The Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA) is a women's professional basketball league in the United States. It currently is composed of twelve teams. The league was founded on April 24, 1996, as the women's counterpart to the National Basketball Association (NBA). League play started in 1997; the regular season is currently played from June to September with the Finals in October.
Five WNBA teams have direct NBA counterparts and play in the same arena: the Indiana Fever, Los Angeles Sparks, Minnesota Lynx, New York Liberty, and Phoenix Mercury. All of these teams except the Sparks are owned by NBA teams. The Washington Mystics also share ownership with an NBA team, but do not share an arena with that team. The Atlanta Dream, Chicago Sky, and Dallas Wings share markets with NBA teams, but share neither ownership nor home arenas with NBA teams. The Connecticut Sun, Las Vegas Aces, and Seattle Storm are the only current teams to play without sharing the market with an NBA team (although the Storm shared a market with the Seattle SuperSonics before that team's relocation). These last three teams are also owned independently. This independent ownership is important to the WNBA's growth; at one time, all teams in the league were owned by the NBA.
"We Got Next" (1997)
The league began with eight teams: the Charlotte Sting, Cleveland Rockers, Houston Comets and New York Liberty in the Eastern Conference; and the Los Angeles Sparks, Phoenix Mercury, Sacramento Monarchs and Utah Starzz in the Western Conference.
While not the first major women's professional basketball league in the United States (a distinction held by the defunct WBL), the WNBA is the only league to receive full backing of the NBA. The WNBA logo, "Logo Woman," paralleled the NBA logo and was selected out of 50 different designs.
The Houston Comets dynasty (1997–2000)
On the heels of a much-publicized gold medal run by the 1996 USA Basketball Women's National Team at the 1996 Summer Olympic Games, the WNBA began its first season on June 21, 1997 to little fanfare. The first WNBA game featured the New York Liberty facing the Los Angeles Sparks in Los Angeles. The game was televised nationally in the United States on the NBC television network. At the start of the 1997 season, the WNBA had television deals in place with NBC (NBA rights holder), and the Walt Disney Company and Hearst Corporation joint venture channels, ESPN and Lifetime Television Network, respectively. Penny Toler scored the league's first point.
The WNBA centered its marketing campaign, dubbed "We Got Next", around stars Rebecca Lobo, Lisa Leslie and Sheryl Swoopes. In the league's first season, Leslie's Los Angeles Sparks underperformed and Swoopes sat out much of the season due to her pregnancy. The WNBA's true star in 1997 was WNBA MVP Cynthia Cooper, Swoopes' teammate on the Houston Comets. The Comets defeated Lobo's New York Liberty in the first WNBA Championship game.
The initial "We Got Next" advertisement ran before each WNBA season until it was replaced with the "We Got Game" campaign.
Two teams were added in 1998 (Detroit and Washington) and two more in 1999 (Orlando and Minnesota), bringing the number of teams in the league up to twelve. The 1999 season began with a collective bargaining agreement between players and the league, marking the first collective bargaining agreement to be signed in the history of women's professional sports.
In 1999, the league's chief competition, the American Basketball League, folded. Many of the ABL's star players, including several Olympic gold medalists (such as Nikki McCray and Dawn Staley) and a number of standout college performers (including Kate Starbird and Jennifer Rizzotti), then joined the rosters of WNBA teams and, in so doing, enhanced the overall quality of play in the league. When a lockout resulted in an abbreviated NBA season, the WNBA saw faltering TV viewership.
On May 23, 2000, the Houston Comets became the first WNBA team to be invited to the White House Rose Garden. This was important to the WNBA's growth because before this invitation, only men's sports teams had traveled to the White House.
At the end of the 2000 season, the Houston Comets won their fourth championship, capturing every title since the league's inception. Led by the "Big Three" of Sheryl Swoopes, Tina Thompson, and four-time Finals MVP Cynthia Cooper, the Comets dominated every team in the league. Under head coach Van Chancellor, the team posted a 98–24 record through their first four seasons (16–3 in the Playoffs). After 2000, Cooper retired from the league and the Comets dynasty came to an end.
Lisa Leslie and the Los Angeles Sparks (2001–2002)
Going into the 2001 season, Houston faltered without Cooper and fell to fourth place in the conference by the end of the season. The top contender was the league's marquee team, the Los Angeles Sparks. The Sparks were predicted to win the earlier championships but the team could never get past the dominating Comets. Led by Lisa Leslie, the most dominating post player at the time, the Sparks posted an outstanding regular season record of 28–4. They advanced to their first ever WNBA Finals and swept the fourth-seeded Charlotte Sting from the Eastern Conference. Looking to repeat in 2002, the Sparks again made a strong run toward the postseason, going 25–7 in the regular season under head coach Michael Cooper, formerly of the Los Angeles Lakers. Again, Leslie dominated opponents throughout the Playoffs, leading the Sparks to a perfect 6–0 record through all three rounds, beating rival New York Liberty in the 2002 Finals.
Teams and the league were collectively owned by the NBA until the end of 2002, when the NBA sold WNBA teams either to their NBA counterparts in the same city or to a third party. This led to two teams moving; Utah to San Antonio and Orlando to Connecticut. With the move, the Sun became the first WNBA team to be owned by a third party instead of an NBA franchise. This sale of teams also led to two teams folding, the Miami Sol and Portland Fire, because new owners could not be found.
Bill Laimbeer leaves his mark on the WNBA (2003–2006)
After taking over a struggling franchise in 2002, former Detroit Pistons Bad Boy Bill Laimbeer had high hopes for the Detroit Shock in 2003. The team was just 9–23 in 2002, but Laimbeer predicted that the Shock would win the 2003 championship. Things started well for the Shock, who had three all-stars in the 2003 All-Star Game (Swin Cash, Cheryl Ford, and Deanna Nolan). Amazingly, Laimbeer orchestrated a rare worst-to-first turnaround and the Shock finished the season 25–9 in first place in the Eastern Conference. Winning the first two rounds of the Playoffs, the Shock had to face two-time champion Los Angeles Sparks and reigning Finals MVP Lisa Leslie in the 2003 Finals. The Shock beat the Sparks, winning game three on a clutch three-pointer by Deanna Nolan.
On October 21, 2004, Val Ackerman, the first WNBA president, announced her resignation, effective February 1, 2005, citing the desire to spend more time with her family. Ackerman later became president of USA Basketball.
