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A Brief History of the WNBA


She’s got next


The first WNBA season took place in 1997, and was a major step forward for professional women’s basketball, featuring the stars who took home the 1996 Olympics gold medal for Team USA. There were initially only 8 founding teams, but the league quickly expanded to 12 by 1999.


The early years of the WNBA were defined by a truly dominant Houston Comets dynasty, which took home the first four championships and which was led by the formidable trio of Sheryl Swoopes, Cynthia Cooper and Tina Thompson. With the retirement of Cooper however, the Los Angeles Sparks and their budding star Lisa Leslie soon took over. Leslie was the first player to dunk in a WNBA game back in 2002, becoming the new face of the league.


In the ensuing decades, the league has stayed relatively stable with 12 teams, although there were some changes within the individual teams. Of the 8 founding teams, only the Sparks, New York Liberty and Phoenix Mercury still remain, while the Atlanta Dream became the newest addition to the league in 2008. There have been other changes since then, such as the relocation of teams, with the most recent example being the Las Vegas Aces which completed their maiden season in 2018 after moving from San Antonio.


It would be hard to argue against the Minnesota Lynx as the most successful expansion team, particularly in the current decade where they have already clinched four titles to draw level with the now-defunct Comets. The Lynx are led by the extravagantly-talented Maya Moore, who is able to dunk the basketball at just six-foot tall and who also holds the honor of being the first WNBA endorsee of Jordan Brand.


Despite Moore’s otherworldly abilities, the league has maintained respectable parity with a host of other stars competing for the title, such as the youthful reigning Finals MVP Breanna Stewart, all-rounded superstar Candace Parker, the always-clutch Diana Taurasi, tall and deadeye marksman Elena Delle Donne and the physical presence that is Brittney Griner. With the ever-growing talent pool in the WNBA, fuelled by advances in global hoops, there is never a dull season as all 12 teams stake their claim for the ultimate goal.