WNBA Top 10 Moments of 2022: Returns, retirements, records

Sep 11, 2022; Las Vegas, Nevada, USA; Las Vegas Aces forward Aja Wilson (22) receives the MVP trophy prior to game one of the 2022 WNBA Finals against the Connecticut Sun at Michelob Ultra Arena. Mandatory Credit: Lucas Peltier-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 11, 2022; Las Vegas, Nevada, USA; Las Vegas Aces forward Aja Wilson (22) receives the MVP trophy prior to game one of the 2022 WNBA Finals against the Connecticut Sun at Michelob Ultra Arena. Mandatory Credit: Lucas Peltier-USA TODAY Sports /

The WNBA had a big 2022. Record-setting viewership, dominating performances, and excellent basketball came together to create one of the most exciting seasons to date.

The 2022 WNBA season was full of great moments, and as the calendar year comes to an end, there’s no better time to reflect on those moments. There were plenty of exciting on-court moments to go around, but the WNBA had some bigger, overlying moments that made the season truly special.

Let’s take a look at those moments.

1. Brittney Griner’s return home

While it didn’t happen during the WNBA season, Brittney Griner’s release was by far the top WNBA moment of the year. The players and league were instrumental in the process, which spanned 294 agonizing days. Every team in the league put her initials and numbers on their court, and the players wore jerseys bearing her name and number at the All-Star game. A campaign was started to raise awareness of her wrongful detainment.

Griner was finally released on Dec. 8 in exchange for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout. Upon returning to the United States, Griner announced her intention to return to the league in 2023.

2. Sylvia Fowles and Sue Bird’s farewell tour

The WNBA said goodbye to multiple legends this year, including two of its biggest faces: Sylvia Fowles and Sue Bird. Fowles, arguably the greatest center in the league’s history, retired after 15 years, two championships, two Finals MVPs, eight All-Star appearances, four Defensive Player of the Year awards, and an MVP award. Fowles retired as the league’s all-time leading rebounder and posted the highest career field goal percentage ever. Somehow, fans had to push for Fowles to get the respect she deserved from the league, though. Once she did, she had one of the most unique farewell tours sports has ever seen.

She topped it all off with a dunk during the All-Star game, showing that she still has it even at age 36.

Bird also retired one of the game’s greatest winners, and arguably the best sidekick in league history. Her resumé spans 20 years, and includes four championships, 13 All-Star appearances, and a record five gold medals. Bird retires as the WNBA’s all-time leader in assists by more than 600. She also played the most games at 580.

3. A’ja Wilson’s dominance

2022 was the year of 22. A’ja Wilson was everywhere. She became the first female athlete to sign a Ruffles endorsement deal which came with her own signature flavor. Nike released her colorways of the Cosmic Unity 2 model, a shoe specifically molded for women athletes’ feet.

Oh yeah, and A’ja had a pretty good year on the court, too. Wilson became the seventh player in WNBA history to win multiple MVPs, and the fifth to take home the MVP and DPOY awards in the same season. Her Las Vegas Aces also won the Commissioner’s Cup, then capped it all off with the franchise’s first Finals victory.

4. Chelsea Gray’s playoff run

Speaking of the Aces, Chelsea Gray went on one of the greatest runs in basketball history down the stretch of the 2022 season. Gray won Commissioner’s Cup MVP, but was snubbed from the All-Star game. The snub seemed to light a fuse under her that still hasn’t gone out.

Gray became absolutely unstoppable during the postseason. In the Aces’ 10 playoff games, Gray averaged 21.7 points and seven assists. She posted a ridiculous 72.7 true shooting percentage on a mostly self-created 14.4 shot attempts per game. For reference, the league average was around 54 percent. The highlight reel looks like something out of NBA2K:

The numbers look even more incredible when compared to literally everyone else in basketball history.

When it was all said and done, Gray finished the postseason shooting 54.5 percent on 5.7 3-pointers per game, and 65.5 percent on twos. She shot a mind-boggling 69 percent (!) on deep twos, which are often seen as the worst shot in modern basketball. Gray took home Finals MVP and won her second championship.

5. Diamond DeShields opens up

In May, Diamond DeShields revealed that she had undergone surgery in 2020 to remove a tumor on her spine. The story came as a complete surprise to the masses.

The tumor was a lumbar spinal schwannoma the size of a grape. Leaving the tumor could have led to paralysis. Removing it was just as risky.

