[With a new NBA season upon us, a series AmericanStudying some of basketball’s many interesting figures, stories, and debates. Leading up to a crowd-sourced weekend post on the bball stories, histories, debates, and contexts you’d highlight—share ‘em in comments or by email, please!]
Before Colin Kaepernick began his protests in the summer of 2016, WNBA stars were already doing so; but as is too often the case, we don’t recognize these female athletes as fully as we do their male counterparts. So I wanted to make sure to end this NBA and bball series by highlighting and briefly AmericanStudying a handful of the many phenomenal WNBA stars, past and present, on and off the court:
1) Sheryl Swoopes: Swoopes, Lisa Leslie, and Rebecca Lobo were the first three players signed to the WNBA when it launched in 1996, and honestly any one of them could occupy this spot on my list. But Swoopes was the first signed, and I’m highlighting her in particular for that reason and because of this sentence from her Wikipedia page: “She returned only six weeks after giving birth to her son to play the last third of the WNBA inaugural season and led the Comets in the 1997 WNBA Championship.” If that doesn’t sum up the badassery of WNBA stars and female athletes everywhere, I don’t know what could.
2) Cynthia Cooper-Dyke: While Swoopes was a big part of that inaugural Houston Comets championship team, Cooper-Dyke was the unquestionable centerpiece of their dynasty (the Comets won the first four WNBA championships), winning two regular-season MVPs and all four Finals MVPs in the process. What makes that resume even more impressive, however, is that Cooper-Dyke had finished her college career at USC a full decade earlier, after the 1985-86 season. She spent the next decade playing on European teams, and then signed with the Comets at the age of 34, making her stunning subsequent dominance of the league that much more striking still.
3) Dawn Staley: Not gonna lie, this is something of a homer pick: I grew up watching Dawn Staley work her point-guard magic at the University of Virginia, and have been a huge fan ever since. She went on to make great contributions to both the US National Team and the WNBA, but it’s really as a coach that Staley has distinguished herself from other WNBA stars: literally, as Staley began coaching the Temple University women’s bball team while she was still in the WNBA; and then through her subsequent successes, with Temple, with her current coaching job at the University of South Carolina, and with the US National Team. She’s the first person to win the Naismith Award as both a player and a coach, which just about says it all.
4) Maya Moore and Renee Montgomery: I’m grouping these last two stars together because of the similar reason why I’m highlighting them: each left a promising WNBA career over the last few years in order to pursue social justice work and activism. Moore did so in 2019, putting her career with the Minnesota Lynx on hiatus to work for criminal justice reform, as illustrated by her successful efforts for the release of her partner Jonathan Irons from prison. Montgomery did so in 2020, retiring from the WNBA in order to take part in that year’s protests and activisms for racial justice and equity. These two inspiring stars have extended the legacy of those 2016 protests and remind us that WNBA athletes have long contributed to well more than the world of sports stardom.
Crowd-sourced post this weekend,
PS. So one more time: what do you think? Other bball stories, histories, or contexts you’d share (in comments or by email)?