By Dennis J. Freeman
The WNBA has had its share of naysayers and doomsday predictors for the last 15 years. Fifteen years after being formed the WNBA is still alive. The league is still thriving.
It is thriving because of its association with the NBA, its over-the-top marketing and promotions and its ability to attract top-tier talent that is drawing in more than the regular basketball geek to women’s professional basketball.
It doesn’t hurt when the 24/7 hype machine called the media also has assisted in the marketing of the WNBA that has effectively promoted its product to the general population. That is a good thing. The WNBA and its players are not revered as the NBA and its high-flying dunk shows.
And to a level, the acceptance of women in sports, especially in areas where men have always dominated public affection and viewership such as basketball, is still in its warm up stage. The fact that some of the WNBA’s teams cannot even fill half of their building’s seating capacity illustrates this point.
This, however, speaks more to the public’s reluctance to embrace forking down money to come out and supporting women play professional basketball than it does with the product itself. By itself the WNBA is in great shape when it comes to the players on the court. There is much to enjoy about the WNBA and its players.
Collegian stalwart and current Minnesota Lynx’s star Maya Moore has generated a lot of buzz with her play and could very well become the new face of the WNBA. But for now that platform belong to Candace Parker of the Los Angeles Sparks. When she left the University of Tennessee, Parkers was the dream player every general manager in the league wanted.
She was also what the league needed when she came on the scene in 2008 as WNBA legend Lisa Leslie ran around on her last legs. The league needed a well-placed marketing injection in its public relations lifeline.
Parker entrance into the WNBA gave the league what it needed. Supremely gifted as a basketball player, Parker became an instant hit with her impeccable hoops’ skills and runway model good-looks.
But Parker isn’t the first star the league has ever had. Sparks’ teammate Tina Thompson, the highest scoring player in league history, was the first player chosen in a WNBA draft when she was selected No.1 by the Houston Comets in 1997.
Penny Toler, the Sparks’ general manger, actually scored the first two points in league history when she found her way to the basket for a layup in a game against the New York Liberty at the Great Western Forum that same year.
Like any other sport, the WNBA has had more than its share of talented athletes on center stage. The super duo of Cynthia Cooper and Sheryl Swoopes guided the Houston Comets to four WNBA titles. Alternately, both Cooper and Swoopes have been considered to be the top player in league history.
Then there is the dynamic Sue Bird and the dominating inside force better known as Lisa Leslie, the first woman to dunk in a game. Today, players like Diana Taurasi and Yolanda Griffith make the headlines.
But players like three-time WNBA MVP Lauren Jackson and four-time WNBA Defensive Player of the Year Tamika Catchings laid the foundation for the current crop of league stars to succeed.
The WNBA has transformed in many ways since it was formed in 1996. Since then the league has seen the first African American woman (Sheila Johnson, co-founder of BET, Washington Mystics) become owner a franchise and now is being led by a black woman (Laura Richie, president).
The transformation of the league is still evolving. The WNBA has succeeded this long because it is a league not afraid of change and evolution.