort, something that was lacking from the team defensively in the fourth quarter. She also knew that she had to provide Johannès with support in that moment.

“She came to me and she was like, ‘You are okay. Everything is good,’” Johannès said of that moment. “’You are all right. Just stop overthinking and just stay in the moment and continue to play the game.'”

That is essentially what “letting Marine be Marine” is. The Liberty want to give her her the space to grow and learn more about herself in the process.

She can be shy. She can be a goof. She can be an incredibly tough shot-maker. She can impose her athletic abilities on a top offensive player. Though she might not have planned it initially, Johannès has come to New York to be a new version of herself — one that’s more capable on the court and more confident on and off it.

“In life, we all need someone that believes in us,” Brondello told The Next. “And that kind of makes you feel good about yourself to go out there and be yourself … I know what she’s capable of.”

Brondello knows what Johannès is capable of, and she also sees part of herself in the 28-year-old. She admitted that she thinks Johannès is much more talented than she ever was, but the same shyness, intelligence and drive to do better that Johannès has is what has made Brondello one of the WNBA’s most successful coaches. Brondello sees greatness for Johannès.

Written by Jackie Powell

Jackie Powell covers the New York Liberty and runs social media and engagement strategy for The Next. She also has covered women's basketball for Bleacher Report and her work has appeared in Sports Illustrated, Harper's Bazaar and SLAM. She also self identifies as a Lady Gaga stan, is a connoisseur of pop music and is a mental health advocate.

6 Comments

  1. Mike Driver on June 25, 2023 at 11:50 am

    MJ, Is unquestionably the real deal. NY is fortunate to have her!

  2. Mark Bowman on June 25, 2023 at 11:56 pm

    Great article with all the insight and extras not seen elswhere

  3. Wheein on June 28, 2023 at 10:58 pm

    Thank you for this! There’s very few articles about Marine that covers her personal life and her friendships. I’m glad to see that she is having fun on and off the court & excited to see her play for the Liberty for the remainder of the season!

  4. Michael Calla on July 2, 2023 at 12:33 pm

    Jackie Powell

    GREAT ARTICLE
    “The mystique of New York’s Marine Johannès “
    My basketball viewing as a young kid goes back to the 1950’s . I became a Celtic’s fan watching Bill Russell and the magic of Bob Cousy. I continued watching them thru their great team years and stopped when Larry Bird retired. All these years I continued to be a Yankee fan and one day last summer when I turned my TV on it went to the last channel that was on when I turned it off the day before, the YES channel. The Liberty was playing and one player caught my eye. It’s the same feeling you get when seeing Mickey Mantle play for the first time or watching the Harlem Globetrotters for the first time. I had to have more. Who was this young lady? I went to YouTube to watch all I could. Not just the highlight reels but watched complete game re-runs and live LYON LDLC Asvel games. I didn’t understand what they were saying but I knew what I was seeing. By now you must know I’m talking about Marine Johannès.

    In your article you mention that she has struggled with confidence. After watching all the videos I could find, this is my opinion.
    Marine is used to being the leader and playmaker on the floor. Not something she looks to be but I think her teammates look to her for her magic. Marine was just being Marine last year during the playoff run, doing her magic. And also building a huge fan base.

    This year after the Liberty’s off-season signings, it has relegated her to the bench. Something that she is not used too and in my opinion bad for her confidence. When she does come in it seems to me she is shy to shoot and if she misses a basket she avoids more shots. In many of the videos that I watched from last years Liberty games and French games with English speakers, announcers would say “I love her game”. This is not her game. The way she is being used is not good for the team or her confidence. Just my opinion of what I see.

    Mike Calla
    Lawrenceville, NJ

  5. akira on July 3, 2023 at 5:20 pm

    im so glad you wrote this deep and very interesting text about this special woman. she is special. strange, different. we will fly from france to see her and her amazing team play. thank you.

  6. Jennifer Berezan on July 3, 2023 at 8:33 pm

    Wonderful article. I’m visiting ny soon and can’t wait to see mj play in person

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