On February 15, 2005, NBA Commissioner David Stern announced that Donna Orender, who had been serving as the Senior Vice President of the PGA Tour and who had played for several teams in the now-defunct Women's Pro Basketball League, would be Ackerman's successor as of April 2005.
In 2006, the league became the first team-oriented women's professional sports league to exist for ten consecutive seasons. On the occasion of the tenth anniversary, the WNBA released its All-Decade Team, comprising the ten WNBA players deemed to have contributed, through on-court play and off-court activities, the most to women's basketball during the period of the league's existence.
After missing out on the Finals in 2004 and 2005, the Shock bounced back in 2006 behind newly acquired Katie Smith. Along with Smith, the Shock still had six remaining members from their 2003 Finals run (Cash, Ford, Holland-Corn, Nolan, Powell, and Riley). Head coach Laimbeer knew how difficult it was to get to the Finals a second time and the Shock were up for the challenge. They finished second in the Eastern Conference, but knocked off first-seeded Connecticut in the second round of the Playoffs. The Shock had to face reigning champion Sacramento Monarchs in a five game series. The Shock won game five on their home floor, again solidifying their power in the league.
Bringing "Paul Ball" to the WNBA (2007–2009)
In December 2006, the Charlotte Bobcats organization announced it would no longer operate the Charlotte Sting. Soon after, the WNBA announced that the Sting would not operate for 2007. A dispersal draft was held January 8, 2007. Teams selected in inverse order of their 2006 records; Chicago received the first pick and selected Monique Currie.
Former Los Angeles Lakers championship coach Paul Westhead was named head coach of the Phoenix Mercury on October 11, 2005, bringing his up-tempo style of play to the WNBA. This fast-paced offense was perfect for his team, especially after the league shortened the shot clock from 30 seconds to 24 seconds in 2006. Much like the early Houston Comets championship teams, the Phoenix Mercury had risen to prominence led by their own "Big Three" of Cappie Pondexter, Diana Taurasi, and Penny Taylor.
The Mercury were well-suited for fast offense behind these three players. Phoenix averaged a league-record 88.97 points per game in 2007; teams could not keep up with the new style of play, and the Mercury were propelled into first place in the Western Conference. Facing the reigning champion Detroit Shock, the Mercury imposed their high-scoring offense with hopes of capturing their first title in franchise history. Averaging 93.2 points per game in the Finals series, the Mercury beat Detroit on their home floor in front of 22,076 fans in game five to claim their first ever WNBA title.
In October 2007 the WNBA awarded another expansion franchise to Atlanta. Atlanta businessman Ron Terwilliger was the original owner of the new team. Citizens of Atlanta were able to vote for their choices for the new team's nickname and colors. The Dream, as they were named, played their first regular season game on May 17, which was a 67-100 loss to the Connecticut Sun.
Paul Westhead resigned from the Mercury after capturing the 2007 title and Penny Taylor opted to stay home to prepare for the 2008 Summer Olympics, causing the Mercury to falter in 2008. The team posted a 16–18 record and became the first team in WNBA history to miss the Playoffs after winning the championship in the previous season. In their place, the Detroit Shock won their third championship under coach Bill Laimbeer, solidifying their place in WNBA history before Laimbeer resigned early in 2009, effectively ending the Shock dynasty.
Late in 2008, the WNBA took over ownership of one of the league's original franchises, the Houston Comets. The Comets ceased operations on December 1, 2008 after no owners for the franchise could be found. A dispersal draft took place on December 8, 2008 and with the first pick, Sancho Lyttle was taken by the Atlanta Dream.
After an unsatisfying conclusion in 2008, the Mercury looked to bounce back to championship caliber. New head coach Corey Gaines implemented Paul Westhead's style of play, and the Mercury averaged 92.82 points per game throughout the 2009 season. Helped by the return of Penny Taylor, the Mercury once again locked up first place in the Western Conference and advanced to the 2009 Finals. The championship series was a battle of contrasting styles as the Mercury (number one league offense, 92.82 points per game) had to face the Indiana Fever (number three league defense, 73.55 points per game). The series went five games, including arguably one of the most thrilling games in WNBA history in game one of the series (Phoenix won in overtime, 120–116. The Mercury beat the Fever in game five, this time on their home court, to capture their second WNBA championship.
Not only did Paul Westhead's system influence his Mercury team, but it created a domino effect throughout the league. Young athletic players were capable of scoring more and playing at a faster pace. As a league, the 2010 average of 80.35 points per game was the best ever, far surpassing the 69.2 average in the league's inaugural season.
Changing of the guard (2010–present)
On October 20, 2009 the WNBA announced that the Detroit Shock would relocate to Tulsa, Oklahoma; the team is called the Tulsa Shock On November 20, 2009, the WNBA announced that the Sacramento Monarchs had folded due to lack of support from its current owners, the Maloof family, also the owners of the Sacramento Kings. The league announced it would seek new owners to relocate the team to the San Francisco Bay area; however, no ownership was found and a dispersal draft was held on December 14, 2009.
The 2010 season saw a tight race in the East, with three teams being tied for first place on the final day of the regular season. Five of the six teams in the East were in first place at some point during the season. The East held a .681 winning percentage over the West, its highest ever. In the 2010 Finals, two new teams represented each conference: the Seattle Storm and the Atlanta Dream. Seattle made their first finals appearance since winning it all in 2004 and Atlanta, coming into the playoffs as a four seed, impressively swept its opponents in the first two rounds to advance to the Finals in only the third year of the team's existence.
After the 2010 season, President Orender announced she would be resigning from her position as of December 31. On April 21, 2011, NBA commissioner David Stern announced that former Girl Scouts of the USA Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer Laurel J. Richie would assume duties as President on May 16, 2011.
The 2011 season began with strong publicity helped by the rising young stars of the league and the NBA lockout. Many news outlets began covering the league more frequently. NBA TV, the television home of the NBA scheduled over 70 regular season games to be televised (along with a dozen more on ESPN2 and ABC). The new influx of young talent into the league gave many teams something to be excited about. Players like Candace Parker of the Sparks, Maya Moore of the Lynx, Angel McCoughtry of the Dream, Sylvia Fowles of the Sky, Tina Charles of the Sun, and Liz Cambage of the Shock brought a new level of excitement to the game, adding talent to the teams of young veterans such as Diana Taurasi, Seimone Augustus and Cappie Pondexter. The level of play was getting better, as evidenced by higher scoring, better defense, and higher shooting percentages. Fans responded to the new stars in the league; by the end of the 2011 regular season, nine of the twelve teams in the league had increased attendance over their 2010 averages.
