- WNBA may also refer to WNBA-AM, a radio station in Illinois.
The Women's National Basketball Association or WNBA is an organization governing a professional basketball league for women in the United States. Formed in 1996, the league started play in 1997. Penny Toler was the first woman to score a point in the league, and Lisa Leslie was the first one to make a dunk basket.
Although most WNBA teams play in the same venue as their counterpart NBA teams, they do not garner the same attendance, nor the TV ratings.
We Got Next
Officially approved by the NBA Board of Governors on April 24, 1996, the creation of the WNBA was first announced at a press conference with Rebecca Lobo, Lisa Leslie and Sheryl Swoopes in attendance. While not the first major women's professional basketball league in the United States (a distinction held by the defunct WBL), the WNBA is the only league to receive full backing of the NBA, the world's most competitive professional basketball league.
On the heels of a much-publicized gold medal run by the USA Women's Basketball team at the 1996 Summer Olympic Games, the WNBA started its first season in June 1997 to much fanfare. The league started its first season with eight teams; the first WNBA game featured the New York Liberty facing the Los Angeles Sparks in Los Angeles. The game was televised nationally in the United States on the NBC television network. At the start of the 1997 season, the WNBA had television deals in place with NBC, ESPN and the Lifetime Television Network.
The WNBA centered its marketing campaign, dubbed "We Got Next", around stars Rebecca Lobo, Lisa Leslie and Sheryl Swoopes. However, in the league's first season, Leslie's team underperformed and Swoopes sat out the season due to her pregnancy. The league's true star emerged in 1997 WNBA MVP Cynthia Cooper, who led her Houston Comets team to victory over the New York Liberty in the first WNBA Championship game.
The 1999 season was a milestone season for the WNBA in a variety of ways. The league's chief competition, the ABL, folded the year before and after the NBA lockout resulted in an abbreviated NBA season, the WNBA started to come into its own. Four teams had been added since the 1997 season, bringing the number of teams in the league up to 12. The drafting of University of Tennessee star Chamique Holdsclaw before the season signaled a new youth movement in a league that had traditionally been comprised of international/college veterans.
This season was also a historical one for the WNBA. Attendance at games for certain teams such as the New York Liberty had reached all-time highs. Before the season started, a collective bargaining agreement between players and the league was signed - the first collective bargaining agreement to be signed in the history of women's professional sports.
By the 2000 season, the WNBA had doubled in size. Two more teams had been added in 1998, two more in 1999 and four more in 2000. Up to this point, the teams and league were collectively owned by the NBA. After the 2002 season the NBA sold the WNBA teams either to their NBA counterparts in the same city or to a third party. This lead to two teams moving and two teams folding before the 2003 season began. The Cleveland Rockers folded after the 2003 season.
In addition to the restructuring of teams, players would also cause changes in the league. In 2002, the WNBA players association threatened to strike the next season if a new deal was not worked out between players and the league. The result was a delay in the start of the 2003 season.
The 2004 season proved to be the most competitive in league history, with almost all the teams in the league vying for playoff spots. Despite this, on October 21, 2004 Val Ackerman, the first WNBA president, announced her resignation, effective February 1, 2005, citing the desire to spend more time with her family.
Conferences and Schedules
The league is divided into two conferences. There are 6 teams in the Eastern Conference and 7 teams in the Western Conference. Each team plays a 34-game regular season schedule. The four teams in each conference with the best winning records go on to compete in the playoffs.
In the middle of July, regular play stops and the WNBA All-Star Game is held as part of a weekend event in a selected WNBA city. The actual game is played in the native WNBA team's home arena. The All-Star Game features star players from the Western Conference facing star players from the Eastern Conference. During the season fans get to vote for the players they would like to see start the game.
At the end of the regular season, the top four teams in each conference are matched up in the playoffs. Each conference has two conference semi-final series, pitting the team with the best record in each conference with the team with the 4th best record in the conference. The team with the 3rd best record in each conference faces the team with the 2nd best record in the same conference. The winning teams from each of these series face each other in the conference final, with the winning team in each conference facing the other team in the WNBA Finals.
All playoff games including the WNBA Finals series are best-two-of-three games series. The first game of the series is played on the home court of the team with the lower seed, while the last two games are played on the home court of the higher ranked team.
Rules are governed by standard basketball rules as defined by the NBA, with a few notable exceptions:
- Games are played in two 20-minute halves of play
- The shot clock has 30 seconds
- The three-point line is 19-feet, 9 inches / 6.0198 meters from the basket, shorter than the NBA distance
- The regulation WNBA ball is 28.5 inches/72.39 cm in circumference and 1 inch/2.54 cm smaller than the NBA ball
There have been a total of 16 teams in WNBA history. A total of 3 teams have folded since the league's inception. Two other teams, the Utah Starzz and the Orlando Miracle moved to San Antonio and Connecticut respectively.
Future Expansion Franchises
- WNBA Chicago (http://www.wnba.com/chicago/) (temporary name)
- Awarded February 2005; inaugural season 2006  (http://www.wnba.com/news/chicago2006_release050208.html)
- Val Ackerman...........1997-2005
WNBA Championship/All-Star Game
- Official website (http://www.wnba.com)
- Informational website (http://www.womensbasketballonline.com)
- National Women's Basketball League (http://www.nwbl.com/)