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  3. WNBA Facts and Firsts You Need to Know

WNBA Facts and Firsts You Need to Know

ByQueen Ballers Club|| August 16, 2023If you buy something from a link on our site, Queen Ballers Club may earn a commission.

With more than twenty five years of history under the WNBA’s belt, there are plenty of surprising WNBA facts and firsts you might not know. So today, we’ll reveal some little known insights about how the league has evolved and reveal some of its incredible trailblazers. For example, did you know the first former player to have equity in a WNBA team is Lisa Leslie? Or that the first woman to win WNBA coach of the year was Marianne Stanley? We’ll fill you in on all the good stuff, for real!

We’ll reveal the answers to commonly asked questions about the WNBA, and share some stunning accolades women’s professional basketball players have achieved. You’ll find out all the WNBA teams that ever existed and what makes certain WNBA teams special. And you won’t believe the most astounding fact about the New York Liberty. Soon, not only will you be able to impress your friends with your new-found WNBA insight, but also you might even get bragging rights among other fans. Let’s get after it!

Discover Fun WNBA Firsts and Facts

It’s time to test your WNBA knowledge. Founded back in April 1996, as the women’s counterpart to the NBA, WNBA league play started in 1997. Here’s everything you need to know about the following years.

Learn WNBA league history facts

1. The orange and oatmeal ball was a marketing move.

The WNBA ball’s orange and oatmeal striped coloring was conceived so that, when placed on the shelves in stores, the WNBA ball would set itself apart from other basketballs. 

As David Stern recalled, “One of the things that was insisted upon is we would have regular basketball uniforms. We weren’t going to sexualize the players. And I remember conversations about the basketball itself. I think I take responsibility for saying we didn’t want the WNBA ball to be in a store and look the same as other balls. So we decided on the oatmeal and orange colors.”

2.  The WNBA ball is 28.5 inches, making it smaller than an NBA ball.

Another interesting fact about the WNBA ball (check out the new Wilson ball unveiled in 2020) is that it’s smaller than the NBA ball, and features a 28.5” circumference. The smaller ball was introduced based on the theory that women’s hands, on average, are smaller than men’s hands. This is such a fascinating debate that there’s actually been a National Institute of Health study on ball size and women.

The study’s results show no substantial differences in terms of the percentage of two-point field goals when using the larger and new small basketballs. But when analyzing the three point shot, an increase was observed in the number of such shots made by guards and forwards.

The study also concludes that “given the characteristics of the male and female body – primarily the gender-related difference in strength – the introduction of a smaller and lighter ball is an understandable and expected change. Despite all reasons in favor of introducing the size 6 basketball, the use of the smaller and lighter ball clearly does not improve shooting accuracy.”

3. The very first point was scored by Penny Toler.

It took 14 months, from the time the WNBA was launched, until the first tip-off on June 21, 1997. Penny Toler of the Los Angeles Sparks scored the very first point. She knocked down her bucket playing against the New York Liberty on June 21, 1997 at the Los Angeles Great Western Forum. She later became the first Sparks player to have her jersey retired. She also went on to be the Sparks’ General Manager and Executive Vice President, helping the team capture the WNBA championship in 2001, 2002, and 2016.

4. There are two “first WNBA picks.”

There were actually two No. 1 picks in the league’s inaugural draft in 1997. The now-defunct Utah Starzz selected Dena Head first in the elite draft (players already at the professional level in other leagues or overseas), and the also-now-defunct Houston Comets selected Tina Thompson first overall from the regular draft (players fresh from college).

5. In 2020, players were finally guaranteed 100% of their base salary during pregnancy.

In 2020, the WNBA finally made official provisions in their CBA for players who are considering motherhood, including full-paid maternity leave and family planning. The previous CBA listed “pregnancy” as a condition and players who became pregnant during the season were only guaranteed 50% of their WNBA salary for their leave. 

As High Post Hoops reports, players are now guaranteed 100% of their base salary if they are unable to play due to pregnancy. They include: team reimbursement for childcare up to $750 per month, costs of up to $20,000 directly related to adoption, surrogacy, oocyte cryopreservation, or fertility or infertility treatment for players with eight or more years in the league, and accommodations for nursing mothers that includes a safe space and access to refrigeration for breastmilk. This was a welcome relief WNBA players who are mothers and mothers-to-be.

