In celebration of Women’s History Month, ZUNews will look back at the pioneering women in the sports world.
As we celebrate Women’s History Month, we will look back through the years at some of the WNBA’s pioneering women who paved the way for women to succeed on the court and left lasting legacies off the court.
1st Team All WNBA
Point Guard: Sue Bird (2002-present)
Sue Bird is one of the most decorated players in basketball history — regardless of gender. In her 18 season career, no other WNBA player has played more minutes or games. That span includes 11 All-Star selections, eight All-WNBA selections and three championships, all with the Seattle Storm — joining Tim Duncan and John Salley as the only players in basketball history to win a championship in three different decades. Bird is also the second oldest player to win a WNBA Championship. Bird is the league’s all-time assists leader, while also ranking among the top 10 in points and steals.
Off the court, Bird had become a prevalent voice in the LGBTQ community after publicly coming out as gay in 2017. Bird is very open about her now-public relationship with U.S. National Soccer Team star Megan Rapinoe, recently appearing on GQ’s Modern Lovers issue. She was one of the driving forces in influencing the Vote Warnock movement, as the WNBA players urged voters to vote out Atlanta Dream owner Kelly Loeffler after Loeffler questioned the league’s support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Shooting Guard: Cynthia Cooper (1997-2002)
In many ways, basketball fans were robbed when it came to Cynthia Cooper’s greatness — but she accomplished more in five seasons than most players have in their entire careers. Cooper was 34 years old when the league launched in 1997, but she dominated for the five years she played before retirement. In that time, Cooper led the now-defunct Houston Comets to four consecutive championships and was named WNBA Finals MVP four times. She was also a two-time league MVP, earning that honor in each of the WNBA’s first two seasons.
Cooper’s legacy did not stop on the court. She took her basketball brilliance to the sidelines, leading the University of Southern California Women’s Basketball team to the Pac-12 Tournament championship and a berth in the NCAA Tournament. Cooper left USC in 2017 and began coaching at Texas Southern in 2019, leading TSU to a successful 19-10 overall record in her first season. Cooper was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2009.
Small Forward: Dianna Taurasi (2004-present)
There aren’t enough words to say about the G.O.A.T.
In terms of pure numbers, Diana Taurasi is one of the greatest basketball players to ever lace up. She’s a three-time champion who has averaged 19.6 points per game in a career that has lasted 17 seasons so far. No player in the league has come close to scoring more points than her, with Taurasi outpacing second place by more than 1,000 points. The 13-time All-WNBA selection has an offensive style that simply can’t be stopped, giving her by far the best scoring average of any player, which stands above 430 at this point.
More so, she is known for her killer instinct, being donned the “White Mamba” by the “Black Mamba,” Kobe Bryant. Taurasi has dazzled fans with clutch performances for the entirety of her career.
Power Foward: Tina Thompson (1997-2013)
In terms of longevity, nobody can touch Tina Thompson. She was a leading force on the legendary Comets teams that won the first four consecutive WNBA titles after the league started in 1997. She went on to continue her tear in the league for 17 seasons before retiring with a ton of records to her name.
The nine-time All-Star and eight-time All-WNBA selection is the second leading scorer in league history and is one of only three players to have scored at least 7,000 points. She ranks sixth in career rebounds, fifth in win shares and second in minutes played.
After her playing career, Thompson joined Texas Women’s Basketball as an assistant coach before taking the big seat as Virginia University’s head coach. Thompson was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2019.
Center: Lisa Leslie (1997-2009)
Lisa Leslie was a charter member of the WNBA in 1997 and players today are still trying to match the game she executed each night on the court. She was remarkably mobile for her towering height of 6 feet 5 inches and used that to wreck defenders on a nightly basis.
Leslie was the first player to ever dunk in a WNBA game, forever changing how many casual fans viewed women’s basketball. She might have had the single most dominant game in league history in 2004, when she finished the night with 29 points, 15 rebounds and 10 blocks.
A three-time WNBA MVP, two-time champion and 12-time All-WNBA selection, Leslie was arguably the league’s first household name. She still ranks in the top five for career rebounds and blocks and seventh in career points, despite being out of the game for more than a decade. Leslie was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2015.
2nd Team All WNBA
Point Guard: Ticha Penicheiro (1998-2003)
The 2019 Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame inductee, Penicheiro ranks second in WNBA history with 2,599 assists and 764 steals. The four-time All-Star guard played 15 years in the league, most of which came with the Sacramento Monarchs. She helped that club win a championship in 2005 and was the WNBA’s assist leader in her first six seasons.
Shooting Guard: Becky Hammon (1999-2014)
Hammon certainly left her mark in the WNBA after 16 seasons. The six-time All-Star is the league’s all-time leader with an 89.7 free-throw percentage. She also ranks among the top 10 in all-time scoring (5,841), assists (1,708) and three-point percentage (37.8).
