You may have turned on the T.V. in 1997 to see if professional women’s basketball could actually work in America. From then on, you might have found yourself scrolling through the channels forgetting that a league still existed.
You knew of Diana Taurasi. You knew of Candace Parker, but you probably characterized them as exceptions – not indicative of the level of play of the league as a whole. Even before that, every guy knew who Chamique Holdsclaw was.
These elite female players didn’t represent the women’s league they played in – they were marketed as women who deserved respect from their male peers, but women who couldn’t seem to convince these men to hold the WNBA in the same light.
But in those years you may have stopped watching, the WNBA quietly and critically shifted in terms of parity. The Indiana Fever stealing the 2012 title away from the defending champion Minnesota Lynx last night was no anomaly – the league is more competitive than it has ever been.
That’s because there are now more younger, talented players in the draft pool to choose from. When the WNBA started, most players were past their prime after having already played professionally overseas for years. The Cynthia Coopers, the Lisa Leslies, the Sheryl Swoopes, the Dawn Staleys were already close to their thirties. The league came just in time, but late.
Their replacements have matriculated as true rookies for over a decade. They’re quicker, stronger and grew up with a league already in place. This younger wave of female ballers wasn’t concerned with simply having a league. They came out of college determined to change that.
Taurasi now isn’t the only woman to, as any guy on the playground would say, “play like a dude.” More guards are emerging that resemble the men’s up-and-down style of play. Kristi Toliver on the Los Angeles Sparks can cross left to right, hit the step-back three and wet up any guard on the perimeter, and Cappie Pondexter of the New York Liberty is equally quick at breaking down guards to get to the cup. Lindsay Whalen of the Lynx will dribble around the floor for more than half the shot clock like Steve Nash, finding lanes where there are none to find a teammate for the easy bucket. Forwards like Maya Moore, Seimone Augustus and Nneka Ogwumike have unprecedented athleticism. What’s more, the draft class to come with Skylar Diggins and Brittney Griner will give all of these players a run for their money.
This new wave of women is able to diversify the WNBA audience beyond families and children, and have begun popularizing the league itself in addition to their own rising individual status.
Pondexter even tatted the WNBA logo on her right arm when she was 17 so you know it’s real.
The WNBA no longer “has next” as their inaugural marketing slogan announced. They aren’t waiting on the sidelines to get in the game anymore. They “got” right now.
The Comets won the first four WNBA championships before the Sparks dominated with back-to-back titles in 2001 and 2002. No team has won two rings in a row since then. Instead, the WNBA shifted, as did the women’s college game, away from the traditional UConns and Tennessees: six different WNBA teams (including the Fever) have won a championship since 2002.
This kind of parity was heightened in the 2012 WNBA season. The Fever won their franchise’s first title, and yet the Lynx, Sparks, San Antonio Silver Stars and the Connecticut Sun all very well could have been celebrating in the Finals like the Fever.