6. The Seattle Storm are the first (and only) WNBA team to endorse a presidential candidate.

The Seattle Storm, coming off their fourth WNBA title, added their support behind former Vice President Joe Biden by tweeting. Team owners have historically thrown weight behind candidates in the form of financial campaign contributions, but a team putting out a political endorsement is truly rare. It’s just another step forward from a team that’s part of a league that has been on the forefront of the social justice movement, dedicating its 2020 season to social justice causes.

7. There have been 18 WNBA teams.

When the league started, there were 8 teams competing in the WNBA – each with an affiliation to an NBA team and city. Now, there are 12 teams, with only 6 having an NBA counterpart and playing in the same arena. These teams are known as sister teams. They include:

Of these teams, only the Sparks have completely separate ownership.

As of the league’s most recent season, the Las Vegas Aces (formerly the 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. The total number of teams in the WNBA throughout its history is 18.

8. The Houston Comets went to the White House first.

The first WNBA team invited to the White House were the champion Houston Comets in May of 2000, when Bill Clinton was president. The second-seeded champions of the Western Conference, the Houston Comets, defeated the New York Liberty, first-seeded champions of the Eastern Conference, two games to none in a best-of-three series. It was Houston’s fourth title. They repeated their White House feat the next year with president George W. Bush too.

9. More than 75 retired WNBA players are members of the NBRPA.

Over 75 WNBA players are members of the National Basketball Retired Players Association (NBRPA). The NBRPA is a non-profit made up of former professional basketball players of the NBA, ABA, WNBA, and Harlem Globetrotters. 

Furthermore, the organization gives opportunities to high school girls to shoot the breeze with WNBA Legends via their “Legends Girls Chat” program.

Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Inductee and NBRPA Director Sheryl Swoopes shared, “For so many of us W Legends, we see ourselves in these girls and we jump at the opportunity to speak with them and impact their lives in a positive way whether the conversation is about basketball or life in general.”

10.  The average time a female plays professional hoops is five years.

“When you look at professional athleticism, it doesn’t have an evergreen shelf life. The average time a woman plays professional basketball is five years.” according to former President of the WNBA, Lisa Borders.

There are four avenues players can take within the NBA/WNBA during and post their basketball career to further their education and increase their earning potential: NBA Basketball Operations Association Program, NBA Job Shadow Program, Assistant Coaches Program, and their most recent partnership, Harvard Business School and the NBA: Crossover into Business.

11. The Houston Comets won the first four consecutive WNBA championships.

In the WNBA’s inaugural season, Cynthia Cooper was a revelation, delighting fans with the smooth and swaggering style she had developed while playing for more than a decade in Italy. She scored an efficient 22.2 points per game to lead the Comets to an 18-10 record, before capturing the WNBA’s first championship, in addition to regular-season and Finals MVP awards. Watch them win here!

After missing the majority of the 1997 season due to pregnancy, Sheryl Swoopes in 1998 — who was presented to the world as the Comets’ superstar leading up to the league’s launch — began to show what she brought to the table. The Comets cruised to a 27-3 regular-season record that year, and won a second title.

The Comets finished the 1999 regular season 26-6 and captured their third-consecutive championship, with Cooper again claiming the Finals MVP trophy. And they took the ‘ship again in 2000. Sadly, the franchise, featuring superstars Cynthia Cooper and Sheryl Swoopes, folded in 2008, when the team wasn’t able to find a new owner. 

12. 2009 was the first year a WNBA team had a sponsor logo on their jerseys

The Phoenix Mercury was the first organization with a sponsor logo – LifeLock – on their jersey in 2009. Under the three-year deal with LifeLock, the identity theft protection company’s name replaced the “Phoenix” and “Mercury” across the road and home uniforms, respectively. The team’s logo appeared above the “LifeLock” on the left side.

The Mercury were the first team to finalize an agreement under the league’s then-new initiative aimed at increasing revenue and marketing opportunities. NBA commissioner David Stern believed such agreements were important to the continued growth and success of the WNBA.