The new influx of talented young players showed that the league's longevity gave young girls something to aspire to. Rookies coming into the league had the luxury of growing up watching veterans like Cynthia Cooper, Lisa Leslie and Teresa Weatherspoon. For the first time ever, young girls could now look at the WNBA as an opportunity for basketball to continue after college.
The new players delivered in 2011. Connecticut Sun center Tina Charles set a league record for double-doubles in a season with 23. Also, Sylvia Fowles of the Chicago Sky became only the second player in WNBA history to finish a season averaging at least 20 points (20.0ppg) and 10 rebounds (10.2rpg) per game. The San Antonio Silver Stars experienced boosts from their young players as well; rookie Danielle Adams scored 32 points off the bench in June and fellow rookie Danielle Robinson had a 36-point game in September. Atlanta Dream forward Angel McCoughtry was the first player in league history to average over 20 points per game (21.6ppg) while playing under 30 minutes per game (27.9mpg).
McCoughtry led her team to the Finals for the second straight year, but despite breaking her own Finals scoring record, the Dream was swept for the second straight year, this time by the Minnesota Lynx, which won its first title behind a fully healthy Seimone Augustus.
Template:WNBA labeled map The WNBA Players Association threatened to strike in 2003 if a new deal was not worked out between players and the league. The result was a delay in the start of the 2003 preseason. The 2003 WNBA Draft was also delayed and negative publicity was gained from this strike.
In 2007, the WNBA and ESPN came to an 8-year television agreement. The agreement would be the first to pay television rights fees to the league's teams. Never before has an agreement promised rights fees to a women's professional league. The agreement runs from 2009 to 2016 and is worth millions of dollars.
During the 2008 regular season, the first ever outdoor professional basketball game in North America was played at Arthur Ashe Stadium in New York between the New York Liberty and the Indiana Fever in front of over 19,000 fans. The Fever won the game 71-55.
Prior to the 2009 season, the maximum team roster size was changed from 13 players (11 active and 2 inactive) to 11 players (all active). Any team that falls below nine players able to play due to injury or any other factor outside of the control of the team will, upon request, be granted a roster hardship exception allowing the team to sign an additional player or players so that the team will have nine players able to play in an upcoming game or games. As soon as the injured (or otherwise sidelined) player(s) is able to play, the roster hardship player(s)—not any other player on the roster—must be waived.
Before the start of the 2011 season, every team announced a new look for their uniforms. The supplier of the uniforms for the league, Adidas, upgraded all teams to new high-tech designs, much like they did for the NBA prior to the start of their season.
The 2011 NBA Lockout began on July 1, 2011. Unlike the previous lockout, which affected the WNBA, president Laurel J. Richie confirmed that this lockout would have no effect on the WNBA. If the NBA season was shortened or canceled, the 2012 WNBA season (including the WNBA teams still owned by NBA owners) would run as planned.
A number of international players have played in the WNBA, such as:
- Template:Country Flag Russia Svetlana Abrosimova, Russia – won a championship with the Storm in 2010
- Template:Country Flag Russia Elena Baranova, Russia – the first international player in the WNBA (1997), one-time All-Star (2001).
- Template:Country Flag Brazil Erika de Souza, Brazil – one-time All-Star (2009)
- Template:Country Flag Brazil Iziane Castro Marques, Brazil – one-time All-Star (2010)
- Template:Country Flag Poland Margo Dydek, Poland – tallest woman to play in the WNBA at 7' 2" (2.18 m)
- Template:Country Flag France Sandrine Gruda, France
- Template:Country Flag Australia Lauren Jackson, Australia – two-time champion (2004, 2010), three-time MVP and eight-time All-Star
- Template:Country Flag Latvia Anete Jēkabsone-Žogota, Latvia
- Template:Country Flag Belarus Yelena Leuchanka, Belarus
- Template:Country Flag Democratic Republic of the Congo Mwadi Mabika, Democratic Republic of the Congo – won championships with the Sparks in 2001 and 2002
- Template:Country Flag Mali Hamchétou Maïga-Ba, Mali – won a championship with the Monarchs in 2005
- Template:Country Flag Greece Evanthia Maltsi, Greece
- Template:Country Flag Yugoslavia Razija Mujanovic, Yugoslavia
- Template:Country Flag Czech Republic Eva Němcová, Czech Republic
- Template:Country Flag Portugal Ticha Penicheiro, Portugal – won a championship with the Monarchs in 2005 and four-time All-Star
- Template:Country Flag Italy Kathrin Ress, Italy
- Template:Country Flag Australia Penny Taylor, Australia – two-time champion (2007, 2009) and four-time All-Star
- Template:Country Flag Canada Tammy Sutton-Brown, Canada – two-time All-Star
- Template:Country Flag Spain Amaya Valdemoro, Spain
- Template:Country Flag Belgium Ann Wauters, Belgium
- Template:Country Flag Saint Vincent and the Grenadines Sophia Young, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines – four-time All-Star
- Template:Country Flag China Haixia Zheng, China
Note that some of these players, among them Abrosimova, Leuchanka, Maïga-Ba, Penicheiro, Sutton-Brown, and Young, played U.S. college basketball.
