WNBA: 15 Years and Counting
June 21 is a huge milestone.
Some people hate that. Some love it. Some couldn’t care less. In the end, ultimately, none of it really matters.
The only thing that does, however, is that the league is still around. That, in and of itself, is a big enough testament to the rest of the world.
Let’s set aside any preconceived notions on the WNBA for a moment. If you’re a fan, great. If not, that’s fine too. At the very least, I think we can all rally around the fact that surviving the 15-year mark is a pretty amazing accomplishment for a women’s professional sports league, no?
Can we all agree on that?
Although, it isn’t just that the league has survived over a decade of hardships; it’s that the product and structure continue to evolve. Yes, teams have folded. Yes, ratings and attendance numbers have fluctuated greatly over the years. But this isn’t any different than when the NBA first formed in 1949. It took over 30 years for the NBA to hit the mainstream; the WNBA is on a similar path.
Over the past 15 years in the WNBA, much has changed. Clearly, parity in the league is at an all-time high. Players want to be a part of the WNBA in some capacity. The fact that young women have had a tangible goal to strive for is phenomenal. Tamika Catchings did a much better job articulating what the WNBA has meant to young girls in this article over a year ago.
“To me, the WNBA means opportunity. I remember in seventh grade my goal was being a professional basketball player, even if I had to play against the guys. My dream was to play in the NBA because the WNBA wasn’t around at that time. Fast-forward to my freshman year in college and I was so excited since that was the first year of the WNBA. Now I really had the chance to play! When I think about it now, there is a real opportunity for ladies coming up today to hope and dream of making it to the WNBA, and that is fantastic.”
Let’s appreciate it, shall we?
After all, there weren’t many people who thought it would even get to the 10-year mark. In spite of constant uphill battles, a crumbling economy, and societal stereotypes the WNBA continues to reinvent itself for the better. Remember, from the beginning, they’ve had to navigate through uncharted waters; there is, and never has been, a fail-safe method of marketing and promoting the league. Everyone has an idea of how to run the WNBA or make it better but it has required round after round of trial and error to get to this point.
If anything, we’ve seen how resilient the league is and how much it believes in its product. Over the years, media support has waxed and waned and it has become tradition to predict the demise of the league on an annual basis.
To date, they’ve all been wrong.
From a personal standpoint, I grew up watching a good friend of mine during her arduous journey from club ball to the pros. At that time, the WNBA wasn’t even a year old. Still, I remember Ann Strother always talking about her desire to play in the league and having a stringent plan to get there. I saw the time she put in on a daily basis towards improving her game and the struggles she went through en route to fulfilling her dream. She went on to play basketball at UConn with Diana Taurasi and then for a few years in the WNBA with various teams. It was such a joy to see the process from start to finish.
That’s what the WNBA is all about.
Tonight, June 21, marks the 15th anniversary of the league’s inaugural game between the New York Liberty and the Los Angeles Sparks. The re-match is on ESPN2 at 10 p.m. Eastern.
Give it a look.