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All-Star Analysts

WNBA 101: A crash course before the 25th season begins

May 12, 2021, 12:00 PM ● Camille Clarin
Camille Clarin

Looking to join the WNBA fandom? Here's a primer to help you get started before the league opens its 25th season on May 15 (PHT).

The Seattle Storm are the reigning WNBA champions.

With the WNBA’s 25th season right around the corner, it’s no surprise that this year is expected to be the most exciting one yet. Just like every season, the league is filled with insanely good talent. But the true highlight of the current WNBA is how incredible the players have been even beyond the court. It is a league dominated by leaders, mothers, advocates, and elite athletes. So if you haven’t joined the fandom yet, what are you waiting for? 

To help you get started, here’s everything you need to know about the W.

The Fundamentals

Let’s start with the basic facts. Founded on April 22, 1996, the WNBA began its 1997 season with eight teams before eventually expanding to the 12 teams competing today. 

These 12 teams are the Chicago Sky, Connecticut Sun, Washington Mystics, Atlanta Dream, Indiana Fever, and New York Liberty in the East; the Las Vegas Aces, Seattle Storm, Los Angeles Sparks, Minnesota Lynx, Phoenix Mercury, and Dallas Wings in the West. Each team consists of a 12-woman lineup, which makes each roster spot incredibly precious.

As a result of the ongoing pandemic and the upcoming Tokyo Olympics, the 2021 season will switch from the originally planned 36 regular season games to 32, while the playoffs will be disputed by the top eight teams with the highest winning percentages regardless of conference. The semifinals and the WNBA Finals will feature best-of-five formats.

The regular season will begin on May 15, pause for the Olympic break from July 16 to August 12, and resume for the second half on August 15. The playoffs are expected to kick off on September 24. All these key dates were adjusted to reflect Philippine time.

It will be tough for any team to dethrone the defending champions Seattle Storm after they won the title in the WNBA Bubble last year, but with the level of talent every team has, you never know who’s gonna take the crown. 

The Superstars

Now that you got the basics down, it’s important to get to know some of the league’s most notable greats like Lisa Leslie (first woman to dunk in the WNBA), Tina Thompson (4x WNBA champion), Cynthia Cooper (back-to-back MVP), and Sheryl Swoopes (3x Defensive Player of the Year) because these women paved the way for the superstars you see in today’s league. I have my personal favorites, but for this article, I’ll give a starting five composed of the stars who have dominated the league in recent years.

At point guard, a veteran known for her unapologetic fashion sense and jaw-dropping passes, meet Sue Bird. She is a winner at every level with two NCAA D1 championships, four Olympic gold medals, four WNBA championships, and five EuroLeague championships. As much as she is a star on her own, what makes her so amazing is her ability to lift up the people around her, on and off the court. 

At shooting guard, arguably one of the best to play the game and the league’s all-time leading scorer, you got Diana Taurasi. She commands attention on the court and has no problem speaking her mind, but it's her prolific scoring ability and the swagger that goes with it that makes her one of the most electric players to watch. 

Four-time Olympic gold medalists Diana Taurasi and Sue Bird are two of the best WNBA players. (Photo: USA Basketball)

At forward, a player with masterful skills and more accolades than years on this earth is Breanna Stewart. To paint a picture of her dominance, six months after winning the WNBA Finals MVP along with the championship, Stewie won the EuroLeague title and the Final Four MVP. Oh and by the way, she did all that after recovering from an Achilles injury. At first glance, she doesn’t look like a threat on the court because of her body type, but as soon as the ball touches her hands you will witness anything from a textbook fadeaway to a 3-point dagger. Stewie is simply in a league of her own and only an act of God could halt her dominance. 

Also at forward, the only WNBA player to win Rookie of The Year and MVP in the same season, Chicago’s finest, Candace Parker. The epitome of a player who can do it all, Candace is not only a post player who can handle the ball, she is also elevated by her grace, skillset, and athleticism. It’s fair to say that she has achieved legendary baller status, but Parker’s off-court ambitions and advocacies cement her as a trailblazer in the world of sports. 

Last but not the least, at small forward, with one of the game’s deadliest fadeaways and the poster child for big guards is Elena Delle Donne, a.k.a. EDD. She is one of only nine players, and the first in the WNBA, to record a 50-40-90 season with a ridiculous 97.4 percent shooting from the free throw line. Delle Donne is your ideal player with the size and strength of a center paired with the skills and agility of a guard, and as a two-time league MVP, there is no question that EDD is a future Hall of Famer.

You also need to watch out for the young rising stars, which include A'ja Wilson (reigning MVP), Sabrina Ionescu (2020 No. 1 overall pick), Crystal Dangerfield (2020 Rookie of the Year), as well as the promising rookie class of 2021.

The Purpose

To end your WNBA crash course, I’m gonna let you in on a little secret about why the WNBA is of utmost importance and deserves more appreciation. 

For the WNBA, it has always been bigger than the game. They are solely motivated by the passion and love that they have for it. On the court, they are devoted to impacting future generations of female athletes. Off the court, they have extended the confines of what it means to be a professional athlete. And despite what the media usually spotlights, they have always been at the forefront of the fight for equality.

Last year, several players sacrificed their seasons to fight for social reform. Those who played also did their part in honoring the Black lives lost from police brutality. The teams dedicated the season to Breonna Taylor and encouraged everyone to #SayHerName. The Mystics wore shirts with seven bullet holes on the back to represent the seven times Jacob Blake was shot in the back by a police. 

WNBA players know how to mobilize for action and create change because they are not afraid to do what is right in the face of adversity. A good example is when players openly campaigned against former Atlanta Dream co-owner Kelly Loeffler, who was running for a Senate seat, because of her criticisms of the Black Lives Matter movement and the WNBA’s commitment to social justice. The players continued to rebel until Loeffler lost to her Democratic opponent and sold her stake in the franchise, leading the way for a new ownership group bannered by two-time champion Renee Montgomery to buy the Dream.

To put it briefly, the WNBA is leading conversations that are necessary for positive change in our society. They are using their platforms to amplify the voices of those who need to be heard.

So now that everything is said and done, I hope you’ve gained an appreciation for the hidden gem of sports that is the WNBA. Not to mention, the jerseys for the upcoming season are absolutely stunning. If you haven’t had the chance already, tune into the games and go embrace the greatness you’ve been missing all along. 

You can subscribe to WNBA League Pass for $16.99 (approximately P820) or Team Pass for $9.99 (approximately P480). Some games will also be streamed live on Twitter and Facebook.

All-Star Analysts
Philippine basketball personalities offering their insights on relevant NBA topics specially tailored for Filipino fans.