Doctors were able to extract the tumor, but the damage left DeShields with “tremors and involuntary spasms throughout her body.” She was unsure about her basketball future.

A year and nine months later, DeShields and the Chicago Sky won the WNBA title.

Now, DeShields plays for the Phoenix Mercury, and she played one of her best seasons as a pro in 2022. Her story was undoubtedly one of the most powerful moments of 2022.

6. The 2022 WNBA Draft class

The 2022 WNBA Draft was one of the most hyped in recent memory. Headlined by stars Rhyne Howard, NaLyssa Smith, and Shakira Austin, the draft was viewed as transformational for many teams.

Fast forward to now, and it’s easy to see why.

Howard took home Rookie of the Year for a revamped Atlanta Dream. She averaged 16 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 2.8 assists per game, along with 1.6 steals and just under one block. Howard made the All-Star game as well, an impressive feat for a rookie.

Smith was a bright spot for a Fever team that is still growing. She averaged 13.5 points, 8 rebounds, and 1.4 assists. Smith’s athleticism and physicality translated very well, and she showed more touch than some expected her to have in year one. She looks like the next star in Indiana.

Austin shone in Washington despite splitting minutes with Elizabeth Williams. Her unique blend of skills made her must-see TV when she was on the court. Defensively, Austin showed that she was WNBA-ready from day one. She averaged 8.7 points, 6.5 rebounds, and just under an assist per game.

Many teams found quality players lower in the draft as well. Emily Engstler carved out a role with the Fever as a scrappy forward. Veronica Burton flashed tremendous potential in Dallas. Naz Hillmon snagged a few starts for the Dream.

By the time it’s all said and done, the 2022 Draft could end up being one of the deeper drafts in league history. It already looks like a great start for the next generation of stars.

7. Becky Hammon wins COY

The Aces won a LOT of awards this season.

Becky Hammon made history with hers.

Hammon became just the third former player to win the award, and became the first to win in her debut season. She also became the first to win while coaching a franchise she played for.

The Aces went 26-10, which was the second-highest win percentage by a rookie coach, and the highest in franchise history. Hammon also led them to a league-leading 90.4 points per game, which was the third-highest in WNBA history. 77.5 of those points were scored by starters, which is also a WNBA record.

8. AD’s return to basketball

In 2019, AD (then known as Asia Durr) was the number two overall pick in the WNBA draft. After playing 18 games that year, things were looking up. That all changed in 2020 when they contracted COVID.

AD ended up missing two full seasons due to complications of long COVID.

In April 2022, AD made their return to basketball, joining the Liberty for training camp. 10 games into the season, the Liberty traded them to the Atlanta Dream, where they thrived as a spark off the bench.

The trade was an incredible full-circle moment. AD is from Atlanta, and starred in a commercial for the Dream when the team first came to the city.

In August, AD released a mini-documentary on Togethxr’s YouTube channel detailing their journey back to basketball.

9. Alyssa Thomas’ Finals triple-doubles

After losing the first two games of the Finals, the Connecticut Sun looked a bit hopeless.

Their leader, however, doesn’t know the definition of hopeless.

Alyssa Thomas willed her team to a dominant game three victory at home over the Aces, and put up the first triple-double in WNBA Finals history.

Thomas’ 16 points, 15 rebounds and 11 assists led the Sun to a whopping 105-76 win over the Aces.

In game four, Thomas recorded ANOTHER triple-double, posting 11 points, 11 assists, and 10 rebounds. Despite her performance, the Sun lost, and the Aces captured their first title. The triple-double was Thomas’ fourth of the season and of her career, which put her in sole possession of the most all-time.

10. Skylar Diggins-Smith’s pregnancy

Skylar Diggins-Smith was in the spotlight all season. Her Phoenix Mercury squad was full of drama from start to finish. Brittney Griner’s detainment lingered over the team. Tina Charles forced her way out after 18 games. Diggins-Smith and Diana Taurasi had a heated moment on the bench.

Shortly after that, Diggins-Smith stepped away for undisclosed personal reasons. A few months later, Skylar cleared the air about what those personal reasons were, announcing her pregnancy via Instagram.

The announcement set the W world on fire. Fans were overjoyed to see Skylar back online (she was off social media for a while) and congratulated her on baby number two. It was a happy ending to a chaotic year for a fan favorite.