WNBA Turns 20

This year marks the 20th landmark of the WNBA. The depth of talent and quality of play among the league has built a great deal of anticipation for the monumental season ahead.

Rewind 20 years ago, on April, 24, 1996, the NBA Board of Governors approved the creation of their female counterpart, WNBA, with the campaign “We Got Next!.”  Rebecca Lobo, Lisa Leslie, and Sheryl Swoopes were in attendance at the press conference to welcome the birth of the professional women’s league.

Lobo, Leslie, and Swoopes went on to represent USA for the Women’s National Basketball Team at the 1996 Summer Olympic Games and brought home the gold medal.  This achievement launched the beginning of many milestones for the League.

Sheryl Swoopes, Rebecca Lobo, and Lisa Leslie introduce WNBA leaguge. AP Photo/Bill Kostroun

Sheryl Swoopes, Rebecca Lobo, and Lisa Leslie introduce WNBA leaguge. AP Photo/Bill Kostroun

The inaugural WNBA season tipped off June 21, 1997 in Los Angeles where the Sparks faced New York Liberty.  It was nationally televised on NBC.  Liberty defeated Sparks, 67-57. 

Players like Lisa Leslie, Cynthia Cooper, and Teresa Witherspoon instilled hope and made it known that women can sustain a professional league.  These pioneers paved the way for generations ahead and helped produce the current powerhouse of elite athletes such as Maya Moore, Candace Parker, Diana Taurasi, Tamika Catchings, Tina Charles, Brittney Griner, Cappie Pondexter, Elena Delle Donne, Nneka Ogwumike, Breanna Stewart and so many more!

#WatchMeWork

#WatchMeWork

To capture the generational influence, this year, the WNBA introduced the #WatchMeWork ad campaign, where current players showcase their intense workout routines in preparation of the season ahead as well as their pursuit to win the gold medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics. 

“This campaign is really about the current-day player, and their passion, and skill, and intensity for the game, and how they got that from the inspiration that they received from the great players of the past,” said Pam El, Executive Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer at the NBA.  “We really want to remind fans of how special this season is,” continued El.

There are many special moments that will take place during WNBA’s 20th birthday.  The top 5 milestones are captured below.

@@Learn about WNBA’s #WatchMeWork campaign which pays tribute to 20 years of WNBA.@@

1.  New President

WNBA President, Lisa Borders. Photo/WNBA

WNBA President, Lisa Borders. Photo/WNBA

Lisa Borders becomes the fourth president of the league.  A piece of constructive criticism she received within her first 60 days relates to players’ concerns about how they are marketed by the league.  Part of Borders’ mission is to bring more attraction to the league.  As a solution to players’ concerns, she wants to make sure fans build personal connections with athletes.

“What we will do is start with social media.  We’ve invited our players to reach back to their undergraduate programs or their home country if they are international.  We’ve never done that before… We will start at an organic level. The folk that actually play the game know it the best,” said Borders.

During the next phase of her term, Day 61 and beyond, she will visit each franchise to learn as much information as possible from franchise owners, players, and even fans.  Once she learns the nuances from every level, she plans to build the future of WNBA collaboratively with all stakeholders.

“This is also a business– that is not all it is– but it is a business at its very core.  And if you step back and look at the business strategically, we have opportunities to grow the business, the top-line revenue, which comes from television ratings, attendance, sponsorships, merchandise sales.  We need to drive the top line. That would be true for any business, not just the WNBA,” said Borders.

It’s special that Borders understands the business element in addition to the importance of recognizing and valuing fans– as she is a WNBA fanatic herself.  It is not common to see a President of an organization taking time to snap selfies and have quick conversations with fans.

Lisa brings a lot of infectious energy and enthusiasm to the league.  She was influential in expanding the WNBA to Atlanta, in 2008, when she served as Vice Mayer of Atlanta and President of the City Council.

Borders brings a well-rounded realm of experience from government relations, operations, public service, and marketing.

Lisa Borders fist-bumps second overall pick Moriah Jefferson during WNBA Draft. The Day/Sean D. Elliot

Lisa Borders fist-bumps second overall pick Moriah Jefferson during WNBA Draft. The Day/Sean D. Elliot

Recently, she was the Chair of The Coca-Cola Foundation and Vice President of Global Community Affairs at The Coca-Cola company.

She currently serves as a member of Duke University’s Board of Trustees.  While serving on the Board, she developed a relationship with NBA Commissioner, Adam Silver, who was a big influence and suggested she apply to be the president.

