Female basketball was first announced in the Olympic Games in 1976 in Montreal. It took 40 years for women’s basketball to take its place in the biggest international event. However, the first women’s basketball match took place much earlier; it is expected to have happened in the USA at the beginning of 1892. In 1996, the women’s basketball players were united under the Women’s National Basketball Association. Their first season started the next year and the very first WNBA game instantly gave rise to the top stars who now take the top positions as the greatest women’s basketball athletes in worldwide rankings along with male finest players.
WNBA is not the first women’s basketball league. However, it is the first league that has managed to receive full support from the NBA and still performs as their part, having the logotype of the same style and financial backup.
The first competitors of the women’s league were the Americal Basketball League, formed a little earlier. They did not last long, though; after three seasons, the league was inactivated.
At the same time, WNBA gained momentum. At first, there were eight teams divided into two conferences – the Eastern and the Western one. Their history started with the top players already recognized worldwide. The first season began just after the winning of the National Team at the Summer Olympics, so their debut was welcomed by basketball professionals and enthusiasts. The first point ever was scored by Penny Toler.
Is WNBA popular?
The main WNBA tournament starts during the NBA’s interseason, which makes it extremely popular with the basketball games bettor community: they switch to WNBA when the NBA season is over. However, it would be wrong to say that the league gained its popularity – only thanks to the match schedules – the presence at the matches is 7,500 viewers on average, which is more than most male and female national tournaments in the world. The vast majority of clubs are profitable today.
Let’s see who are the best women’s basketball players of all time that can be proud of performing for the WNBA.
Sheryl Swoopes started her professional career as a basketball player with the college team of the Texas Technical University in 1993. However, her first basketball steps are referred to the early childhood: she was a basketball player in a local kids’ league. She scored 47 points in a game of the National Championship and was noted as one of the best college players. After her college times, she began participating in the international level games and 1996, she won a gold medal in the Olympic games. She is a three-time gold medalist of the Olympics: the next two first prizes were awarded to her in 2000 and 2004.
Sheryl became the first woman to sign with the WNBA and immediately became a significant player in WNBA history. She played for the Houston Comets, which no longer exist but used to be the leading team of all eight founding teams in the WNBA. Her professionalism helped the team become a four-time champion by winning four years from 1997 till 2000.
Sheryl Swoopes was one of the team’s best players and the whole new league; she gained the title of the most valuable player in 2000, 2002, and 2005. Besides winning four WNBA titles as a champion, she is the NCAA champion and a holder of three MVP awards. In 2004 she signed with the Russian club of Samara and became a basketball champion of Russia. She played one season for Samara; in 2008, she left her first team in Houston and started to perform for Seattle Storm. This was her last season and in 2009, she ended her career as an active basketball player with a comeback for the 2011 season.
At the moment, she remains a part of the basketball world as an assistant coach. As a player, she performed in the role of a Shooting Guard and Small Forward. She is usually called a female Michael Jordan. The Nike brand perpetuated her success; the shoe line was called after her just like it was with Michael Jordan: ‘his’ sneakers were called Air Jordan, and Air Swoopes became a tribute to Sheryl.
Lauren Jackson is a basketball player from Australia; she was an eight-time selection of all WNBA; she played for Seattle Storm within her most significant career. She was chosen by Seattle, the first in the draft of WNBA in 2001 and since then played there as a Center or Power Forward. Lauren was also a part of Australia’s National Team and became a winner of the World Championship in Brazil in 2006 and four times Olympic medalist. Besides, she achieved the title of the most accomplished Olympic player. She played a total of twelve seasons and became an eight-time All-WNBA pick. Lauren Jackson was a franchise player of Seattle Storm and performed for Korea, Russia, and China. Lauren is a two-times champion of the WNBA: in 2004 and 2010, she brought an ultimate win to her team with 20,5 and 23,8 points per game. She was named the International Player of the Year three times and was enlisted to the basketball Hall of Fame in 2020.
Tamika Catchings is one of the 11 women who have been awarded all four top prizes as a basketball player: she is a winner of the WNBA Championship of 2012, The most valuable player of WNBA in 2011, WNBA Finals MVP award in 2012, four Olympic Gold medals and Rookie of the Year prize. She performed as an accomplished shooter in Indiana Fever. She was the first basketball player in the whole history (among men’s and women’s leagues) who made a quintuple-double that was officially registered.
This was before Tamika Catchings’ professional career in WNBA during a college match. She was a top basketball star of Tennessee University and signed with Indiana Fever in 2001. However, she was forced to skip her very first season due to trauma but then made up for the lost time. From 2012 till 2016, she assumed the position of the President of the WNBA players Association.
Lisa Leslie, one of the top basketball coaches today, is one of the living legends of women’s basketball. You can find the first mentions of her in the newspaper articles of 1990 when she was a player at Inglewood Morningside High School. She had scored 101 points within 16 minutes, which was only 4 points lower than the current national record.
Being a head coach and a sports analyst nowadays, Lisa Leslie started her rise as a number seven player of the Los Angeles Sparks, where she spent 11 seasons from 1997. Among her major titles are the three-time WNBA MVP and four-time Olympic gold medalist. She was one of the WNBA players highly valued by fans and was chosen as one of the best women’s basketball players in the fan top-five ranking. Her name is in two basketball halls of fame from 2015 – the Naismith Hall of Fame and the WNBA Hall of Fame.
Yolanda Griffth is also a Hall of Fame basketball player. Her career started in high school in Chicago, where she played softball and basketball. When the time came to make a professional choice, Yolanda considered playing for the University team in Iowa. The University has already acknowledged her successful performance and offered her a scholarship. However, she had to stop her playing for Iowa after her daughter was born.
