This 2021 season will be the 25th for the WNBA, and the league will not let you forget it. And rightfully so – 25 years is an accomplishment, and the WNBA has grown a tremendous amount since it first began play in 1997.
So, with season No. 25 right around the corner, we’re taking a look at 24 moments from the first 24 WNBA seasons that will live on forever in fans and admirers of this league.
24 Moments from 24 WNBA Seasons
1997 – The First Season
It was the very first season in league history. There were too many moments in the 1997 WNBA to choose just one: the first tip off, the first championship, the first everything. It was when some legendary names got their start in the league. It’s a memorable season because it was the first season.
Maybe the Houston Comets beginning what would become the first dynasty in WNBA history is what you’d crown as the top moment, but in a season full of firsts, it’s tough to nail down just one moment.
1998 – Comets Win Second Title
After using a single-elimination format for the playoffs in the league’s first season, the WNBA switched to best-of-three series for its semifinals and final in 1998. After defeating the Charlotte Sting, 2-0, in the semifinals, the Comets faced the Phoenix Mercury in the WNBA Finals. The series went to three games, but Houston completed the back-to-back in Game 3, furthering building the legend of head coach Van Chancellor and WNBA MVP Cynthia Cooper.
1999 – Teresa Weatherspoon’s Half-Court Heave
It wouldn’t end up making a difference as the Comets won their third WNBA title in a row, but in Game 2 of the 1999 WNBA Finals, Teresa Weatherspoon capped off one of the best finishes in professional basketball history and one of the top WNBA moments with a prayer from half court that turned a two-point deficit into a one-point victory for the New York Liberty.
See for yourself: the final few minutes of this one were absolutely incredible.
2000 – Four-Peat Complete
You may feel these early WNBA moments are too Comets-heavy, but that’s what happens when one team wins the first four championships in a league. Houston dominated the early WNBA days, and so it dominates the early portion of this list, too. It helps that the Comets won the 2000 WNBA championship in overtime over the Liberty, too.
2001 – Lisa Leslie’s World
It was a huge year for the WNBA – finally, a new champion as the Los Angeles Sparks and Lisa Leslie climbed the mountaintop for the first time, Lauren Jackson and Jackie Stiles were selected in the draft, and Katie Smith scored a league-record 46 points in one game. But you have to give the nod to Leslie and the Sparks becoming the first team to unseat Houston from its throne, and Leslie in particular for the insane season she had. She went especially wild in the playoffs, averaging 22.3 points, 12.3 rebounds, and 4.4 blocks per game in the 2001 postseason.
2002 – Sparks Repeat
The Sparks and Leslie did not disappear after bursting onto the scene in 2001. In fact, quite the opposite – they strengthened. LA didn’t lose a playoff game in 2002, winning all three rounds by a 2-0 series score, finishing off the Liberty in the WNBA Finals to hand New York yet another defeat in the ultimate series.
2003 – Worst to First
Bill Laimbeer coached the Detroit Shock from the worst team in the league in 2002 (9-23 season record) to the top team in the Eastern Conference in the regular season (25-9 mark) and a WNBA championship, toppling the mighty Sparks in three games in the WNBA Finals.
2004 – Lauren Jackson & Sue Bird Arrive
It took a few years for them to rise to the top, but by 2004, the duo of Jackson and Bird was ready to take over the league. Jackson led the WNBA in scoring with 20.5 points per contest, and Bird was one of the most efficient players in the W. With the old guard of Houston and LA either not in the playoffs or eliminated in the first round, the door was open for something new. The Storm made it happen, pulling away from the Connecticut Sun in the second half of Game 3 to win their first-ever WNBA title.
2005 – Monarchs’ Time to Shine
Sacramento didn’t have the league’s MVP, it didn’t have the Rookie of the Year, and it didn’t have the Defensive Player of the Year. But it did have the Coach of the Year in John Whisenant, and it did have the WNBA Finals MVP in Yolanda Griffith. After sweeping the two most stories teams in the league at the time, Houston and LA, in the first two rounds, the Monarchs met Connecticut in the first-ever best-of-five WNBA Finals. It only took four games for Sacramento to take care of business, though, delivering the franchise its first championship and the Sun their second-straight finals loss.
2006 – WNBA Finals Goes to Five
The league has seen WNBA Finals go to three games in best-of-three series before, but never had a Finals needed five games to determine a champion until 2006. The Shock and Monarchs traded Games 1 through 4, all with double-digit margins, but Game 5 was different. Detroit’s Deanna Nolan went for 24 points, Cheryl Ford had a double-double on 10 points and 10 rebounds and Plenette Pierson put up 16 points off the bench (including 10-of-13 from the charity stripe) to give the Shock the close 80-75 victory and the second title in the team’s history.