|First player signed||Sheryl Swoopes||Houston Comets||October 23, 1996||Signed by the WNBA and assigned to Houston.|
|First points scored||Penny Toler||Los Angeles Sparks||June 21, 1997||Scored the league's first points on a baseline jump-shot.|
|First triple double||Sheryl Swoopes||Houston Comets||July 27, 1998||14 points, 15 rebounds, 10 assists|
|First goaltending call||Sylvia Fowles||Chicago Sky||June 3, 2008||Trying to block a layup by Lisa Leslie.|
|First slam dunk||Lisa Leslie||Los Angeles Sparks||July 30, 2002||Dunked on a fast break against Miami.|
|First 50–40–90 season||Elena Delle Donne||Washington Mystics||2019||51.5% FG, 43.0% 3FG, 97.4% FT|
|Most career points||Diana Taurasi||Phoenix Mercury||2004–2014, 2016–present||8,549 points|
|Most career rebounds||Rebekkah Brunson||Sacramento Monarchs, Minnesota Lynx||2004–2019||3,356 rebounds|
|Most career assists||Sue Bird||Seattle Storm||2002–2012, 2014–2018, 2020–present||2,832 assists|
|Most points in a game||Liz Cambage||Dallas Wings||July 17, 2018||53 points|
|Most rebounds in a game||Chamique Holdsclaw||Washington Mystics||May 23, 2003||24 rebounds|
|Most assists in a game||Ticha Penicheiro||Sacramento Monarchs||July 29, 1998 & August 3, 2002||16 assists|
|Most career wins for a coach||Mike Thibault||Connecticut Sun, Washington Mystics||2003–present||336 wins|
|Most points scored by a team||N/A||Phoenix Mercury||July 24, 2010||127 points in double overtime against Minnesota|
|Most points scored by a team in a regulation game||N/A||Phoenix Mercury||July 22, 2010||123 points against Tulsa|
|Largest margin of victory||N/A||Seattle Storm||August 7, 2010||46-point win (111-65) over Tulsa|
|Largest attendance for one game||N/A||Detroit Shock||September 16, 2007||22,076 in game 5 of 2007 Finals|
The WNBA originated with 8 teams in 1997, and through a sequence of expansions, contractions, and relocations currently consists of 12 teams. There have been a total of 18 franchises in WNBA history. Several WNBA teams are associated with the NBA team from the same market and are known as sister teams. These teams include the Brooklyn Nets and New York Liberty, the Indiana Pacers and Fever, the Los Angeles Lakers and Sparks, the Minnesota Timberwolves and Lynx, the Phoenix Suns and Mercury, and the Washington Wizards and Mystics. Of these teams, only the Sparks are owned separately from their NBA counterparts. For most of their existence, the Liberty was owned by the New York Knicks, but the Liberty was bought in January 2019 by Joseph Tsai, who then owned 49% of the Nets and is now sole owner of that team.
Though located in the same market, the Chicago Sky are not affiliated with the Bulls, as evidenced by the home arenas where they play (the Sky play at Wintrust Arena on Chicago's Near South Side, as opposed to the Bulls playing at United Center on the city's Near West Side). Similarly, the Dallas Wings are not affiliated with the Dallas Mavericks; the Mavericks play at American Airlines Center in downtown Dallas while the Wings play at College Park Center in suburban Arlington. Even though the Atlanta Dream shared an arena with the Atlanta Hawks for much of the former team's existence, the Hawks never held an ownership stake in the Dream.
The now defunct Charlotte Sting, Miami Sol, Portland Fire, Cleveland Rockers, Orlando Miracle, Houston Comets and Sacramento Monarchs were also sister teams of the Hornets, Heat, Trail Blazers, Cavaliers, Magic, Rockets and Kings, respectively. The Detroit Shock was the sister team of the Pistons until the teams' owner sold the Shock to investors who moved the team to Tulsa, Oklahoma. During their stint in Tulsa, the team was never affiliated with Oklahoma's NBA team, the Thunder. The Shock were later sold and relocated to the Dallas–Fort Worth Metroplex as the Dallas Wings; as noted above, they are not affiliated with the Mavericks. Another team that has gone through two relocations, the Las Vegas Aces, was affiliated with an NBA team for most of its history. The Aces began as the Utah Starzz, owned by the Utah Jazz. The Starzz were sold to the owners of the San Antonio Spurs, who relocated the team to that city as the San Antonio Silver Stars, later changing that team's name to San Antonio Stars. After the 2017 season, the Spurs sold the Stars to MGM Resorts International, which relocated the team again to become the Las Vegas Aces. The Seattle Storm was the sister team of the now relocated SuperSonics.
Five teams currently share markets with NBA G League teams. Two of these teams share arenas—the Dream with the College Park Skyhawks, and the Mystics with the Capital City Go-Go. The Sparks share the Los Angeles market with the Agua Caliente Clippers and South Bay Lakers; the Wings share the Dallas–Fort Worth market with the Texas Legends; and the Liberty share the New York market with the Long Island Nets and Westchester Knicks. Three other G League teams are within 150 miles of a WNBA team, with the Delaware Blue Coats, Fort Wayne Mad Ants, and Northern Arizona Suns being near the Mystics, Fever, and Mercury respectively. The Stars were also within 150 miles of a G League team (the Austin Spurs) before their move to Las Vegas. During their tenure as the Tulsa Shock, the Aces shared Tulsa with the Thunder's affiliates, the Tulsa 66ers, before the G League team relocated to become the Oklahoma City Blue.
As of the 2020 WNBA season, the Las Vegas Aces (formerly Utah Starzz and San Antonio (Silver) Stars), Los Angeles Sparks, New York Liberty, and Phoenix Mercury are the only remaining franchises that were founded in 1997.
Three teams are currently playing in temporary arenas:
- The Indiana Fever will play all of the 2020 and 2021 seasons, plus at least part of the 2022 season, at Hinkle Fieldhouse while their normal home of Bankers Life Fieldhouse is being renovated.
- The Phoenix Mercury will play the 2020 season at Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum while their normal home of Talking Stick Resort Arena is being renovated.
- The Seattle Storm have divided their home schedule between Hec Edmundson Pavilion (aka Alaska Airlines Arena) and Angel of the Winds Arena since 2019, when their normal home of KeyArena was closed in order to renovate it for Seattle's new NHL team. The Storm are expected to return to KeyArena when it reopens in 2021.
- Charlotte Sting – 1997–2006 (folded)
- Cleveland Rockers – 1997–2003 (folded)
- Detroit Shock – 1998–2009 (relocated; became the Tulsa Shock and relocated again to become the Dallas Wings)
- Houston Comets – 1997–2008 (folded)
- Miami Sol – 2000–2002 (folded)
- Orlando Miracle – 1999–2002 (relocated; became the Connecticut Sun)
- Portland Fire – 2000–2002 (folded)
- Sacramento Monarchs – 1997–2009 (folded)
- Utah Starzz – 1997–2002 (relocated; became the San Antonio Silver Stars, later the San Antonio Stars, and relocated again to become the Las Vegas Aces)
In 2007, investors took steps to re-create the Colorado Chill, a previously successful franchise in the now-defunct NWBL, as a WNBA expansion team. In September 2007, Chill backers announced that they had not raised enough money to join the WNBA for the 2008 season.
