Yesterday, right before the epic game that was the Lynx v. Sparks’s Battle of the Undefeateds, the WNBA named its 20 Greatest and Most Influential Players in League History in honor of its 20th anniversary. The list was announced on Sports Center on the anniversary of league’s inaugural regular-season game that was played on June 21, 1997. While the league has some growing to do, it’s amazing what its players have been able to accomplish over the last 20 years, so the list is befitting. When you try to narrow down twenty years worth of talent and influence into a short list of 20 people, there are bound to be some who are disappointed. But when I look at the list that the WNBA and its affiliates came up with it’s clear that each and every woman deserved to be recognized. My only disappointment was that not enough people were aware that the list even came out. So to bring a little more attention to these ladies’ esteemed careers, I give you brief overviews of each of the WNBA’s Top 20 at 20’s careers. Enjoy!
Active. Augustus is a 3-Time WNBA Champion (2011, 2013, 2015) with the Minnesota Lynx and one time Finals MVP (2011). She is a 6-time WNBA All-Star and former WNBA Rookie of the Year. She’s racked up 2 Olympic gold medals and will be vying for her 3rd in Rio. She’s left her mark outside of the WNBA as a 2-time EuroCup champion with Turkey’s Galatasaray and a former EuroCup MVP. Prior to the pros Augustus’ star power shown bright at LSU where she grabbed multiple Wade Trophy, Naismith Player of Year, Wooden Award & SEC Player of the Year honors.
Active. Sue Bird is one of only 9 women to win an Olympic Gold Medal (she’s actually won 3), an NCAA Championship (she’s won that twice), and a WNBA Championship (she’s claimed that twice as well). The Seattle Storm’s former number 1 draft pick has been a WNBA All-Star 9 times and is a member of the WNBA All-Decade Team. In Europe, she’s claimed the Russian Super League and the EuroLeague Women championships. While a player at UConn Bird won Naismith Player of the Year, Wade Trophy and Big East Player of the Year (all in 2002) honors.
Active. Over her career, Swin Cash, like her former teammate Bird, has won NCAA National Championships, Olympic gold medals and WNBA Championships. Not only is Cash an All-Star player, but she’s making her mark as a sports broadcaster, routinely commentating on College Basketball and the NBA for CBS Sports, NBC Sports and MSG. The New York Liberty Forward also takes her position as a role model seriously and dedicates a great deal of time to community service in and outside of her home state of Pennsylvania.
Active. Tamika Catchings intends on making this her last WNBA season and no one can blame her. The 3-time Olympic gold medalist, WNBA Champion and Finals MVP and NCAA Champion has left her mark on the sport of basketball. The former Lady Vol and current Indiana Fever player is the first player at any level in history to be officially credited with scoring a quintuple-double. Her stats are undeniable, but Catchings will be the first to tell you that her legacy off the court is just as important as what she’s done on it. The 2-time Kim Perrot Sportsmanship Award winner dedicates countless hours to her Catch the Stars Foundation which has a mission to empower youth to achieve their dreams by providing goal-setting programs that promote literacy, fitness and mentoring.
Active. Maya Moore has led the WNBA in scoring (2014) and been crowned WNBA Champion (2011, 2013, 2015), MVP (2014) and Rookie of the Year (2011). She took home a gold medal in the 2012 Olympics and has solidified her name in the international sports world by helping teams claim a EuroLeague Championship and 3 Women’s Chinese Basketball Association Championships in-a-row. Moore’s reach extends beyond the basketball world as she advocates for ending slavery and for athletes to use their Christian faith and athletic platforms to bring about change.
Active. As the first pick in 2008 draft, Candace Parker immediately made her mark in the WNBA by taking home the Rookie of the Year and league MVP awards in the same season. While she’s still chasing a WNBA Championship, Parker has been a 3-time WNBA All-Star and has helped Team USA secure 2 Olympic gold medals. As a Lady Vol, Parker was the first woman to dunk in an NCAA tournament game and led the team to back-to-back NCAA National Championships. Amazingly, Parker balances a career in the WNBA and the EuroLeague while being a wife and mom.
Active. Cappie Pondexter is a 7-time WNBA All-Star, 2-time WNBA Champion and 1-time WNBA Finals MVP. She claimed Olympic gold in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. In college, she led Rutgers to back-to-back Big East Championships and claimed the Big East Player of Year award. While she remains active, she is representative of the many business-minded women in the WNBA. She runs her own style management firm, 4 Season Style Management, and is an active participant in the community.
Active. Diana Taurasi was a legend before she even got to the WNBA. She led UConn to 3 consecutive NCAA National Championships, won 2 Naismith Awards, the Wade Trophy and AP Player of the Year. When she got to the WNBA, her dominance didn’t stop. She’s been the Rookie of the Year, League MVP, a 3-time WNBA Champion, 5-time WNBA Scoring Champion, 2-time Finals MVP and 7-time All-Star. Taurasi is also a champion in the EuroLeague where she has claimed multiple titles.
Active. Lindsay Whalen is a 3-time WNBA Champion with the Minnesota Lynx, a 5-time WNBA All-Star and a 3-time WNBA Peak Performer (Assists). Whalen also has an Olympic gold medal under her belt from the London games. Whalen helped put the University of Minnesota women’s basketball team on the map and became its all-time leading scorer and set other records in scoring average, games in double figures, free throws made and free throw percentage.
