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Become a WNBA Fan: The 10 Step Starter Kit

ByDani Bar-Lavi|@dblfluidity| May 8, 2021
how-to-become-a-wnba-fan

So, you’re ready to become a WNBA fan, but you’re not quite sure how or where to jump in? Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered with a definitive guide to everything you need to know to get started. There are tons of ways to find a narrative to latch onto — no matter whether you’re a lover or a hater.

So today, we’ll take you through the best ways to pick your favorite player or favorite team to follow. We’ll also reveal some of the biggest rivalries so you know which games you have to watch. And we’ll share some inspiring underdogs to root for, if that’s more your cup of tea. In addition, we’ll let you know what to look forward to during each part of the year, including free agency in the beginning and finals at the end.

From learning about some of the WNBA’s most iconic couples, to finding the best places to stay up to date on WNBA news, we’ll equip you for seasons of fun. Let’s get after it!

Here’s how to become a WNBA fan

Use our simple step-by-step guide to jump right into the league. We’ll begin with how to pick a team to cheer for, and end with what you’ve got to wear while you do it!

1. Pick a WNBA team

The first, and possibly most important step, to beginning your WNBA fandom is to pick  your favorite team. While it’s most common to pick your local team, the team you’re in market for, this isn’t always possible considering there are only 12 WNBA teams, and thus only 12 cities with WNBA teams. So what are some great other ways to pick a team, if you don’t live in a WNBA city? 

Of course, you could just pick the nearest team geographically; or a team from a city that you used to live in. Or maybe you want to hop on a bandwagon (no judgement), like for the reigning (and four-time) champion Seattle Storm or the other four-time champion Minnesota Lynx. Another alternative is to cheer on teams as they make their come back from lower rankings over the last few years, such as Indiana Fever, New York Liberty, and Dallas Wings.

Another great option is to find a favorite player to anchor your fandom in, and root for the team they play for. And overall, don’t feel rushed, you’re allowed to just be a fan of the league at first until a team (or even more than one team) grabs your attention! However you go about picking your favorite team, we at Queen Ballers Club have you covered with our guide to the WNBA’s 12 teams.

2. Pick a player

Nowadays, it’s more and more common for fans to pick a favorite player to support over a favorite team, following that player from franchise to franchise if they move. Even with fans who do claim loyalty to a team, it’s fun to have players in particular, both on your team and in the rest of the league, that you root for. But how do you pick a favorite player?

Do you want to root for some of the biggest names in the league? Then you should look at some of the latest and greatest players to win the league’s top honor. Luckily, we have you covered with this guide to MVP awards. The guide covers everything from the history of the award itself, to trends in who tends to win the MVP, to some descriptions of players who have won the MVP most recently, and most often. 

You can also check out some of the great profiles of players who have won the award, such as reigning MVP A’ja Wilson, Breanna Stewart, Nneka Ogwumike, Candace Parker, and Diana Taurasi

But maybe you’re all about the offensive end, and looking to find a favorite player who’s a highlight machine, a walking bucket. Offensive dynamos can be some of the most exciting players to watch, whether they get their buckets using their athleticism, ball handling skills, shooting, or a combination of all three. If you’re looking to invest in an elite offensive weapon, check out the guide to the WNBA’s top scorers, both in league history and today! 

Another approach to picking a favorite player to follow is to find a promising young player you really respond to and follow their development as you continue to follow the league. If you’re looking for a younger WNBA player to follow, check out our guide to the WNBA Rookie of the Year award, which includes statistical breakdowns of the last few winners of the award. You can also check out our profiles of some great players under 25, like Chennedy Carter, Sabrina Ionescu, Tyasha Harris, Arike Ogunbowale, Diamond DeShields, Satou Sabally, and Jordin Canada.

Maybe, however, you’re looking to get to know players as people before deciding who your favorite player is. WNBA players are so much more than athletes. Maybe your path into WNBA fandom is by discovering who they are off the court, before rooting for them on the court.

If you want to find out what you have in common with some of the biggest stars in the WNBA, check out our piece on WNBA players’ favorite hobbies to get started! Another fun resource on learning more about players is the Downlow Database. Finally, follow some WNBA players on Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, and other social media, in order to get a fuller picture of who they are. 