In August 2008, Norm Freedman, whose history with basketball dates back about 35 years, headed a group of investors interested in bringing a WNBA franchise to play out of the Ricoh Coliseum in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. "The prospects are better than 50%," Freedman said. "The WNBA is quite positive, and so am I, that a team in Toronto will do well." 
In 2008, news surfaced that the WNBA was focusing on Nashville, Tennessee as a possible site for expansion. Former President Donna Orender claimed that "Tennessee is so logical" referring to the success of women's college basketball in that area.
The city of Baltimore, Maryland may see a WNBA team in the future. Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon announced that the WNBA said Baltimore may be a location for a WNBA expansion team if a new arena is built in the city.
The WNBA Draft
Every spring, the WNBA Draft is held at ESPN headquarters in Bristol, Connecticut. From 2005 to 2008, the draft was held in the city that hosted the NCAA Women's Final Four. In 2009 and 2010, the draft was held at league headquarters in Secaucus, New Jersey. The draft is currently three rounds long with each of the 12 teams in the league (trades aside) getting three picks each. Draft order for teams that made the playoffs the previous year are based on team records. The team with the highest previous record will pick last. Since eight teams qualify for playoffs, the bottom eight picks are determined by this method. For the remaining top four picks, a selection process similar to the NBA Draft Lottery is conducted for the four teams that did not qualify for the playoffs.
Following the winter break, teams hold training camps in May. Training camps allow the coaching staff to evaluate players (especially rookies), scout the team's strengths and weaknesses, prepare the players for the rigorous regular season, and determine the 11-woman roster with which they will begin the regular season. After training camp, a series of preseason exhibition games are held. The WNBA regular season begins in May.
During the regular season, each team plays 34 games, 17 each home and away. Each team plays three in-conference teams 4 times each (12 games) and two in-conference teams 5 times each (10 games). Each team then plays the six out-of-conference teams twice (12 games). As in the NBA, each team hosts and visits every other team at least once every season.
WNBA All-Star Game
In July, the regular season pauses to celebrate the annual WNBA All-Star Game. The game is part of a weekend-long event, held in a selected WNBA city each year. The actual game is played on the selected WNBA team's home court. The All-Star Game features star players from the Western Conference facing star players from the Eastern Conference. During the season, fans get to vote for the players they would like to see start the game. In 2004, The Game at Radio City was in held in place of a traditional All-Star Game. The 2006 All-Star Game was the first game to feature custom uniforms that match the decade anniversary logo. Due to the Olympics, there was no WNBA All-Star Game in 2008. In 2010, an exhibition game (Stars at the Sun) was held.
Shortly after the All-Star break is the trading deadline. After this date, teams are not allowed to exchange players with each other for the remainder of the season, although they may still sign and release players. Major trades are often completed right before the trading deadline, making that day a hectic time for general managers.
Around the beginning of September, the regular season ends. It is during this time that voting begins for individual awards. The Sixth Woman of the Year Award is given to the best player coming off the bench (must have more games coming off the bench than actual games started). The Rookie of the Year Award is awarded to the most outstanding first-year player. The Most Improved Player Award is awarded to the player who is deemed to have shown the most improvement from the previous season. The Defensive Player of the Year Award is awarded to the league's best defender. The Kim Perrot Sportsmanship Award is awarded to the player who shows the outstanding sportsmanship on and off the court. The Coach of the Year Award is awarded to the coach that has made the most positive difference to a team. The Most Valuable Player Award is given to player deemed the most valuable for (her team) that season. The newest WNBA award is the Executive of the Year Award, first presented in 2017 to the team executive most instrumental in his or her team's success in that season
Also named are the All-WNBA Teams, the All-Defensive Teams, and the All-Rookie Team; each consists of five players. There are two All-WNBA teams, consisting of the top players at each position, with first-team status being the most desirable. There are two All-Defensive teams, consisting of the top defenders at each position. There is one All-Rookie team, consisting of the top first-year players regardless of position.
2019 Award Winners
|Most Valuable Player Award||Elena Delle Donne||Guard/Forward||Washington Mystics||41 of 43|
|Finals MVP Award||Emma Meesseman||Center||Washington Mystics||Not announced|
|Rookie of the Year Award||Napheesa Collier||Forward||Minnesota Lynx||29 of 43|
|Most Improved Player Award||Leilani Mitchell||Guard||Phoenix Mercury||27 of 43|
|Defensive Player of the Year Award||Natasha Howard||Forward||Seattle Storm||33 of 43|
|Sixth Woman of the Year Award||Dearica Hamby||Forward||Las Vegas Aces||41 of 43|
|Kim Perrot Sportsmanship Award||Nneka Ogwumike||Forward||Los Angeles Sparks||7 of 43|
|Peak Performer: Points||Brittney Griner||Center||Phoenix Mercury||20.7 PPG|
|Peak Performer: Rebounds||Jonquel Jones||Center||Connecticut Sun||9.7 RPG|
|Peak Performer: Assists||Courtney Vandersloot||Guard||Chicago Sky||9.1 APG|
|Coach of the Year Award||James Wade||Coach||Chicago Sky||27 of 43|
|Basketball Executive of the Year Award||Cheryl Reeve||General Manager||Minnesota Lynx||4 of 11|
All votes in the above table are first-place votes, even though all awards except for the statistically based Peak Performer Awards are based on total points received in voting.
During years in which the Summer Olympics are held, the WNBA takes a month off in the middle of the season to allow players to practice and compete with their respective national teams. Most recently for the 2008 Summer Olympics held in Beijing, China, most of August was taken off. The regular season ran from May 17, 2008 to September 14, 2008 (the Olympic break was from July 28, 2008 to August 27, 2008). The WNBA Playoffs and WNBA Finals led into October.
The WNBA Playoffs
The WNBA Playoffs usually begin in late September, although in years in which the FIBA Women's Basketball World Cup is held, they start in August. In the current system, first used in 2016, the teams with the eight best records, without regard to conference alignment, qualify for the playoffs. Having a higher seed offers several advantages. The top two teams receive a double-bye into the semifinals, and the next two teams receive a bye into the second round. In all playoff matchups, the team with the better record has home court advantage.
