There was little interest and fanfare on June 21st, 1997 when the New York Liberty and the Los Angeles Sparks tipped off the first game of the newly formed WNBA. Now, 17 years later the WNBA has carved itself a following and a reputation of top women’s basketball talent. Yes, the WNBA officially turns 17 today.
“We Got Next” was the rallying cry for the upstart professional league. The WNBA sold itself on the faces of stars Sheryl Swoopes, Rebecca Lobo, and Lisa Leslie but it was Cynthia Cooper of the Houston Comets who stole inaugural season show. Cooper won the league MVP and led the Comets to the first WNBA Championship title defeating the New York Liberty. Her teammate, Swoopes, missed most of the year due to her pregnancy.
Since that first season, the WNBA has grown from an eight team league to a twelve team league. Four teams still remain from that 1997 inaugural season. The New York Liberty, Los Angeles Sparks, Phoenix Mercury, and the San Antonio Stars who were known then as the Utah Starzz. Folded teams include the Charlotte Sting in 2006, Cleveland Rockers in 2003, Sacramento Monarchs in 2009, and the first championship team the Houston Comets in 2008.
Today the WNBA is the sought after destination for the top collegiate female basketball players in the country. Games are currently aired on NBATV. The Phoenix Mercury currently hold a 9-3 record in the Western Conference while the Atlanta Dream hold the same record in the Eastern Conference. The Minnesota Lynx are 10-4 on the season and are 2nd behind the Mercury by a half game.