2007 – Phoenix Wins Its First in Dramatic Fashion
The Mercury were one of the originals from 1997, but it took a decade for them to finally claim the top spot in the WNBA. The Shock them everything they could handle, pushing the 2007 WNBA Finals to five games for the second year in a row. But this time, Detroit wouldn’t be the one with the last laugh – it would be Diana Taurasi, Penny Taylor, Cappie Pondexter and the rest of the Mercury who would enjoy the trophy celebration.
The entertainment value of the 2007 WNBA Finals was very high, with three of the five games being decided by eight points or fewer, including a one-point win for Phoenix in Game 4 that avoided its elimination that was secured with a defensive stand in the contest’s final moments.
2008 – Candace Parker Arrives
In a six year span, the Shock went to four WNBA Finals and won three of them. The last of those championships came in 2008 over a San Antonio Silver Stars team making its first real run at a title. The Shock swept the Silver Stars, 3-0, although the games were competitive.
But we’re going to give Candace Parker’s debut the nod for the 2008 WNBA moment. In a 99-94 victory over the Mercury in the first game of the 2008 season, Parker scored 34 points on 12-of-19 shooting from the field, pulled down 12 rebounds to complete the double-double, and dished eight assists to boot. It was quite an announcement of her arrival, and we’ve all seen what she’s done since.
2009 – Mercury Make It Happen
Phoenix went taken to the brink of elimination in all three rounds of the 2009 WNBA Playoffs – it needed three games to dispatch the Silver Stars, then another three games to handle the Sparks, and five games to overcome the Indiana Fever in the WNBA Finals. In total, Phoenix faced elimination in five of its 11 playoff games that year and won every one of them.
Game 3 of the 2009 WNBA Finals was the most memorable of the series as it came down to the wire and finished in the Fever’s favor by just one point. But Phoenix won the next two, staving off elimination twice in a row to create one of the most unforgettable WNBA moments. Taurasi was especially insane that year and in the postseason in particular, averaging 22.3 points and 1.3 blocks per night in the playoffs.
2010 – Atlanta’s Dream Run
The Atlanta Dream finished the 2010 regular season 19-15 and narrowly made the playoffs as the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference by just two games. But, the Dream seized the moment and put the WNBA on notice in the playoffs.
First, they swept the top-seeded Washington Mystics, 2-0, in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. Then, the Liberty fell victim to the Dream in another 2-0 sweep. Atlanta met a buzz saw operating on too high of a level in the WNBA Finals as the Storm put Atlanta on the wrong side of the broom, 3-0, but the incredible Cinderella run from the Dream in 2010 won’t be soon forgotten.
2011 – The New Dynasty Dawns
No one knew it at the time, but when the Minnesota Lynx won the championship in 2011, it was the start of the next great WNBA dynasty.
Yet again, the Dream went on a run to the WNBA Finals as a lower seed, this time the No. 3 seed out of the East (though they had the league’s fourth-best regular season record at 20-14), and yet again, they were outmatched by a more powerful force. Minnesota lost a total of just eight games in the regular season and playoffs combined, and a huge WNBA Finals performance from Seimone Augustus (24.7 points, 5.7 rebounds, 4.7 assists) helped give it a 3-0 sweep of Atlanta in the ultimate series.
Before 2011, the Lynx had very little success in their history to look back on. It’s a totally different story now, and it started with this team.
2012 – Tamika Catchings Becomes a Champion
For many years, Tamika Catchings was one of the best players in the WNBA, but her moment at the pinnacle didn’t come until 2012. But finally, after seven WNBA All-Star showings and a number of disappointing seasons from a team perspective, Catchings and the Fever completed the dream.
Catchings was massive in the 2012 WNBA Finals, averaging 22.3 points, 6.0 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 2.0 steals, and 2.3 blocks per game in the series, which Indiana won, 3-1, over Minnesota. She shot 27-of-28 from the free-throw line in the series, shot 42.9 percent from the field (27-of-63), and deservedly won WNBA Finals MVP.
2013 – Lynx Dominate
In 2013, Minnesota went to its third-straight WNBA Finals and won its second in three years. The team also didn’t lose a single postseason contest after going 26-8 in the regular season, with a 10-game and a seven-game winning streak mixed in there. From start to finish, the Lynx owned 2013, and it was a defining season in establishing head coach Cheryl Reeve as the force that she is.