The first two playoff rounds consist of single-elimination games. In the first round, the matchups by seed are 5 versus 8 and 6 versus 7. The winners of the first-round games advance to the second round, with the 5–8 winner visiting the 4 seed and the 6–7 winner visiting the 3 seed. The winner of the game involving the 4 seed is matched against the 1 seed in one semifinal, with the other semifinal featuring the 2 seed against the winner of the game that involved the 3 seed.
The semifinals are best-of-five series following a 2–2–1 pattern, meaning that the higher seed will have home court in the first two games plus game 5 if necessary, while the lower seed will have home court in games 3 and (if necessary) 4. Home-court advantage for the WNBA Finals goes to the top surviving seed.
The WNBA Finals
The final playoff round, a best-of-five series between the victors of each conference, is known as the WNBA Finals, and is held annually, currently scheduled for October. Each player on the winning team receives a championship ring. In addition, the league awards a WNBA Finals Most Valuable Player Award. Like the semifinals, the Finals follow a 2–2–1 pattern, which has been in place for the Finals since 2005.
Players and coaches
In 2011, a decade and a half after the launch of the WNBA, only two players remained from the league's inaugural season in 1997: Sheryl Swoopes and Tina Thompson. Thompson holds the record for the number of years in the league (fifteen). Lisa Leslie was the longest-tenured player from the 1997 draft class; she spent her entire career (1997–2009) with the Los Angeles Sparks. Tangela Smith has played the most games in her career (415).
The members of the WNBA's All-Decade Team were chosen in 2006 on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the WNBA from amongst 30 nominees compiled by fan, media, coach, and player voting. The team was to comprise the 10 best and most influential players of the first decade of the WNBA, with consideration also given to sportsmanship, community service, leadership, and contribution to the growth of women's basketball.
Players for the WNBA's Top 15 Team were chosen in 2011 on the anniversary of the league's fifteenth season from amongst 30 nominees compiled in a similar manner to that of the All-Decade Team process.
Over 30 players have scored more than 3,000 points or more in their WNBA careers. Only three WNBA players have reached the 6,000 point milestone: Tina Thompson, Lisa Leslie and Katie Smith.
In 2008, 50-year-old Nancy Lieberman became the oldest player to play in a WNBA game. She signed a seven-day contract with the Detroit Shock and played one game, tallying two assists and two turnovers in nine minutes of action. She broke the previous record (39 years old) which was set by herself in 1997 before she retired.
Rules and regulations
Rules are governed by standard basketball rules as defined by the NBA, with a few notable exceptions:
- The three-point line is 22 feet 1.75 inches (6.75 m) from the middle of the basket, with a distance of 22 feet (6.71 m) in the corners. The main arc is the same distance currently used under FIBA and NCAA men's rules. The WNBA corner distance, as measured from the center of the basket, is the same as that used in the NBA; the FIBA and NCAA men's distance is 4 in (10.16 cm) shorter.
- The regulation WNBA ball is a minimum 28.5 inches (72.4 cm) in circumference and weighs 20 ounces (570 g), 1.00 inch (2.54 cm) smaller and 2 ounces (57 g) lighter than the NBA ball. As of 2004, this size is used for all senior-level women's competitions worldwide in full-court basketball. Competitions in the FIBA-sanctioned half-court variant of 3x3 used the women's ball until 2015, when a dedicated ball with the circumference of the women's ball but the weight of the men's ball was introduced
- Quarters are 10 minutes in duration instead of 12.
- There is no defensive 3-second rule.
Games are divided into four 10-minute quarters as opposed to the league's original two 20-minute halves of play, similar with FIBA rules (many WNBA players play in European or Australian leagues, which all use the FIBA rule set).
- The winner of the opening jump ball shall begin the 4th quarter with the ball out of bounds. The loser shall begin with the ball out of bounds in the second and third quarter. Previously under the two-half format, both periods started with jump balls, presumably to eliminate the possibility of a team purposely losing the opening tip in order to gain the opening possession of the second half. This is not a problem under the four-quarters because the winner of the opening tip gets the opening possession of the final period.
- The shot clock was decreased from 30 to 24 seconds. The rule changes signaled a move away from rules more similar to those of college basketball and toward those that provide a more NBA-like game. FIBA also uses a 24-second clock.
- The amount of time that a team must move the ball across the half-court line went from 10 to 8 seconds.
- A referee can grant time-outs to either a player or the coach.
- Two free throws and possession of the ball for clear-path-to-the-basket foul. Previously only one free throw was awarded as well as possession.
|WNBA Court Dimensions|
|Length of court (baseline to baseline)||94 ft||28.65 m|
|Width of court (sideline to sideline)||50 ft||15.24 m|
|Rim height (floor to rim)||10 ft||3.05 m|
|Center circle diameter||12 ft||3.66 m|
|Three-point line distance from center of basket||22 ft 1.75 in||6.75 m|
|Three-point line distance from center of basket (corners)||22 ft||6.71 m|
|Shaded area/Lane/Key length||19 ft||5.8 m|
|Shaded area/Lane/Key width||16 ft||4.88m|
| Restricted area (aka "block-charge arc)|
(distance from center of basket)
|4 ft||1.22 m|
|Free-throw line (distance from backboard)||15 ft||4.57 m|
|Free-throw half-circle radius||6 ft||1.83 m|
|Backboard width (side to side)||6 ft||1.83 m|
|Coaching box width (from baseline)||28 ft||8.54 m|
|*All dimensions are in line with NBA regulations except the main three-point arc. The three-point distance at the corners is the same in the NBA and WNBA.|
WNBA Presidents and Commissioners
The title of the WNBA's chief executive was "President" until 2019, when Cathy Engelbert became the league's first "Commissioner".
- Val Ackerman, 1997–2005
- Donna Orender, 2005–2010
- Chris Granger, 2011 (interim)
- Laurel J. Richie, 2011–2015
- Lisa Borders, 2015–2018
- Mark Tatum, 2018–2019 (interim)
- Cathy Engelbert, 2019–present
On June 1, 2009, the Phoenix Mercury was the first team in WNBA history to announce a marquess sponsorship. The team secured a partnership with LifeLock to brand their jerseys and warm-ups. It was the first branded jersey in WNBA history.