“This groundbreaking deal represents the next step in the financial health of the WNBA,” he said, “and it serves most importantly as a blueprint because I’m sure there will be more, for other teams to assure their financial health.”

And the Mercury secured the bag two ways that year: In 2009 the Phoenix Mercury, top-seeded champions of the Western Conference faced the Indiana Fever, top-seeded champions of the Eastern Conference, in the Finals. Phoenix earned the league Champions title, defeating the Indiana Fever 3 games to 2.

13. Tamara Moore is the first female African-American head coach of a men’s collegiate basketball team.

She’s a former WNBA player, who played for seven different teams during her career. “Now, it’s time for me to show you guys and show people that women are just as knowledgeable as men to coach the game,” said Tamara Moore, the new men’s basketball head coach at Mesabi Range College in Virginia, Minnesota. Plus, she will also serve as the softball head coach.

Tamara isn’t the first woman to make coaching history at the junior college level, as Kerri-Ann McTiernan was the men’s basketball head coach at Kingsborough Community College in New York City. Though as of 2020 no Division I men’s basketball program has ever been coached by a woman. We certainly hope that will change in the future.

14. Becky Hammon is the first NBA female coach.

When Becky Hammon’s All-Star playing career ended with the San Antonio Stars (now the Las Vegas Aces) in 2014, she was hired as an assistant coach for the city’s NBA team, the Spurs. After Summer League and All-Star coaching duties, she became the first woman to act as an NBA head coach after Spurs’ head coach Gregg Popovich was ejected from a game in 2020. Today, Hammon is the two-time champion WNBA Aces’ head coach.

15. Sue Wicks was the first openly gay player in the league.

In 2002, a reporter asked New York Liberty forward Sue Wicks, “Are you a lesbian?” And Sue replied “I am,” making her the first WNBA player to come out publicly. Her answer helped pave the way for today’s out WNBA players and power couples like the Chicago Sky’s Courtney Vandersloot and Allie Quigley, and the Connecticut Sun’s Jasmine Thomas and Natisha Hiedeman, and Alyssa Thomas and DeWanna Bonner.

16. The first WNBA All-Star Game wasn’t played until 1999.

Even though the WNBA played its first game in 1997, the first WNBA All-Star Game wasn’t played until 1999. The dazzling game took place before a sellout crowd at Madison Square Garden in New York, and the West went on to beat the East 79-61. There, Whitney Houston sung the National Anthem and Lisa Leslie was named the very first All-Star MVP.

17. Cynthia Cooper was the first WNBA player inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.

In 2010, Cynthia Cooper became the first WNBA player inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. The two-time WNBA Most Valuable Player guided the Houston Comets to four consecutive WNBA championships and was also named Finals MVP every time. She led the league in scoring three times. And she was a four-time All-WNBA First Team performer. Check out her inspiring speech:

18. The first woman to sign an NBA contract was Ann Meyers Drysdale

Ann Meyers Drysdale became the first woman to sign a contract with an NBA team in 1979 when she inked a $50,000 tryout deal with the Indiana Pacers. She ended up not making the team, but she went on to play in the WNBA precursor Women’s Professional Basketball League and would later work as an Olympic women’s basketball commentator. She is currently the Vice President of Television for the Phoenix Suns and Mercury.

19. The first player to reach 1,000 career points was Cynthia Cooper.

By the time she retired in 2000, Cynthia Cooper had become the first player in WNBA history to score 500, 1,000, 2,000 and 2,500 career points. She scored 30 or more points in 16 of her 120 games and had a 92-game double-figure scoring streak from 1997 to 2000. She was also the first WNBA MVP and the first player in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

By the way, Diana Taurasi was the first player to reach 1,000 career 3 pointers.

Explore WNBA team facts

Here are some WNBA team facts that might even include some trivia about your own favorite team! There are currently 12 teams in the league, but with 18 total franchises throughout its history, there just might be a WNBA team fact that will surprise you!

20. Only 3 teams exist from the inaugural season.

Of the current 12 teams, only 3 franchises still exist from the inaugural season: the Los Angeles Sparks, New York Liberty, and the Phoenix Mercury.