3. Pick a rivalry

But maybe picking a favorite player and team isn’t enough for you. Maybe you love drama and conflict, you wake up every day and choose violence. If this sounds like you, your way into WNBA fandom might be through one of the league’s fiercest rivalries. Here are just a couple to get you started:

Chicago Sky vs. Las Vegas Aces

If you ever want to see a Chicago Sky fan’s eyes go red with rage, you need only to speak two simple words: “Hamby Heave.” The titular ‘heave’ refers to a circus shot taken by Las Vegas Aces forward Dearica Hamby in the last 10 seconds of the win-or-go-home quarterfinals match-up between the Sky and Aces in the 2019 playoffs:

With the Aces down two and the shot clock winding down, Dearica was able to pluck off a pass from Courtney Vandersloot. With 7.5 seconds left on the clock, Dearica Hamby heaved (there’s really no better word for that shot motion) the ball at the basket, probably thinking the game clock was closer to expiring than it was. In one of the greatest “no, no, yes!” moments in basketball history, Dearica’s shot went in, ultimately clinching the Aces’ comeback and sending the Sky home. This unlikely shot was fate altering for both the Aces and Sky franchises, and serves as the starting point for one of the greatest rivalries in the WNBA.

The Sky-Aces rivalry only figures to grow even more heated, too. Both franchises head into the 2021 season as favorites to make the Finals, or to win the Championship, having brought in some big names in free agency. The juiciest part, of course, is that the Aces’ and Sky’s biggest free agent acquisitions, Candace Parker and Chelsea Gray played together as recently as just last season for the Sparks. Between their history, and the history that these two surging squads have with each other, this rivalry figures to be a narrative to watch this season. 

Minnesota Lynx vs Los Angeles Sparks

The Minnesota Lynx and Los Angeles Sparks are two of the most accomplished franchises in the WNBA, with the Lynx boasting four championships and the Sparks just behind them with three titles. While both being among the league’s elite isn’t quite enough to form the foundation of a rivalry, the fact that each team got one title against the other is.

The Sparks and Lynx met in back to back WNBA Finals in 2016 and 2017, and both series went all the way to five games. These Lynx and Sparks teams were two of the most star studded, iconic teams of the 2010s; the Lynx lead by Maya Moore, Seimone Augustus, Lindsey Whalen, Rebekkah Brunson, and Sylvia Fowles, and the Sparks lead by their big three of Candace Parker, Chelsea Gray, and Nneka Ogwumike. The Sparks came out on top in the first of these Finals in 2016, whereas the Lynx took the championship after their second meeting in 2017.

While both of these teams’ rosters look very different only 4 seasons later-only Nneka and Sylvia remain in LA and Minnesota of these cores after this off-season-the memory of these match-ups are still very fresh in both fan bases. Could we see a resurgence in this rivalry some time in the 2020s? 

4. Pick an underdog

Do you always root for the little guy, the underdog? To be real, the WNBA is a league just filled with underdogs. You could argue that every single player in the WNBA is an underdog, succeeding in stride in the face of gender, and often racial, bias. Here are some of the under-doggiest of the underdogs, the players in the W who have gone from being close to out of the league, to making headlines.

Erica Wheeler: Undrafted to All-Star MVP

Current Los Angeles Sparks guard Erica Wheeler went undrafted out of Rutgers in 2013, and played for a couple of teams in Europe before finally landing with the Dream in 2015. Erica played a solid rotation role for Atlanta, and she was cut part way into the season. “It broke me deeper than anything,” Erica told the Undefeated’s Sean Hurd, “It made me question my basketball career.”

But Erica Wheeler persevered, finishing the 2015 season with the New York Liberty before finding her first long-term WNBA home in Indiana the following season. Moving between the starting line-up and a sixth woman role, she stuck with the Fever, and established herself as a scoring, playmaking, and defensive triple threat at the guard position. 

Erica’s career in Indiana culminated in her All-Star campaign in 2019, having joined the All-Star rosters replacing then-Los Angeles Sparks guard Chelsea Gray, who was injured. Erica way exceeded expectations in the 2019 All-Star Game, scoring 25 points in only 18 minutes off the bench on the way to becoming the first undrafted player to be named All-Star MVP in WNBA. 

Betnijah Laney: Cut from the roster to most improved player in just 22 games

Just a few weeks ahead of the 2020 ‘Wubble’ season, 4 year WNBA vet Betnijah Laney was released from the Indiana Fever to clear room for Stephanie Mavunga. Betnijah, drafted in the second round, was no stranger to working hard and competing to make a WNBA roster.  Already in the process of quarantining to join the league in Bradenton, Betnijah entered free agency, and was able to join the Atlanta Dream before training camp. 

“That situation kind of fueled me, just not wanting to be in that situation again,” Betnijah told ESPN’s Mechelle Voepel, referencing being cut by Indiana. And it’s pretty safe to say at this point, Betnijah Laney will never find herself facing the cutting room floor again. Betnijah turned her motivation into hard work, earning the starting role for the Atlanta Dream and becoming one of the team’s stars, averaging 17.2 points, 4.9 rebounds, and 4.0 assists in 2020.

