Did you know that on average WNBA players make 1% of the income of their NBA counterparts? Extreme gender inequality is par for the course when it comes to these professional athletes, who deal with everything from sup-standard facilities to low viewership, and systemic bias. But, some of these ladies are dominating the court in a similar manner to the men’s players, and have the trophies and rings to prove it.

Taking on the deep-seated gender bias is ambitious, but not impossible. One of the best ways to start is to understand WNBA history, the key players, the dominant women who made their success possible. Despite their achievements and technical skill, it’s likely you haven’t heard many of these names before! 

To help bring recognition to these players and their achievements, we put together this brief overview. Read on to learn more! 

We Got Next

The WNBA is relatively young compared to the NBA. The NBA has been around since 1949 when two rival organizations joined. The earliest precursor to the NBA was the National Basketball League which was founded in 1937. 

The WNBA was announced in 1996, with the slogan “We Got Next,” and is now celebrating its 25th season. Although the Women’s Professional Basketball League was established in 1978, it crumbled within three years due to financial issues. As a result, the WNBA represented the first major opportunity for women to play basketball on a large scale while getting paid. 

Shortly before the first WNBA season, the 1996 Olympic team displayed a dominant performance at the Summer Olympics, grabbing the gold medal after a series of games that showcased exactly why they deserved their own league. 

Early Legends

After the Olympics, the WNBA starts its first season with a similar format to the NBA. The league had both an Eastern and Western Conference and started with eight teams:

  • Houston Comets
  • Charlotte Sting
  • New York Liberty
  • Cleveland Rockers
  • Phoenix Mercury
  • Los Angelas Sparks
  • Utah Starzz
  • Sacramento Monarchs

It can be said that the NBA focuses on standout players and hero shots while the WNBA focuses on a more consistent level of play across the team. However, even from its early days, the WNBA had some standout hero players. 

Lisa Leslie 

Lisa Leslie was the original face of the league and is still considered one of the best WNBA players of all time. She was one of the dominant performers in the Olympics and was quickly assigned to the LA Sparks for the first WNBA season. 

It didn’t hurt that Lisa is incredibly good-looking – she made guest appearances all over TV to help promote the WBNA and boost viewership. Her looks were backed up by serious skills. By the time she retired, she was a three-time MVP, two-time Finals MVP, eight-time All-Star, two-time defensive player of the year, and she had four gold medals to boost. 

Lisa became a mother and returned to play still dominating the league. With a total of over 3,000 career points, the first woman to ever dunk in the WNBA retired in 2009. 

Tina Thompson

It would be impossible to write a WNBA history timeline without mentioning Tina Thompson. 

Tina Thompson was the first number 1 overall pick in NBA history. Known for dressing to the nines with red lipstick and class, Tina dropped the niceties on the court and absolutely dominated with her toughness and versatile play style. 

Tina played for the Comets and was a nine-time All-Star, two-time gold medalist, and four-time champ. 

Cynthia Cooper

Cynthia Cooper, like a fine wine, got better with age. After 34, she earned four consecutive Finals MVPs and two overall MVPs, before getting signed to the Comets at age 37.

Then, the Comets entered their golden age, and absolutely dominated the other WNBA teams. Cooper continued playing into her 40s, and her skills never wavered. 

Sheryl Swoops

Sheryl Swoops has been described as the female Michael Jordan. She was the first woman to sign a major shoe deal and started her career only six weeks after giving birth. She later came out as gay, making her one of the few high-profile athletes who were out at the time. 

When she joined the Comets with legends Tina Thompson and Cynthia Cooper, the team shot into a dynasty of MVPs. It was the best WNBA team composition at the time (and maybe still). 

Modern WNBA Champions 

These early legends paved the way for their successors, showing that women had more than earned their place on the court with skills, class, bravery, and toughness. Today, the WNBA is full of heroes and rising stars. 

The most familiar name of the bunch is Sue Bird. Sue Bird is a five-time Olympian, and each and every time she brought back gold. She’s the most decorated FIBA basketball athlete, both male and female, ever. 

Yet, despite the accolades, Sue Bird is still just 18th on the WNBA ranking list! The top of the list is Breanna Stewart, who’s already filled her trophy case at the tender age of 26. Stewart came back from a ruptured Achilles just two years ago, and reclaimed her throne, remaining the best player in the world.

Other forces are on the rise in the WNBA from A’ja Wilson to Elena Delle Donne to Candace Parker. These women have trophies to spare and some of the best WNBA stats, period. 

The electricity of watching these women is one of the reasons that so many people are looking for WNBA pick parlays. Despite comparatively low viewership, the WNBA has some of the greatest players in basketball and nail-bitingly close games! 

Witness the Next Era in WNBA History

Despite all that has been accomplished, the WNBA isn’t done yet. New legends are on the rise, and young dreamers are watching the games waiting for their turn to make WNBA history. Now that you know some of the history that made it possible, take a moment to watch and appreciate today’s players as they inch closer to gender equality.

If you enjoyed learning about the history of the WNBA, we have plenty of content on our blog that you’re sure to love! Check it out for more! 



Patricia Ann Cole has been writing stories since she was a child. Most of those stories were of a paranormal nature. In her adult life she earned a BA in mathematics and taught elementary math for many years. She loves to read, particularly romance novels. She can talk for hours about a TV series. She adores her cat, Sonic. She loves spending time with family and friends, especially her nieces and nephew. She is an avid traveler and enjoys the more exotic adventures.