Other teams eventually followed in the Mercury's footsteps to bring the total to five teams with sponsorship deals:
- Los Angeles Sparks – Farmers Insurance
- New York Liberty – Foxwoods Casino
- Phoenix Mercury – LifeLock
- Seattle Storm – Bing
- Washington Mystics – Inova Health System
On August 22, 2011, the WNBA announced a league-wide marquee sponsorship with Boost Mobile. The deal would allow the Boost Mobile logo to be placed on ten of the 12 teams' jerseys (excluding Phoenix and San Antonio) in addition to branding on the courts and in arenas. A source said the deal is a "multiyear, eight-figure deal." 
So far the WNBA has not mirrored the monetary success of the NBA, though it targets profitability. While some teams do make a profit (and others break even), most of the teams in the WNBA lose money each season. Losses are subsidized by the NBA; in 2003, news surfaced that the NBA spent up to $12 million a year to help pay for the WNBA losses. In 2007, teams were estimated to be losing $1.5 million to $2 million a year.
However, in a March 12, 2009 article, NBA commissioner David Stern said that in the bad economy, "the NBA is far less profitable than the WNBA. We're losing a lot of money amongst a large number of teams. We're budgeting the WNBA to break even this year." 
In 2008, a new six-year collective bargaining agreement was agreed upon between the players and the league. The salary cap for an entire team in 2010 is $827,000 (although it was later lowered to $775,000). By 2013 (the sixth year under this agreement), the cap for an entire team will be $900,000. In 2010, the minimum salary for a player with three-plus years of experience is $51,000 while the maximum salary for a six-plus year player is $101,500 (the first time in league history that players are able to receive over $100,000). The minimum salary for rookies is $35,190. Many WNBA players supplement their salaries by playing in European or Australian women's basketball leagues during the WNBA off-season.
For certain achievements, WNBA players are awarded bonuses. The following is a list of some of the bonuses given by the league (amount is per player):
- WNBA champion: $10,500
- Runner-up: $5,250
- Most valuable player: $15,000
- Rookie of the year: $5,000
- All-WNBA First Team member: $10,000
- All-Star Game participant: $2,500
The following shows the top jersey sales during the 2019 season.
|Player||Elena Delle Donne||A'ja Wilson||Candace Parker||Diana Taurasi||Sue Bird||Liz Cambage||Kelsey Plum||Arike Ogunbowale||Breanna Stewart||Kayla McBride|
|Team||Washington||Las Vegas||Los Angeles||Phoenix||Seattle||Las Vegas||Las Vegas||Dallas||Seattle||Las Vegas|
Overall league attendance was about 7,950 people per game in 2011. Attendance has gone up and down but has generally decreased from about 10,000 in early years to about 8,000 in recent years. Attendance was at its peak in the league's second season (1998) at almost 11,000 fans per game, and the all time league average is 8,769 fans per game.
HOU moved from Compaq Center to Toyota Center prior to the 2003 season.
NY played six games at Radio City Music Hall in 2004.
HOU moved from Toyota Center to Reliant Arena prior to the 2008 season.
NY moved temporarily from Madison Square Garden to Prudential Center from 2011 through 2013.
Currently, WNBA games are televised throughout the U.S. by ABC, ESPN2 and NBA TV. In the early years two women's-oriented networks, Lifetime and Oxygen, also broadcast games including the first game of the WNBA. NBC showed games from 1997 to 2002 as part of their NBA on NBC coverage before the league transferred the rights to ABC/ESPN.
In June 2007, the WNBA signed a contract extension with ESPN. The new television deal runs from 2009 to 2016. A minimum of 18 games will be broadcast on ABC, ESPN, and ESPN2 each season; the rights to broadcast the first regular season game and the All-Star game are held by ABC. Additionally, a minimum of 11 postseason games will be broadcast on any of the three stations.
Along with this deal, came the first ever rights fees to be paid to a women's professional sports league. Over the eight years of the contract, "millions and millions of dollars" will be "dispersed to the league's teams." 
During the 2010 season, all telecasts were shown on ESPN and ESPN2, except for Game 1 of the WNBA Finals, which was on ABC. Game 4 was also set for ABC if it had been played.
Some teams offer games on local radio, while all teams have some games broadcast on local television stations:| align="left" valign="top" |
| width="60%" align="left" valign="top" |
- Atlanta – Fox Sports South (FS-S), SportSouth (SSO)
- Chicago – Comcast Network 100 (CN100)
- Connecticut – CSN New England (CSN-NE)
- Indiana – Fox Sports Indiana (FS-I)
- Los Angeles – Prime Ticket (PRIME)
- Minnesota – Fox Sports North (FS-N)
| align="left" valign="top" |
- New York – MSG Network (MSG), MSG Plus (MSG+)
- Phoenix – Fox Sports Arizona (FS-A)
- San Antonio – Fox Sports Southwest (FS-SW)
- Seattle – KONG 6/16 (KONG)
- Tulsa – The Cox Channel (COX)
- Washington – CSN Mid-Atlantic (CSN-MA)
| align="left" valign="top" |
In 2009, the WNBA announced the launch of WNBA LiveAccess, a feature on WNBA.com that provides fans around the world with access to more than 200 live game webcasts throughout the WNBA season. All of the WNBA LiveAccess games are then archived for on-demand viewing. Every single game (except broadcasts on ABC, ESPN or ESPN2, which are available on ESPN3.com) is available via this system. The first use of LiveAccess was the E League versus Chicago Sky preseason game; the system worked as planned.
Prior to the 2011 season, LiveAccess was given a complete overhaul. The system became more reliable and many new features were added. Some of these include the ability to pause or rewind, picture-in-picture, quad-screen, and manually changing the bitrate.
|Year||Season||Telecasts on ESPN2||Average Viewership||+/- over Previous|
On the 2008 season opening day (May 17), ABC broadcast the Los Angeles Sparks and Phoenix Mercury matchup to showcase new rookie sensation Candace Parker. The game received a little over 1 million viewers.