Betnijah was one of the Wubble’s biggest breakouts, and was named the season’s Most Improved Player, along with being given All-Defensive Team honors. Now, Betnijah figures to be one of the biggest contributors on a revitalized New York Liberty squad, earning a top contract of around $190k a year. What a turnaround!

5. Follow the love

One of the many things that make the WNBA unique is how many examples we have of teammates being partners in life as well as on the floor. The league features some of the cutest couples in pro sports! We’ve assembled some information on just a few of those couples here, but for more in depth coverage on all things WNBA couples, give a follow to Britni de la Cretaz on Twitter, and read their guide to their Favorite Couples in the WNBA Wubble.

Courtney Vandersloot and Allie Quigley

The “Vanderquigs” are perhaps the quintessential WNBA power couple. Aside from being adorable together, these basketball wives form one of the most elite backcourts in the league for the Chicago Sky, complementing each other on the court as well as they complement each other in life. Many don’t know, however, that Courtney and Allie first met as rivals.

Back in 2013, when both were playing overseas in Slovakia, the two went head to head as their squads, Kosice and Ruzomberok, faced off. As they played against each other, they knew that the following summer they would be competing for playing time in training camp for the Sky, where Allie had just signed a deal. Scouting the competition turned to getting to know each other as Allie and Courtney flew home to the States together to join the Sky. The two started dating shortly thereafter, and the rest is history.

Alyssa Thomas and DeWanna Bonner

Connecticut Sun teammates Alyssa Thomas and DeWanna Bonner are one of the WNBA’s newer couples, with the pair having gone public with their relationship only this past Valentine’s Day.

In between AT’s recovery from a recent Achilles surgery, and DeWanna Bonner playing with Hungarian club KSC Szekszard, the two have taken time to get to know each other as partners over the off-season. And they’ve shared that journey with their fans, posting photos of their cute date nights, like this one, where they both took a pottery class for the first time!

Diana Taurasi and Penny Taylor

Diana Taurasi and Penny Taylor are one of the classic WNBA teammate-couples, with the pair having been together since 2009, after having been teammates on the Phoenix Mercury for half a decade. The pair married just after Penny retired, literally a day before Diana and the Mercury’s first game of the 2017 season.

As players, the pair won three championships together for the Mercury after arriving to the team the same year (Diana Taurasi the first pick in the 2004 draft, Penny Taylor coming through the dispersal draft after the Cleveland Rockers dissolved.) But Diana tells ESPN’s Mechelle Voepel her wife has helped her “more on the personal side…at the end of the day, we both found something in each other that made us each a better person, a better teammate. And you don’t get to find a lot of people like that in life.”

6. Scoop the news to become a WNBA fan

One of the best ways to deepen and expand your love of basketball is to follow the news and debates that surround the WNBA, by getting the scoop from blogs and podcasts. From the latest news about the league and its players, to in-depth analysis that helps you form your own opinions and hot takes, sites like Winsidr and The Next Hoops are a must-read for any WNBA fan. For a more in-depth look at these sites and many others in the WNBA space, check out our guide to WNBA blogs here! Or if listening is more your thing, check out our guide to WNBA podcasts.

7. Follow free agency fun

One of the most exciting (and at times frustrating) parts of following any professional sport is watching some of the league’s biggest names shift around the league during free agency, and nowhere is this truer than in the WNBA. The WNBA’s newest collective bargaining agreement (or CBA) has “set the wheels in motion for players to move to new teams” at an exciting rate, and this past free agency proved it. With exciting, league-altering deals like Candace Parker’s homecoming to the Chicago Sky, or the sign-and-trade that sent Natasha Howard to the New York Liberty, the 2021 WNBA free agency has set the tone for future off-seasons: dynamic, impactful, and engaging. 

If you want to stay abreast of all the latest news during free agency (and the season!) here are some of the WNBA’s top newsbreakers. Make sure to follow and turn notifications on!

8. Watch the draft

One of the most exciting nights in the WNBA is of course, the WNBA Draft. This year’s draft was no exception, riddled with surprises with players rising and falling dramatically against predictions, and every WNBA journalist tearing up and burning their mock drafts.

The first two picks from the Dallas Wings went as expected, with the team selecting Texas’ Charli Collier and Awak Kuier from Finland. And then, Aari McDonald, whose draft stock had exploded after leading Arizona to the Atlanta Dream. But after that? Chaos, with many projected lottery picks such as Dana Evans, Destiny Slocum, and Arella Guirantes falling to the second round. 

If you want to be prepared for next year’s draft, here’s what you need to know. The draft is made up of three rounds of 12 players, for a total of 36 players drafted. While the twelve picks are meant to be for each of the twelve teams, teams can of course trade picks ahead of the draft; which is how, for example, the Dallas Wings have had 4 picks in the first round for the past two years running.