2014 – Mercury Make History
When Seattle won 28 regular season games in 2010, it matched the mark set by the Sparks in 2000 and 2001. The Mercury did the Storm one better in 2014, though, triumphing 29 times during the regular season and setting a new standard in the WNBA.
But in North American pro sports, the regular season is meaningless. It’s the postseason that matters, and Phoenix did it there, too. The team lost only once in the playoffs – a five-point defeat to the defending-champion Lynx in Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals – and steamrolled the Chicago Sky, 3-0, to claim the season’s throne. The Sky, led by Elena Delle Donne and a 15-19 regular season team, put up a fight in Game 3, but Taurasi and Candice Dupree combined for 48 points, and Phoenix put a stamp on one of the most dominant seasons in WNBA history.
2015 – Odd Years Belong to Minnesota
As WNBA fans came to realize in the 2010s, odd years belong to Minnesota.
The Lynx won their third championship in five years – only in the odd years – in 2015, and they did it through a dramatic WNBA Finals against Indiana. Games 1 through 4 were all decided by six points or fewer, with the teams splitting them to force a Game 5 that Minnesota would ultimately take with some comfort, 69-52. But the fantastic battle between the Lynx and Fever has to be considered one of the best WNBA moments.
2016 – Buzzerbeating Sparks
This is literally as good as it gets in basketball: decisive Game 5, league championship on the line, back-and-forth affair, two storied teams, wild final seconds that send you on an emotional roller coaster even as a neutral. Forget the WNBA – this is one of the best sports moments of the decade, minimum.
I’m not going to go any further than that. If you know, you know. If you don’t, make sure you watch this video, because you need to know.
2017 – ODDS YEARS BELONG TO THE LYNX
Sure, the Sparks got the best of the Lynx in 2016 at the buzzer, but in an odd year? No way.
The 2017 WNBA Finals provided us with a rematch of the legendary 2016 WNBA Finals in the second season of the league’s playoff format that eliminates conference restrictions on the bracket. LA and Minnesota were the clear best two teams all season long in 2017, and it was only fitting that a rematch take place in the ultimate series.
Again, it went to five games, but this series was played in an odd year, so really the Sparks never stood a chance, even when they were up 2-1 in the series. But this series had so many great games, it’s hard to pinpoint one moment, so we have to just give it to the entire five games.
2018 – Seattle Holds Off Phoenix in Semifinals
In 2018, the Storm and Mercury went toe-for-toe in the WNBA Semifinals for the right to play in the WNBA Finals. Breanna Stewart was outstanding, averaging 24.0 points, 7.4 rebounds, and 1.4 blocks per game in the series, while DeWanna Bonner (23.2 points, 9.8 rebounds, 2.0 steals per contest) and Brittney Griner (21.4 points, 9.2 rebounds, 1.8 blocks per outing) matched her for Phoenix. I mean, come on: Stewie, Sue Bird, and Natasha Howard versus Bonner, Griner, and Diana Taurasi? That’s about as good as it gets.
The series had three games decided by four or fewer points and went to five games, with Phoenix rebounding from a 2-0 deficit to force a Game 5. Really, this series was outstanding, and with the Storm sweeping Washington in the ultimate series, you have to give this the nod.
And did I mention SUE BIRD IN A MASK?!?!?!
2019 – ‘Stics Succeed
It took the Washington Mystics a long time to achieve a WNBA championship – 21 years, to be exact – but it finally happened in 2019. After a lackluster history, to put it mildly, the Mystics followed up their only WNBA Finals appearance in 2018 with their only WNBA title in 2019, but it wasn’t simple. It required a five-game series with the Connecticut Sun, a fantastic series from Finals MVP Emma Meesseman, a massive Game 5 from Elena Delle Donne and more to get it done, but get it done the ‘Stics did.
2019 belonged to the Washington Mystics.
2020 – Storm Stomp Aces
Everything about 2020 was weird, and the WNBA was no exception: the season was shortened, it was all played in a bubble, some of the biggest names and best players weren’t competing and more made it very unorthodox. But, the season was fortunately played, and Seattle let it be known that it was the only team worthy of champion distinction.
The Storm and Las Vegas Aces were the best two teams in the regular season, and Seattle made quick work of Vegas in the WNBA Finals, 3-0, including a 33-point shellacking in Game 3 to clinch the title. The 2020 WNBA was Seattle’s. There’s no question about that.
2021 – ?
Who knows what 2021 has in store for us. Some of the best WNBA moments could be coming. You’ll just have to tune in to find out.