An examination of the WNBA’s first 25 seasons to the NBA’s is not a fair comparison but it does help to provide context when looking at how far the women’s game has come since 1996. Both leagues worked through expansions, contractions, and labor strife internally while many players served as leading voices regarding social changes. These positive voices have guided the souls of the leagues since before the civil rights movement and will last through the unrest of our times.
That legacy, that responsibility to those that suffered for the sake of better days and to those that will benefit, it was properly acknowledged during the WNBA’s stand for equality and justice even during the worst days of the pandemic. That moment was born of tragedy that we hope is never repeated. Still, the positive momentum and all the other women who work in basketball beyond the court cannot go underappreciated.
WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert said “As we look to celebrate the first 25 years of the league, we are also setting the stage for the next 25 years. The WNBA’s new distinctive 25th season logo and Count It campaign signify what makes the league unique. We are celebrating a quarter of a century of the impact the WNBA has made on sports and society, and on generations of young and diverse athletes.”
For as much as Magic and Bird helped put the NBA on television and changed the game financially as an entertainment property, it was the organic love of hoops that help propel and sustain the game for decades. Once the WNBA got past the same marketing gimmicks and ticket subsidizing that can cripple a league’s perceived value (every league has had to learn this the hard way), a bonafide culture and following started to form. With revenue on the rise, players’ salaries should be next. The next generation will cash in on the foundations laid these past few decades.
The rosters of the 25th WNBA Finals represent well that past and the foundation laid for future generations. As part of the WNBA’s celebration of its 25th season, the league announced the Best 25 Players and Top 25 Moments. Candace Parker, Courtney Vandersloot, Kia Vaughn, and Allie Quigley are the old heads, the link to the past still showing off prime time skills. Brittney Griner and Skylar Diggins-Smith are the links to the future. Brianna Turner, Diamond DeShields, and apparently Kahleah Cooper will likely dominate that future or at least the next decade.
That is, if the LEGEND, Diani Taurasi ever hangs up her kicks for good. The White Mamba won gold in Athens before the WNBA even started naming an All-Rookie team for the 2005 season. She is the WNBA’s career leader in points in the regular season and postseason. Taurasi’s 14 All-WNBA selections are the most in league history and her 10 All-Star selections are tied for second. She has won the scoring title five times and even led the league in assists for a season because that’s just how she leads on the court. Taurasi has won three championships, one MVP award, and one Finals MVP.
She is also a social justice and equality activism leader off the court and plans to stay involved once she retires. Taurasi is adamant. Her mind has not changed since she explained back in 2005, “I would like to start doing some charity work, probably more for kids in general. When I’m done playing, I think I might want to be a coach, or do something that still has some link to the game. It’s been so good to me, and I really do love the game, even outside of playing, just being around people who play is fun. Maybe I can be the G.M. of the Lakers or something!”
Thanks to the trailblazing women of the past century, back before Pat Summit ruled Knoxville, all of those dreams are on the table for Taurasi. Renee Montgomery owns the Atlanta Dream. Seimone Augustus is coaching the Los Angeles Sparks. Tamika Catchings is currently the Vice President of Basketball Operations/General Manager of the Indiana Fever.
Becky Hammon became the NBA’s first full-time female assistant coach with the San Antonio Spurs but she most definitely will not be the last. Others are already following in her footsteps. Swin Cash is helping run the New Orleans Pelicans and brought in Teresa Weatherspoon to add depth to the coaching staff. Women are not only making in-roads, but they are also helping to lift other deserving women up. That is the legacy the next generation must live up to.
As the WNBA’s 25th season winds down, the Phoenix Mercury and Chicago Sky are vying for the immortality that comes with winning a championship. These two rosters are a perfect blend representing the first WNBA generation’s trailblazing achievements and the aspirations of the generation to come.