After graduating from college in Florida and playing basketball in Europe for some time, Yolanda Griffth signed with the American Basketball league. As we have already mentioned, this league did not last long, so Yolanda soon had to consider the other option. Her only season in ABL was really successful, though. Even though her team had not managed to become champions, she was still titled a Defensive Player of the Year 1998.
In 1999, she was picked for the Sacramento Monarchs and her WNBA career started from this time. She was awarded the WNBA All-star title (becoming a seven-time award holder) and won the Finals MVP once. Her talent did not stay unnoticed when she just started, so she became a Newcomer of the Year award holder. She spent nine seasons with her first WNBA team and then transferred to Seattle Storm. Her career ended after a severe trauma, so she was not an active player after 2009. In 2011 she was chosen as one of the best players of the WNBA according to the fan poll.
Among her other significant milestones are the Olympic gold-winning in 2000 and 2004, participation in the National Team of the All-Decade, and acknowledgment as 20 best WNBA players.
Cynthia Cooper is currently a coach; during her career as an active player, she won many championships, from college leagues to the Summer Olympics. She won WNBA championships several times and is considered the best player of all time by basketball fans and the WNBA leaders. Cooper was a part of the Houston Comets and was the Most Valuable Player in her four seasons with Houston.
Cooper’s career as a basketball player ended in 2000, and by this time, she has managed to become the first player in the WNBA who scored from 500 to 2500 career points. In 2009, her name was registered in the Hall of Fame. In 2003, she played one more season, and being forty-years-old she became the officially oldest active player of all time in the women’s basketball league.
Candace Parker has strived for the status of one of the best WNBA players of all time. She is currently a player of Chicago Sky and a former member of the Los Angeles Sparks. She is quite a universal team member, but her strongest position is the forward one. Among her most unique achievements is two times winning of the Gatorade National Girls Player of the Year. She won it in 2003 and 2004, which made her the only girl ever to have this award twice. She played as a junior during this period, so she was the second junior twice awarded the Gatorade Player of the Year.
A quick summary of Candace Parker career
Parker became a WNBA champion in 2016, was named the Most Valuable Player of the WNBA in 2008 and 2013. She is a holder of two Olympic gold medals and was the Rookie of the Year in 2008. The interesting fact is that she became the most valuable player and won the Rookie award the same year. Before her, nobody got both awards simultaneously. In 2016, she finished her last season and became a basketball analyst for the NBA.
Diana Taurasi is a player highly valued as WNBA’s all-time best women’s basketball player. She signed with Phoenix Mercury in 2004. In her professional career, she gained all the major awards and was highly appreciated by all the professional basketball community, including male basketball teams. She holds two WNBA Finals MVP Awards, a four-time Olympics winner. She became the WNBA’s all-time leading scorer in 2017, leaving behind the previous record holder Tina Thompson. Her best distinctive feature made her one of the best women’s basketball players to score in the emergency during the matches, giving a narrow escape for her team.
Maya Moore plays for the Minnesota Lynx and is one of the greatest players in the WNBA basketball history. She was the National Gatorade Player of the Year and the Female Athlete of the Year as a forward in the high school basketball team. In terms of advertisement campaigns, she was noticed by Air Jordan and became the first woman to be enrolled in their ads.
Maya Moore is a four-time winner in the WNBA Championship. She also became a champion of the Spanish and European leagues and brought first place for her Chinese League team. For one season, she was a defensive player for a Russian team in Yekaterinburg. However, being a versatile person, she stopped her career as a basketball player to perform as a lawyer in 2019.
The most significant landmark in Cheryl Miller’s career is that she became one of the few women offered to play for male basketball teams. No wonder, though she had gained such success! Her life has always been connected to basketball since her childhood, and her natural talent was revealed even in friendly one-on-one matches. In high school, she was a part of the basketball team and helped it achieve 132 wins with only four losses. She made the first slam dunk in the whole history of women’s basketball and gained multiple awards as a high school player.
Her big success went on in the University and she was always included in the symbolic college team. This all leads to more awards, including the Most Valuable NCAA Finals Player and even pretended to become an Athlete of the Year.
Cheryl Miller and her post-college career
From 1983 till 1986, she was a member of the USA’s National Team, which leads her to become an Olympic winner in 1984. The World Champion and Vice-World Champion awards also came to her within this period of her career. After graduating from college, she has received several offers from men’s and women’s basketball professional leagues, but she decided to finish her career because of a knee injury. She proceeded as a coaching assistant and then got the position of head coach. Today she is working as a professional sports commentator.
Tina Thompson is currently a head coach in the women’s basketball team, Virginia Cavaliers. She is one of the best players who were added to the Basketball Hall of Fame. However, she always claimed that she was striving to become a world champion and her only wish and passion was to play. She once said in an interview that she has never stopped learning — even after the years of the WNBA and loads of achievements.
A short history of Tina Thompson’s achievements
- She was the all-time leader in terms of total points per game: 6,413
- She was signed to WNBA eight times
- Tina was selected to the all-decade team of the WNBA once
- She is third in rebounds and three-point point goals ever made per game
At the moment, she is taking second place in the WNBA ranking as a top scorer. Before 2017, she was the all-time leading scorer in the whole history of the WNBA. She is twice an Olympic winner; her team in the WNBA was the Houston Comets and thanks to her performance, the team has managed to win the WNBA Championships four times in a row: in seasons from 1997 till 2000.
Sue Bird was a record holder in the league for many criteria since 2002 when she was first chosen as a part of the Seattle in 2002. She started her brilliant career in New York when she played in a high school league. She was already a star at these times and her first title was the Player of the Year of the state. Later, she became a Player of the Year in the Naismith College and then signed with WNBA’s Storm. Among her awards are two Olympic Medals, EuroLeague Championship, four FIBA World Cups.