With a few exceptions, American prospects are only eligible for the draft if they will turn 22 years old before December 31st of the year they’re being drafted, and have completed or renounced their NCAA eligibility. For international players (defined as players born outside of the United States who have not played collegiate basketball in the US), the rules are different, they’re allowed to enter the draft in the calendar year they turn 20 years old, instead of 22, per Her Hoop Stats.

The top four picks in the draft are referred to as “lottery picks”, as their order is determined through a random drawing. This drawing is weighted by record, like in most leagues, the biggest difference in the WNBA being that the odds are impacted by a franchise’s cumulative winning percentage over the past two seasons, not just the one season preceding the draft. The draft is broadcast on an ESPN network every season, with it being moved up to ESPN from its sister networks before the 2020 season.

9. Watch WNBA games

Now that you’ve learned a bit about the WNBA, its teams, and its players, you’re probably curious where you can actually watch all the action. The short answer is: Lots of places! From League Pass (only $16.99) , to national broadcasts on ESPN and other networks, to local broadcasts and social media streams, the WNBA has made it easier than ever to tune into the league!

Here’s quick guide on how to watch the WNBA, outlining all the different options for watching WNBA games. Then, if you find yourself hungry for more basketball during the off-season, check out this guide for how to watch women’s basketball overseas.

10. Watch the Finals and Playoffs

Before entering your first WNBA season as a fan, it’s important to understand the unique structure of the league’s playoffs. After all, your favorite team is going to spend all season vying for one of the eight coveted spots in the postseason. So, you should know what it’ll take for them to get there, and what to expect from playoffs if they do. 

Eight teams make the WNBA playoffs, and since 2016, it’s been the teams with the top eight best records in the league, regardless of if they play in the Eastern or Western Conference. These eight teams are then seeded #1 through #8 based on record, again, regardless of Conference.

For example, the top five seeds in the playoffs can all be from one conference, which, incidentally, did happen in 2020: The top five seeds were, in order, the Las Vegas Aces, Seattle Storm, Los Angeles Sparks, Minnesota Lynx, and Phoenix Mercury, all from the West. Whereas the bottom three seeds, the Chicago Sky, Connecticut Sun, and Washington Mystics, were all from the Eastern Conference.

The first two rounds of the playoffs are single elimination, or decided by one game. The top four seeded teams get byes in the first round, with the 5th seed playing the 8th seed and the 6th seed playing the 7th. In the second round, the 3rd seed plays host to the lowest seeded team to make it out of the previous round, whereas the 4th seed matches up with the other team that advanced. The top two seeds continue to hold byes in the second round. While some have criticized the single-elimination rounds for not giving both teams ample chance to compete and showcase their talent on the highest stage, others have praised the single elimination games for the intensity, competition, and do-or-die attitude they bring out in players. 

The Semis shed the single-elimination rule, with the final four teams battling it out in a Best-of-Five series for a chance at a Finals run. Since it’s best-of-five, the first team to three wins takes the series. Having finally exhausted their bye, the #1 seed matches up with the lowest remaining seed in the semi-finals, whereas the #2 of course draws the highest remaining seed.

In 2020, the #1 seed Aces beat the #7 seed Connecticut Sun in the semifinals in five dramatic games, whereas #2 Seattle swept the #4 seed Minnesota Lynx in three. The winners of both semi-final match-ups then of course face off in the Finals, again a best-of-five series, with the Storm sweeping the higher seeded Aces in 2020 to claim the title. Of course, there’s no telling who will end up in the Finals this season with all the chaos of free agency, though early analysis has favored the Sky, Aces, Storm, and Mystics as favorites.

Bonus: Buy your WNBA hoodie and wear it

The single most iconic piece of WNBA merchandise is of course, the aptly named Orange Hoodie. A simple but iconic garment, the Orange Hoodie took the world by storm after the late Kobe Bryant made a habit of wearing it publicly. It became a favorite of celebrity WNBA fans, popping up on everyone from tennis player Naomi Osaka, to NBA legend LeBron James, to rapper Lil Wayne.

At the same time, sales of the Orange Hoodie soared, quickly becoming a must-have for WNBA fans. The Orange Hoodie was named Sports Business Journal’s 2020 Fashion Statement of the Year, and continues to be an amazing symbol of the league’s rapid growth. You can get yours here.

Become a WNBA fan!

With your hoodie on over your favorite player’s WNBA jersey, you’re ready to start rooting for your team. Now that you’ve jumped in to your favorite underdog’s story and are equipped with how to watch games, tell your friends all about it! You’re well on your way to becoming a legit WNBA super fan.

Next up, find out more about WNBA gear with our guide to WNBA player merchandise. Or get ready to go to a game with this piece about WNBA ticket prices!

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