With more than twenty years of history under the WNBA’s belt, there are plenty of surprising WNBA facts you might not know. So today, we’ll reveal some little known insights about how the league has evolved. As well as the answers to commonly asked questions about the WNBA. Plus, we’ll share some stunning accolades women’s professional basketball players have achieved.
You’ll find out the highest paid WNBA player (still not enough money if you ask us!), 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 jump right in.
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.
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.”
Another interesting fact about the WNBA ball 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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
“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.
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.
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 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.
Moore 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 no Division I men’s basketball program has ever been coached by a woman. We certainly hope that will change in the future.
An alarming WNBA coaching fact: For the 2020 season, there were only 4 female coaches amongst the 12 competing teams, and not one woman was a person of color. With over 80 percent of the league comprised of talented African-American women, it’s clear this statistic needs to change ASAP.
As the WNBPA says, “After nearly 25 years, the pool of retired players with interest and experience in coaching and front office positions is clear and extensive. These candidates should be recruited and have their names at the top of the list of any and all open head coach and front office positions in the @WNBA.”
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.
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:
The WNBA regular season consists of 34 games, with a “normal” season usually played between May and October. Playoffs typically start in September. That’s 6 months of non-stop WNBA action. In 2020, the league played 22 games as part of their abbreviated season in the “Wubble.” There are only 144 players in the WNBA each season.
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!
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.
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.
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.
The New York Liberty has the dubious honor of being the team that has appeared most in the Finals (4) without winning a championship. Here you’ll see the Liberty play against the Los Angeles Sparks in the first WNBA game ever.
Magic Johnson and Mark Walter, the chairman of the Dodgers, bought the W.N.B.A.’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 W.N.B.A.’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.”
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.
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:
The “Nike Air Swoopes” was named after WNBA superstar Cheryl 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.
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:
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:
Get the answers to some of the most commonly asked questions about the great WNBA and become a walking encyclopedia about the league.
Actually, there are six players who currently make the salary max of $215,000: Sue Bird (Seattle Storm), DeWanna Bonner (Connecticut Sun), Elena Delle Donne (Washington Mystics), Skyler Diggins-Smith (Phoenix Mercury), and Brittney Griner (Phoenix Mercury), and Emma Meesseman (Washington Mystics).
However, compare that number to the highest paid star in the NBA – Steph Curry – at $40.2 million per season, and it’s clear the women are dramatically underpaid, considering the average WNBA salary is $100,658.51.
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.”
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.
There are 12 teams, with six in the Eastern Conference and six in the Western Conference. The Seattle Storm won the Finals in 2020, sweeping the Las Vegas Aces in three games in their best of 5 series. Watch the celebratory moment here:
The WNBA generates approximately $60 million in revenue according to current estimates, while $12.3 million of that revenue is distributed to its players. According to Adam Silver, NBA Commissioner right now, the league is losing over $10 million dollars per year. But it’s subsidized by the NBA, which helps the WNBA stay in business. That isn’t to say the league doesn’t make revenue. The W brings in cash through broadcast agreements, marketing partnerships, and licensing deals.
Today and historically, the NBA splits its revenue about 50-50 with its players. In the WNBA, the players previously received just 20 to 30 percent of league revenue. By 2021, if the W reaches certain revenue markers in broadcast agreements, marketing partnerships, and licensing deals, the WNBA and its players could be splitting revenue equally. The contract would last for eight years, through 2027.
Seven players in WNBA history have been able to dunk. Current players include Brittney Griner – one of the few who can do a two-handed dunk; Jonquel Jones (sat out 2020 and returning in 2021); and Liz Cambage (sat out 2020, also returning in 2021). Former players include Sylvia Fowles, Candace Parker, Michelle Snow, and the first woman to ever land a WNBA dunk – the iconic Lisa Leslie. Watch the historic moment here:
The eastern conference WNBA teams are:
While the western conference WNBA teams are:
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.
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:
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.
Written by Cynthia Cohen, writer/producer and basketball fan.
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