Hammon then broke new ground with the NBA in 2014 when she was hired by the San Antonio Spurs as the first full-time female assistant coach, also serving as the team’s head coach in 2021 for a game.
Small Forward: Maya Moore (2011-present)
Sports Illustrated has called Maya Moore the greatest winner in women’s basketball history, and it’s very hard to argue against that claim. With championships at the NCAA, Olympic and international level, Moore already had enough trophies to fill a couple of rooms, but with her WNBA hardware, her winning resume has become unmatched. From 2011-17, she led the Minnesota Lynx to four championships and was named league MVP in 2014. They made the playoffs in all eight seasons she’s played so far, and Moore was named to the All-WNBA squad in seven of them.
Then, in 2018, she stunned the league by walking away and taking an indefinite sabbatical to focus on issues like criminal justice reform. WNBA fans are no doubt hoping they’ll get to see this brilliant player take the court again and continue to carve her on-court legacy.
Power Foward: Candace Parker (2008-present)
The heir apparent to Lisa Leslie’s style of dominant WNBA ball, Candace Parker was drafted first overall by the Los Angeles Sparks in 2008 and they’ve never let her go. The 6-foot-4-inch center joins Leslie as the only two players in WNBA history to record a triple-double, a slam dunk and a 20-point, 20-rebound night in a career.
Parker led the Sparks to a championship in 2016, where she was also named WNBA Finals MVP. She has also been awarded the league MVP twice, and in her 12 seasons of play she’s been an All-WNBA pick eight times.
Center: Lauren Jackson (2001-2012)
The 2020 class of the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame will include this 6-foot-5-inch powerhouse who is arguably the best international player in WNBA history. Jackson has made plenty of basketball history in her native Australia as well as in America, including being a three-time WNBA MVP and a two-time champion with the Seattle Storm, where she spent her entire career.
In 12 seasons, Jackson was an eight-time All-WNBA pick, a seven-time All-Star and a five-time All-Defensive selection, giving her as many accolades as anyone who’s ever suited up. Her career averages of 18.9 points and 7.7 rebounds per game show how valuable she was, but her advanced statistics make her case even better as Jackson ranks second in career win shares and third in player efficiency.
3rd Team All WNBA
Point Guard: Dawn Staley (1999-2006)
One of the best point guards in the history of women’s basketball, Staley has parlayed a great playing career into a stellar one due to her time as a coach. She was a six-time WNBA All-Star and ranks among the top 15 all-time in assists. However, it was Staley’s strength as a leader, on and off the court, that made her valuable with both Charlotte and Houston over eight seasons in the league.
Staley took her talents to the sidelines, building a collegiate basketball dynasty as the head coach of the South Carolina Gamecocks. During her tenure, the Gamecocks have won an NCAA National Championship and appeared in nine March Madness tournaments.
Shooting Guard: Sheryl Swoopes (1997-2011)
Another one of the greatest players in women’s basketball history is Swoopes. She might also t be the most complete player in league history. In addition to being a six-time All-Star, Swoopes won the WNBA Defensive Player of the Year Award in 2000, ’02 and ’03. A career 15-point scorer, the Hall of Famer helped Houston win the league’s first four championships.
Swoopes was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2016.
Small Forward: Tamika Catchings (2002-2016)
Indiana Fever icon Tamika Catchings is joining the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in 2020, and it was an easy call for the voting committee. After all, the former league MVP was named to an incredible 12 All-WNBA and All-Defensive squads in her 15-season career.
She ranks in the top five of many important all-time career stats, including points, playoff points, rebounds, minutes and player efficiency rating. Catchings is also the greatest thief in WNBA history by far, being the only player to ever record at least 1,000 steals and forcing 300 more of them than number two. The 2012 WNBA champion also easily tops the all-time list for win shares, showing how valuable she was to her Fever teams.
Power Foward: Swin Cash (2002-2016)
While Cash was a four-time WNBA All-Star and the MVP of that game twice, perhaps her biggest asset came as a leader. In her 15-year career, Cash won three WNBA titles with two different teams. Two of those came with Detroit. Cash, who ranks in the top 20 in career scoring and rebounding, is currently the director of franchise development for the New York Liberty.
Center: Yolanda Griffith (1999-2009)
It’s hard to find a better defensive post player in the history of the WNBA. The league’s MVP and Defensive Player of the Year in 1999 with Sacramento, Griffith averaged 13.6 points, 7.9 rebounds and one block per game during an 11-year career that featured eight All-Star selections and a championship with the Monarchs in 2005 — when she was also the Finals MVP. Griffith was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2014.