21. An entire conference can make it to the first round of playoffs.

Only the top 8 teams total make it to the playoffs, no matter which conference they’re in.  So it’s possible that an entire conference can make it to the first round.

22. The Connecticut Sun had the longest-running coach.

The Connecticut Sun hold the distinction of having the longest-running head coach, Mike Thibault. He helmed the team for 10 seasons, from 2003 to 2012. Despite that decade-long stability, the Sun never won a championship under his tutelage. Even though they went to the WNBA Finals twice – in 2004 and 2005.

He was also previously an assistant coach with the women’s USA Basketball team that won the gold medal at the 2008 Summer Olympic. And served as an assistant coach with the NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers in 1980 and 1982.

23. The New York Liberty has appeared in the most finals without winning.

The New York Liberty has the dubious honor of being the team that has appeared most in the Finals (five) without winning a championship. Here you’ll see the Liberty play against the Los Angeles Sparks in the first WNBA game ever.

24. NBA superstar Magic Johnson is one of the co-owners of the Los Angeles Sparks.

Magic Johnson and Mark Walter, the chairman of the Dodgers, bought the WNBA’s Los Angeles Sparks in February 2014, the league and team announced at Staples Center.

“I love the Sparks;…was at the first game,” Magic Johnson said of the 1997 game against the Liberty that marked the WNBA’s debut. “I had three sisters who played. Mark has a daughter who plays right now, and my daughter played for two years. We love women’s basketball already. This is a no-brainer for us.”

See WNBA player facts

We’ve come across some fascinating WNBA player facts that wowed us. Below you’ll find some mind-blowing statistics about your favorite WNBA player’s accomplishments.

25. Liz Cambage scored the most points in a single game.

The honor of “Most Points Scored in a Single Game” goes to Liz Cambage, who racked up an astonishing 53 points when she played for the Dallas Wings in 2018. You can watch the amazing feat here:

26. Sue Bird is the only one to win a championship in three decades.

WNBA superstar Sue Bird is the only female basketball player to win a championship in three different decades: 2004, 2010 and 2020.  She has spent her entire WNBA career with the Seattle Storm. Meanwhile, Rebekkah Brunsun has the most – 5 championship wins – to her name.

27. Sheryl Swoopes was the first female basketball player with a sneaker deal.

The “Nike Air Swoopes” was named after WNBA superstar Sheryl Swoopes in 1995. To put that honor in perspective: Michael Jordan was the only other basketball player, at the time, who had a shoe named after him. The original design featured a strap on the back of the sneaker, to assist wearers with pulling the sneaker on without damaging their nails. Other early WNBA greats like Lisa Leslie, Rebecca Lobo and Dawn Staley soon followed, garnering signature lines. Candace Parker later had some player editions drop with Adidas. Sabrina Ionescu and Nike were next in line. The Air Swoopes inspired a generation of girls to get into the game. 

28. Sylvia Fowles leads the WNBA in rebounds.

In 2020, Minnesota Lynx center Sylvia Fowles showed off her defensive prowess by surpassing Rebecca Brunson to become the leading WNBA rebounder with an astonishing 3,357 backboard grabs. See her reach that impressive milestone here:

29. Margo Dydek was the tallest woman to ever play in the WNBA.

The tallest woman ever in the WNBA, was Margo Dydek. At 7’2” she played in the early days of the league for teams such as Utah Starzz and Los Angeles Sparks. Sadly, she passed away in 2011 from a heart attack. You can see her soar to amazing heights here: 

30. The first WNBA Defensive Player of the Year was Teresa Weatherspoon.

She won the honor in 1997. She ended her career as a five-time WNBA All-Star Starter (1999-2003), four-time All-WNBA Second Team (1997-2000), and two-time WNBA Defensive Player of the Year (1997-98). In 2023, the Chicago Sky named her as the franchise’s new head coach.

Enjoy the complete WNBA frequently asked question fact guide

Get the answers to some of the most commonly asked questions about the great WNBA and become a walking encyclopedia about the league.

1. When did the WNBA start?

April 24, 1996 but the first game wasn’t played until June 1997.  It was, essentially, the brainchild of then-NBA Commissioner David Stern.