“I have always been a staunch supporter of this league and its tremendous athletes.  I am impressed by their talent and inspired by their passion.  The athleticism of the game and the sportsmanship exhibited between teams offers clear evidence of our ability to grow women’s basketball,” said Borders.

Start looking out for President Borders to continue taking big strides to heighten more awareness of and drive in more revenue for the league.

“We are 20 years old, which is remarkable by any standard,” continued Borders.  “But we are just getting started. We’re young and nimble.”

@@Learn what new WNBA President, Lisa Borders, has planned as she takes office.@@

2.  Changes in Rules and Playoff Structure

With efforts to increase the speed and intensity of the game,  the WNBA Board of Governers approved the following rules:

–  24-second shot clock will reset to 14 seconds after an offensive rebound.

The 14-second shot clock reset is already established with several leagues overseas.  The  majority of WNBA players should be able to easily adjust to the format.

–  Regular season will feature a better balanced conference play and more cross-conference play.

For in-conference play, the breakdown will be selected at random each year to ensure a fair balance.

For cross-conference play, every team will face each other three times and the home/away court advantage will alternate annually.

Forward, Swin Cash. Photo/ Gemini Keez

Forward, Swin Cash. Photo/ Gemini Keez

2.  Changes in Rules and Playoff Structure

With efforts to increase the speed and intensity of the game,  the WNBA Board of Governers approved the following rules:

–  24-second shot clock will reset to 14 seconds after an offensive rebound.

The 14-second shot clock reset is already established with several leagues overseas.  The  majority of WNBA players should be able to easily adjust to the format.

–  Regular season will feature a better balanced conference play and more cross-conference play.

For in-conference play, the breakdown will be selected at random each year to ensure a fair balance.

For cross-conference play, every team will face each other three times and the home/away court advantage will alternate annually.

– Regardless of conference, the eight  teams with the highest win percentages will advance to playoffs. They will be seeded based on their records.

The number of playoff rounds increases from three to four.  The top two seeds receive a bye to the semifinals (third round), and the third and fourth seeds receive a bye to the second round.

The first and second rounds are single elimination and  the semifinals feature a best-of-five format.

The WNBA Finals remain best-of-five and follow the same 2-2-1 format.

–  Certain rules will take effect at the two minute mark instead of one minute, including instant-replay reviews of a made two- or three-point shot in the last two minutes of the fourth quarter or last two minutes of any overtime period.

Also, if a team has committed three or fewer team fouls during the first eight minutes of any regulation period, or two or fewer team fouls during the first three minutes of any overtime period, the team will be penalized beginning with the second team foul in the last two minutes.

(See WNBA website for details on regular season and playoff rule changes)

In addition to the rule changes, for the first time ever, ESPN networks will televise the entire postseason including the WNBA Finals.  This television deal will amplify exposure of the league during the most competitive moment of the season.

@@ Learn about new rules taking effect in WNBA’s 20th season. #WNBA20 @@

3.  Expansion to Larger  Community

Skylar Diggins and Odyssey Sims in new Dallas Wings uniform. Photo/Mavs Money Ball

Skylar Diggins and Odyssey Sims in new Dallas Wings uniform. Photo/Mavs Money Ball

Tulsa Shock, formerly known as Detroit Shock, grew some wings and moved their franchise from Tulsa, Oklahoma to Arlington, Texas.  This move dubbed a new name for the team, Dallas Wings.

Now a member of the Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington metro area, the Wings are welcomed by a much more populous community with approximately 7.1 million residents (according to July 2015 census data.)

Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington is the 4th largest metropolitan area in the United States. Their former home’s location, Tulsa, has a population of 937,528.

Point guard, Odyssey Sims. The Dallas Morning News/G.J. McCarthy

Point guard, Odyssey Sims. The Dallas Morning News/G.J. McCarthy

Odyseey Simms, point guard of Dallas Wings, returns to her backyard to greet the large community.  The Irving, Texas native and Baylor alum said the following, “I’m going to have jitters, going to be nervous just from playing in front of my friends and family, Baylor as well, and I’m definitely looking forward to it.”

As part of efforts to build a larger fan base, WNBA has teams representing the top four metropolitan areas amassing to approximately 18,979,720 TV homes (according to Neilson global information and measurement company.)

The following teams, ordered by population, are New York Liberty, Los Angeles Sparks, Chicago Sky, and newly minted Dallas Wings.  Houston is the 5th most populated metro area however the Houston Comets were disbanded by the league in 2008.

