20 years of Women’s Basketball

Basketball is much more than a sport; basketball is a culture or could even be described as a way of life.  For the longest time, women didn’t have the same luxury as men had when it came to this great game.  Most of the time college was the end of the road; some would play overseas but they didn’t have what men had in the United States.  The NBA hype was all the way turned up in the 90’s because of the likes of the 1992 Dream Team and Jordan’s Bulls.

Women’s basketball was desperate for their own league at this point.  Some great players were coming out of college and ending up with regular jobs.  We were missing out on some very talented young women playing basketball, and that needed to change.  That change came in 1996 when the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) was founded, which was meant to be the counterpart to the already successful NBA.  The very first season was played in June of 1997 and I remember it like it was yesterday.

The “We got next” slogan was announced on April 24, 1996, and was appropriately titled considering they started right after the NBA season was over.  All women and young girls who once envisioned playing professional basketball had regained hope.  This was a huge revelation!  Excitement was in the air again at playgrounds and gyms across the world.

Former Texas Tech Red Raider Sheryl Swoopes was the first player to sign with the WNBA.  She, with an already astonishing college career, had been labeled the “Female Michael Jordan.”  She quickly took over the inaugural season, leading the Houston Comets to the first WNBA championship in the history of the league.  The Houston Comets eventually won four straight championships with Swoopes guiding the ship.  She also became the first female basketball player to have a Nike shoe named after her.  At this point, business was indeed booming for the WNBA.  Players from all over the world were coming to the U.S. just so they could be closer to the league in hopes of someday playing in it.  This wasn’t just a win for basketball, this was a monumental step in the right direction for women in general.  No matter what country you are from, women have been fighting for equality for a long time.

Some of the greatest athletes to ever lace up their sneakers played in this great league.  I could name players for days that stood out to me over the last 20 years, players who had stellar careers and enjoyed being able to play the game that they love.  Lisa Leslie, Rebecca Lobo, Chamique Holdsclaw, and my favorite, Diana Taurasi, are just a few.  Their careers wouldn’t have been as great without the WNBA.  We have had the pleasure of watching these ladies for 20 years.  Champions were crowned, friendships were established, and memories were formed.  I cannot begin to explain my passion for this wonderful league.  I believe that your dreams shouldn’t stop when someone else thinks they should.  If a man can get paid for playing a professional sport, then a woman should be afforded the same opportunity.  I really believe that the WNBA is partially responsible for society heading in the right direction.

Growing up, basketball was everything to me.  I used to play basketball everywhere I would see a hoop, no matter what time of day it was.  I had a really good friend in high school who was a phenomenal female basketball player.  She could drain it from anywhere with ease.  I became fascinated with women’s basketball from that point on.  We would often play games of HORSE or one-on-one; I didn’t think for one minute that I would get beaten by a girl until I met her.  She completely changed my mindset and made me a fan.

I would go to all of the high school girls’ games; it was something that I thoroughly enjoyed.  I quickly became a fan of the WNBA as well, watching stars like Lisa Leslie and her smooth post moves, or watching Teresa Weatherspoon and her quick penetration.  I was enamored with what I was seeing.  I would mimic these moves in the gym, wanting to be as good as they were.

In 2004, the Phoenix Mercury selected a budding young star from the University of Connecticut named Diana Taurasi.  She had the most incredible work ethic and an even more exciting personality.  On the court, she was and still is the hardest working woman in the game.  Diana recently became the all-time leading scorer in WNBA history, making her, in my opinion, the Greatest of All Time (GOAT).  She is a big deal here in the Valley of the Sun, and is a two-time WNBA Champion as well.

I recently got to meet Dee before “Diana Taurasi Night” at the Talking Stick Arena.  It was by far one of the greatest experiences of my life.  She is one of the most humble people that I’ve met, even though you cannot talk about women’s basketball without mentioning her name.  I am happy for Diana and her milestone.  I am also proud to be a fan of the WNBA; I wish them both continued success.  But above all, I am truly excited to see the world evolving in a way that our kids can continue to have dreams that never end.