Active. After graduating from UGA, Deanna Nolan made her presence known in the WNBA. The 3-time WNBA Champion, WNBA Finals MVP and 5-time All-Star had a massive impact in her only 8-years in the League. In 2009, Nolan made the decision to focus strictly on overseas play. Since that time, she has been lending her talents to UMMC Ekaterinburg in Russia.
Retired. Cynthia Cooper is one of the greatest that women’s basketball has ever seen. The multiple Hall of Famer helped lead the Houston Comets to 4-straight WNBA Championships; was crowned League MVP twice, Finals MVP four times and a WNBA All-Star three times. She helped team USA secure a gold medal in the Olympic games in Seoul and a bronze in Barcelona. After retirement, Cooper remains active in basketball, coaching in the WNBA and the NCAA. She’s now the head coach at her alma mater, USC.
Retired. Yolanda Griffith has 8 WNBA All-Star appearances, a WNBA Defensive Player of the Year award and League MVP under her belt. Prior to being drafted by the Monarchs as the 2nd overall pick in the 1999 WNBA draft, Griffith played in the ABL where she also won Defensive Player of the Year accolades. Griffith was a part of the Olympic gold medal winning teams in 2000 and 2004. She is now an assistant coach at the University of Massachusetts.
Retired. Becky Hammon has made a name for herself in the WNBA and the NBA. As a player Hammon was a 6-time WNBA All-Star and led the League in assists in 2007. She finished her career 8th in points scored and 4th in assists on the WNBA All-Time Lists. After the WNBA, Hammon went on to coach men’s basketball. In 2014, she became the first women to be a full-time assistant coach in the NBA when she was hired by the San Antonio Spurs. The Spurs then named her the Head Coach of the team’s summer league (the first woman to ever have such a role) and she went on to lead the team to a Las Vegas Summer League title.
Retired. Lauren Jackson brought a high level of play to the U.S. from Down Under. The Australian was a 7-time WNBA All-Star, 3-time League MVP, 2-time WNBA Champion, a Finals MVP, 3-time WNBA Scoring Champion, WNBA Rebounding Champion and WNBA Defensive Player of the Year. She’s also got numerous accolades in Australia’s Women’s National Basketball League including being a 4-time MVP. She helped Australia take home three silver medals (2000, 2004, 2008) and a bronze (2012) in the Olympics.
Retired. One of the most iconic players in League history, Lisa Leslie was the first player in WNBA history to win the regular season MVP, All-Star MVP and Finals MVP in the same year, 2001. She is a 2-time WNBA Champion and Defensive Player of the Year. She helped lead team USA to gold medals in the 1996, 2000, 2004 and 2008 Olympics. Leslie also influenced popular culture with appearances on various TV shows and through her work as a sportscaster and her Basketball & Leadership Academy.
Retired. Ticha Penicheiro is a WNBA Champion, 4-time WNBA All-Star and 7-time leader in assists in the WNBA. Abroad, the Portuguese baller holds EuroLeague and EuroCup Championships. In college, she was a recipient of the Wade Trophy as member of UVA’s women’s basketball team. Post retirement Penicheiro works as a sports agent, representing current professional women’s basketball players with the Sports International Group.
Retired. Katie Smith is a 2-time WNBA Champion, a WNBA Finals MVP, a 7-time WNBA All-Star and a 1-time WNBA Scoring Champion. She helped Team USA win 3 Olympic gold medals. Prior to playing professionally, Smith won an NCAA Championship with the Ohio State Buckeyes and broke scoring records for men and women in the Big Ten Conference. Smith is currently an Assistant Coach with the New York Liberty.
Retired. Sheryl Swoopes was the first player signed to the WNBA. As one of the League’s best known players, Swoopes claimed 4 WNBA Championships and 3 MVP and Defensive Player of the Year awards. She was a 6-time WNBA All-Star and 2-time WNBA Scoring Champion. Outside of the WNBA, Swoopes led the US to 3 consecutive Olympic gold medals. Swoopes continues her legacy as a master of basketball as the Head Coach of the women’s basketball team at Loyola University.
Retired. Tina Thompson was the WNBA’s first draft pick. She would go on to win 4 WNBA Championships, an WNBA All-Star MVP and was named an All-Star 9 times. She is the WNBA’s All-Time Leading Scorer with 7488 points. Thompson was a part of the gold medal winning teams in 2004 and 2008. Thompson is currently an Assistant Coach at the University of Texas.
Retired. One of the inaugural players of the WNBA, Teresa Weatherspoon has solidified her place as one of basketball’s greatest. She was a 2-time WNBA Champion, 2-time WNBA Defensive Player of the Year and a 4-time WNBA All-Star. She ranks number 10 on the WNBA’s All-Time Assists List. Weatherspoon won an NCAA National Championship with Louisiana Tech and is currently the school’s head coach.
While there just wasn’t enough space to include all of their accomplishments, it is abundantly clear that every last one of these women deserves to be recognized for their accomplishments in basketball and the greater impact they’ve had for women in sports. Congratulations ladies!