@@ WNBA has a new home in Texas. Can you guess which city? @@

4.  Veteran Presence

Diana Taurasi, Brittney Griner, and Penny Taylor. Getty Images/ Barry Gossage

Diana Taurasi, Brittney Griner, and Penny Taylor. Getty Images/ Barry Gossage

Diana Taurasi returns to the WNBA after taking the season off last year to play in Russia with UMMC Ekaterinburg.  The 11 year veteran guard has a career average of 20.2 ppg and 4.3 apg.  Her backcourt presence automatically puts Brittney Griner and Phoenix Mercury into championship contention.

In addition, Penny Taylor, returns to Mercury after sitting out the 2015 season for personal reasons following the loss of her father.  Taylor is a 12 year veteran forward averaging 13 ppg and 4.4 rbg.  Both Tauarsi and Taylor are on the hunt for their 4th WNBA title.

@@ Diana Taurasi and Penny Taylor return to WNBA. Do these additions make Mercury a Championship…@@

Tamika Catchings graces the hardwood for one last season as she announced that she will retire at the end of the year.

Last season, Catchings pushed the Indiana Fever into the WNBA Finals after coming back from what looked like a promising series win for Liberty, 2-1 in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Catchings faced Moore and the Minnesota Lynx in the WNBA Finals where she helped force a Game 5 but fell short of a championship.

Catchings, a 15 year veteran forward, averaged 16.4 ppg and 7.4 rpg.  She is a 10x WNBA All-Star, 5x WNBA Defensive Player of the Year, 3x Olympic Gold Medalist, 2x Kim Perrot Sportsmanship Award recipient, WNBA Champion, and Rookie of  the Year, to name a “few.”  The lists of her accolades are endless.

@@ Check out some of of Tamika Catchings’ accolades as she retires from the hardwood in 2016. #WNBA20 @@

Catchings will close out her basketball career as the tri-captain of Team USA at the 2016 Olympics.  She will be the oldest U.S. women’s player to participate in the Olympics when she turns 37 in July.

Ironically, she began her international career in Brazil (where the 2016 Olympics are held) as a member of team USA for the under-19 World Championship.  Her team was the first to win a medal for a USA team at a Junior World Championship.

Women's basketball team members Elena Delle Donne (L-R), Tamika Catchings, Candace Parker, and Sue Bird prepare to pose for a portrait at the U.S. Olympic Committee Media Summit in Beverly Hills, Los Angeles, California March 9, 2016. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

Women's basketball team members Elena Delle Donne (L-R), Tamika Catchings, Candace Parker, and Sue Bird prepare to pose for a portrait at the U.S. Olympic Committee Media Summit in Beverly Hills, Los Angeles, California March 9, 2016. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

Catching’s passion, diligent work ethic, and strong skill set are a rare combination to find on the court.

5.  Quest to Reach Record, Sixth-Sriaght Olympic Gold

Team USA Women’s Basketball Team at London Olympics in 2012. Getty Images/Christian Petersen

Team USA Women’s Basketball Team at London Olympics in 2012. Getty Images/Christian Petersen

12 of the most elite WNBA players were selected to represent Team USA in the Rio Olympics held in Rio de Janeiro Brazil this summer, August 5-21.

This team has a lot of experience playing at this level and will be led by three-time gold medalists and tri-captains Sue Bird, Tamika Catchings, and Diana Taurasi.

2016 U.S. Olympic Women’s Basketball Team

G/F Seimone Augustus, Minnesota Lynx

G Sue Bird, Seattle Storm

F Tamika Catchings, Indiana Fever

C Tina Charles, New York Liberty

G/F Elena Delle Donne, Chicago Sky

C Sylvia Fowles, Minnesota Lynx

C Brittney Griner, Phoenix Mercury

G/F Angel McCoughtry, Atlanta Dream

F Maya Moore, Minnesota Lynx

F/C Breanna Stewart, Seattle Storm

G Diana Taurasi, Phoenix Mercury

G Lindsay Whalen, Minnesota Lynx

HC: Geno Auriemma, University of Connecticut

AC: Doug Bruno, DePaul University

AC: Cheryl Reeve, Minnesota Lynx

AC: Dawn Staley, University of South Carolina

You do not want to miss out on the fun-filled and competitive season ahead.  Check out WNBA schedule to stay in the loop with your favorite team.

Be sure to use hashtags #WNBA20 and #WatchMeWork in recognition of WNBA’s 20th birthday!