All-Time franchise history
- WNBA articles
- List of WNBA seasons
- WNBA Draft
- WNBA All-Star Game
- List of WNBA All-Stars
- WNBA Playoffs
- WNBA Finals
- List of WNBA players
- List of foreign WNBA players
- List of WNBA head coaches
- List of WNBA career scoring leaders
- List of WNBA first overall draft choices
- WNBA Awards
- Best WNBA Player ESPY Award
- List of WNBA Finals broadcasters
- WNBA television partners
- NBC (1997–2002)
- Lifetime (1997–2000)
- ESPN (1997–present)
- ESPN2 (2001–present)
- Oxygen (2002–2003)
- ABC (2003–present)
- NBA TV (2006–present)
- Video games featuring WNBA players
- Other WNBA-related articles
- National Basketball Association
- List of professional sports leagues
- List of professional sports teams in the United States and Canada
- List of attendance figures at domestic professional sports leagues
- List of TV markets and major sports teams in the United States
- Major professional sports leagues in the United States and Canada
- Other North American professional women's basketball leagues
- American Basketball League
- National Women's Basketball League
- Women's American Basketball Association
- Women's Professional Basketball League
- Other North American professional women's leagues
- ↑ Comets To Cease Operations from ESPN.com
- ↑ "Shock makes move official". ESPN. October 20, 2009. http://sports.espn.go.com/wnba/news/story?id=4580057. Retrieved July 25, 2010.
- ↑ Hurley, Michael (July 1, 2011). "NBA.com gets new lockout makeover". NESN.com. http://www.nesn.com/2011/07/nbacom-gets-new-lockout-makeover-bumps-up-wnba-coverage.html. Retrieved July 17, 2011.
- ↑ "WNBA Attendance". WNBA. September 13, 2011. http://img17.imageshack.us/img17/5337/2011wnbaattendancepic.png. Retrieved September 13, 2011.
- ↑ Sandomir, Richard (April 16, 2003). "W.N.B.A., Going on 7, Has Grown-Up Labor Dispute". The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2003/04/16/sports/basketball/y16wnba.html. Retrieved May 13, 2011.
- ↑ 6.0 6.1 Evans, Jayda (July 16, 2007). "WNBA gets first TV rights fee". Seattle Times. http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/sports/2003791039_wnbanotes16.html. Retrieved May 13, 2011.
- ↑ Slam Sports - WNBA coming north?
- ↑ Porterfield, Katie (October 2008). "Getting the Ball Bouncing". Business TN. http://www.businesstn.com/content/200809/getting-ball-bouncing. Retrieved May 13, 2011.
- ↑ Klingaman, Mike (July 12, 2008). "Opinions of city's WNBA viability vary". The Baltimore Sun. http://www.baltimoresun.com/sports/basketball/bal-sp.wnba12jul12,0,2394009.story. Retrieved May 13, 2011.
- ↑ "Dispersal Draft of Sacramento Monarchs Players Set for Dec. 14". WNBA.com. December 8, 2009. http://www.wnba.com/news/monarchs_dispersal_draft_901208.html. Retrieved June 13, 2011.
- ↑ "WNBA Announces Rule Changes for 2006". WNBA.com. December 6, 2005. http://www.wnba.com/news/rulechanges_051206.html. Retrieved June 13, 2011.
- ↑ "WNBA Announces Rule Changes for 2007 Season". WNBA.com. January 30, 2007. http://www.wnba.com/news/newrules_release_070130.html. Retrieved June 13, 2011.
- ↑ "Mercury, LifeLock Break New Ground with Partnership". June 1, 2009. http://www.wnba.com/mercury/news/lifelock_release_090601.html. Retrieved June 13, 2011.
- ↑ "Boost Mobile and WNBA Form First-Ever Leaguewide Marquee Sponsorship". August 22, 2011. http://www.wnba.com/news/boost_partnership_110822.html. Retrieved August 22, 2011.
- ↑ "WNBA lands Boost Mobile as top sponsor". August 22, 2011. http://www.sportsbusinessdaily.com/Journal/Issues/2011/08/22/Marketing-and-Sponsorship/WNBA-Boost.aspx. Retrieved August 22, 2011.
- ↑ Lieber Steeg, Jill (June 12, 2007). "New owners stake claim in overhauling WNBA". USA Today. http://www.usatoday.com/sports/basketball/wnba/2007-06-11-new-owners_N.htm. Retrieved June 13, 2011.
- ↑ "NBA getting through tough times". Tvnz.co.nz. March 12, 2009. http://tvnz.co.nz/basketball-news/nba-getting-through-tough-times-2539976. Retrieved June 13, 2011.
- ↑ WomensBasketballOnline.com: WNBA Salary Scale
- ↑ Women's National Basketball Association Collective Bargaining Agreement
- ↑ WNBA Salaries
- ↑ Callahan, Kim. "Season by Season WNBA Attendance", WomensBasketballOnline.com
- ↑ http://sports.espn.go.com/wnba/news/story?id=2937330 WNBA announces deal with ESPN
- ↑ "WNBA.com to Webcast More than 200 Games During 2009 WNBA Season". WNBA.com. May 13, 2009. http://www.wnba.com/news/wnba_liveaccess_090513.html. Retrieved June 13, 2011.
- ↑ Zeigler Jr., Cyd (October 2, 2008). "WNBA Ratings up but Still Not Good". Outsports.com. http://outsports.com/jocktalkblog/2008/10/02/wnba-ratings-up-but-still-not-good/. Retrieved June 13, 2011.
- "WNBA Trading Cards". WNBA. http://www.e-tradingcards.com/. Retrieved April 15, 2008.
- "Start of Season Conference Call". WNBA. http://www.wnba.com/news/orender_call_070514.html. Retrieved May 14, 2007.
- "History of the WNBA". WNBA. http://www.wnba.com/about_us/historyof_wnba.html. Retrieved September 4, 2006.
- "Minimum NBA Salary". InsideHoops. http://www.insidehoops.com/minimum-nba-salary.shtml. Retrieved September 4, 2006.
- Heath, Thomas (July 12, 2006). "A Matter of Value". Washington Post. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/07/11/AR2006071100988.html. Retrieved July 12, 2006.
- "Salary Cap for NBA". NBA. http://aol.nba.com/news/cap_040713.html. Retrieved July 13, 2004.
- Evans, Jayda (July 16, 2007). "WNBA Gets First Rights Fee". The Seattle Times. http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/sports/2003791039_wnbanotes16.html. Retrieved July 16, 2007.
- Official WNBA website
- WNBA statistics at Basketball-Reference.com
- Women's Basketball Online's WNBA section
- WNBA driving toward profit
- WNBA official 2006 rule changes
- WNBA introduced the Sixth Woman of the Year award
- Atlanta announces Team Name
- Professional basketball research
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