The Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) is a professional basketball league comprised of the best female basketball players in the world. Since its inaugural season in 1997, the WNBA has grown into a thriving league with devoted fans, talented athletes, and competitive games.
A League of Their Own
The WNBA was founded in 1996 as the women’s counterpart to the immensely popular National Basketball Association (NBA). Led by former NBA commissioner David Stern, the league began play in 1997 with eight original teams: the Charlotte Sting, Cleveland Rockers, Houston Comets, New York Liberty, Los Angeles Sparks, Phoenix Mercury, Sacramento Monarchs, and Utah Starzz (now the Las Vegas Aces).
Unlike some women’s professional sports leagues that came before it, the WNBA had financial support and promotional backing from the established NBA. This provided the new women’s league with instant credibility, resources, and a built-in fanbase.
Growth and Expansion Over 25+ Years
The WNBA started with those initial 8 teams in 1997 and has since expanded to include:
- Atlanta Dream (2008)
- Chicago Sky (2006)
- Connecticut Sun (originally Orlando Miracle, 1999)
- Dallas Wings (originally Detroit Shock, 1998)
- Indiana Fever (2000)
- Las Vegas Aces (originally Utah Starzz, 1997)
- Los Angeles Sparks (1997)
- Minnesota Lynx (1999)
- New York Liberty (1997)
- Phoenix Mercury (1997)
- Seattle Storm (2000)
- Washington Mystics (1998)
Today the WNBA has 12 teams across the United States. Games are played during the summer to avoid conflicting with the NBA schedule. The regular season runs from May to September, with playoffs and Finals in September/October.
Showcasing Elite Talent
The WNBA attracts many of the best women’s basketball players in the world. WNBA rosters are comprised of former collegiate stars, Olympians, and international players.
Some of the biggest names in women’s basketball who have competed in the WNBA include:
- Sue Bird – 4x WNBA Champion, 12x All-Star, 5x Olympic gold medalist
- Tamika Catchings – WNBA champion, 10x All-Star, 4x Olympic gold medalist
- Cynthia Cooper – 2x WNBA Champion, 4x Finals MVP, Hall of Famer
- Elena Delle Donne – WNBA MVP, 6x All-Star, Olympic gold medalist
- Sylvia Fowles – 2x WNBA Champion, 8x All-Star, 2x Finals MVP
- Brittney Griner – WNBA Champion, 8x All-Star, 2x Defensive Player of the Year
- Lauren Jackson – 3x WNBA MVP, 7x All-Star
- Lisa Leslie – 3x WNBA MVP, 9x All-Star, 4x Olympic gold medalist
- Maya Moore – 4x WNBA Champion, 7x All-Star, Olympic champion
- Candace Parker – 2x WNBA MVP, 6x All-Star, WNBA Champion
- Diana Taurasi – 3x WNBA Champion, 9x All-Star, 5x Olympic gold medalist
The WNBA has also paved the way for female coaches, referees, broadcasters, and executives. Notable figures include league president Cathy Engelbert, TV analysts Rebecca Lobo and Doris Burke, Hall of Fame coach Van Chancellor, and many others.
Competitive Play and Riveting Rivalries
WNBA games feature fast-paced, athletic play with many skilled shooters, tough defenders, and great teamwork on display.
There are exciting rivalries between big-market teams like the Los Angeles Sparks and New York Liberty, and competitive parity across the league. In the WNBA’s 25+ year history, no team has dominated every season. Eight different franchises have claimed the WNBA Championship.
Some of the best modern rivalries include:
- Minnesota Lynx vs. Los Angeles Sparks: The Sparks and Lynx have matched up in nail-biting playoff battles and faced off in the Finals in 2016 and 2017. Minnesota won in five games in 2015, while LA returned the favor in 2016.
- Phoenix Mercury vs. Seattle Storm: Fueled by the dynamic scoring duo of Diana Taurasi and Brittney Griner for Phoenix, and the elite play of Breanna Stewart and Sue Bird for Seattle, these Western Conference foes have had many classic contests.
- Connecticut Sun vs. Washington Mystics: Dating back to the Sun’s days as the Orlando Miracle, these Eastern Conference teams have had a spirited rivalry. Connecticut broke Washington’s heart by eliminating them in the 2019 Finals.
No matter the matchup, WNBA games feature tough defense, clutch playmakers, and incredible athletic feats. The fast pace and end-to-end action keep fans engaged until the final buzzer.
Increasing Prominence and Emerging Stars
The WNBA continues to increase in popularity and expand its audience. ESPN networks now broadcast many regular season and playoff games to a nationwide viewership. Twitter and Facebook allow fans to follow WNBA storylines in real time.
An influx of promising young stars like A’ja Wilson, Napheesa Collier, Arike Ogunbowale, Sabrina Ionescu, and Asia Durr point towards an exciting future for the league. These rising stars will carry the torch alongside established veterans.
The WNBA also continues to be at the forefront of important social issues like racial justice, LGBTQ+ inclusion, and mental health awareness. Players use their platform to speak out on causes beyond the court.
Why WNBA Fans Are So Passionate
Ask any devoted WNBA fan what they love about the league, and they will likely mention some of the following:
- Seeing incredible athleticism, coordination, and basketball IQ on display
- Supporting women athletes and female empowerment
- Appreciating the diversity of players from different backgrounds
- Watching competitively balanced games come down to the wire
- Rooting for talented, likable players that fans connect with
- Seeing good sportsmanship and teamwork that goes beyond individual stars
The WNBA has some of the most passionate, loyal supporters in all of sports. Once people experience the excitement of a live WNBA game and make personal connections with certain teams or players, they usually become fans for life.
The league has come a long way in 25+ years. The future continues to look bright for the WNBA and women’s basketball.
Frequently Asked Questions About the WNBA
When and where was the WNBA founded?
The Women’s National Basketball Association was founded in 1996 and began play in 1997. The inaugural season featured 8 teams across major U.S. cities.
How many teams are in the WNBA?
There are currently 12 teams in the WNBA. The league has expanded from its original 8 teams in 1997 to its current size today.
How long is the WNBA season?
The WNBA regular season runs from May through September. The playoffs take place in September and October, with the WNBA Finals championship series typically ending in early October.
Where do WNBA teams play?
WNBA teams play in various professional sports arenas across the U.S. Some teams like the Los Angeles Sparks play in the same venue as an NBA team, while others play in mid-sized arenas typically used for hockey and other events.
What is the salary cap of WNBA teams?
The salary cap per team for the 2022 WNBA season was $1,379,200. The maximum salary for veteran players is $228,094. Rookie scale salaries range from $60,471 to $72,141.
Who are some of the WNBA’s biggest stars?
Some of the biggest stars in WNBA history include Cynthia Cooper, Lisa Leslie, Sheryl Swoopes, Diana Taurasi, Sue Bird, Candace Parker, Maya Moore, Breanna Stewart, Elena Delle Donne, Sylvia Fowles, and more.
How can I watch WNBA games on TV and streaming?
WNBA games air on ABC, ESPN, ESPN2, and CBS Sports Network. Many games stream on the ESPN app, WNBA League Pass, and Amazon Prime Video.
Who has won the most WNBA Championships?
The Houston Comets and Minnesota Lynx have each won 4 WNBA Championships – the most in league history. The Comets dominated from 1997-2000, while the Lynx have been one of the league’s top teams since 2011.
Which player has scored the most points in WNBA history?
Diana Taurasi is the WNBA’s all-time leading scorer with over 9,000 career points. She has averaged 19.8 points per game over her 17-year career.