After the financial blueprint for the WNBA was put together in the early 1990s, David Stern waited for the right time to greenlight the league. Which arrived when large crowds and enthusiasm were generated by the gold-medal success of the U.S. women’s basketball team at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.

As ESPN reports, “That another pro women’s basketball league — the ABL — had started in the fall of 1996 was no deterrent to the WNBA’s launch the following summer. It seemed pretty obvious which one, ultimately, was going to prevail. Even so, the WNBA and Stern were criticized by some in the women’s basketball community for “undermining” the ABL, and for opting to have the nontraditional summertime season for the WNBA.”

2. Who is the WNBA logo?

The official word from the WNBA marketing squad about the new WNBA logo and rebrand, is that today’s silhouette is a composite of multiple players. Though several players, including Sue Bird and Kia Nurse, have their own theories. So do many obsessed fans, who won’t rest until they have an answer!

As an interesting side note: the logo is the third logo used by the WNBA. The original logo, when the league began, was based on Los Angeles Laker Jerry West’s silhouette from the NBA logo.

3. How many WNBA teams are there in 2024?

There are 12 teams, with six in the Eastern Conference and six in the Western Conference. 

4. How many WNBA players can dunk?

Seven players in WNBA history have dunked during a WNBA game. Current players include Brittney Griner (one of the few who can do a two-handed dunk); Jonquel Jones (sat out 2020 and returned in 2021), Sylvia Fowles, and Candace Parker. Former players include Michelle Snow, and the first woman to ever land a WNBA dunk – the iconic Lisa Leslie. Though others, such as Breanna Stewart and Maya Moore, have dunked in contests or in practice.

5. What are the WNBA teams?

The eastern conference WNBA teams are:

While the western conference WNBA teams are:

6. Why was the WNBA created?

The WNBA was created in 1996 by their male counterpart, the NBA, which formed in 1946. The reasoning? With the NBA’s huge popularity (thank you, Michael Jordan!), then-NBA Commissioner David Stern felt it was the right time to launch a female equivalent. And to call it the WNBA gave the lady league gravitas, underlining its association with the men’s league.  

Initially, the league was set to only play during the summer months, when the NBA was on hiatus. That way, there wouldn’t be any competition amongst the two leagues. David Stern also felt that, by launching a female league, more young girls would be motivated to play the game. Learn more WNBA history here.

7. The most points in a WNBA game?

The Phoenix Mercury hit a WNBA single-game scoring record of 127 points back in 2010 in a double overtime thriller – prevailing 127-124 over the Minnesota Lynx. Diana Taurasi shined in the overtime periods, scoring 11 of her 31 points in the second overtime, which helped Phoenix ultimately come away with the victory. Candice Dupree led the Mercury with 32 points and 16 rebounds, while DeWanna Bonner and Penny Taylor added 20 each.

In 2023, the Las Vegas Aces’ A’ja Wilson tied the WNBA all-time single-game scoring record with 53 points.

Learn more about the WNBA’s top scorers here.

8. How long is a WNBA game?

A WNBA game is about 2 hours long. The regulation play of the game has 4 quarters that are each 10 minutes, for a total of 40 minutes. This change was made (from two twenty-minute halves) to help the speed of the game.

Play WNBA Trivia

Love getting to know WNBA facts and want to share the love with your friends? Here are a few of the best WNBA trivia questions:

  1. Fun Trivia offers 101 WNBA trivia questions last updated in November of 2020.
  2. Grizly has a fun quiz to test your knowledge with 12 questions.
  3. Arizona Sports Trivia Tuesday lets you match the city to the correct WNBA team name.
  4. The WNBA has a 2019 league quiz.
  5. Zoo challenges you to name the WNBA stars featured in photos.

Now You Know Cool WNBA Firsts and Facts!

Now that you know more WNBA facts, are you more inspired to tune into watch the league? We sure hope so! Plus, with your newfound knowledge, you can become a WNBA trivia champion any night of the week. Up next, learn more about WNBA history. Or get to know some of the W’s players better by exploring Arike Ogunbowale facts, or Nneka Ogwumike facts.

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