I do a slick spin back, they're like "Man, oh man! One more assist or is he gonna jam?"
Jump over your head, I slam where you stand, now you hear the crowd, loud in the stands
We got a lotta fans, the whole clique got game, bring your raincoat 'cause my jump shot reigns
Shove it for nothing, trying to box out lanes, my shot automatic, I make the nets go "SCHWANG"!
Don't understand it? You must be lame
'Cause basketball is my favorite thang
Basketball was created in 1891 by James Naismith, a Canadian-born physical fitness professor at a Massachusetts school; he wanted to find a way to allow his students to exercise indoors during the cold New England winters. After coming up with a game that would involve throwing a ball into a raised goal, he looked for some boxes for goals, but could only find peach baskets to nail up.
Thus, basketball, at least in its earliest form, was born.
Modern basketball got its start in 1954, when Danny Biasone and Leo Ferris promoted the 24-second shot clock (technically, neither invented the shot clock, but the 24-second duration was their idea);note a team with the ball has 24 seconds to attempt a shot that at least touches the rim.note Before the shot clock, many teams would stall as long as they could, resulting in non-eventful and extremely tedious games, to the point where some quarters would be 0-0, with one really low point involving a game with a scoring total of 19-18. After the National Basketball Association implemented the shot clock and overhauled the foul system—creating the fast paced game we know today—attendance at NBA games rose by 40%.
Basketball is played with five people on each team. Canonically, the positions are Point Guard, Shooting Guard, the Center, the Small Forward, and the Power Forward. In play diagrams, these individuals are often designated by numberspoint guard 1, shooting guard 2, small forward 3, power forward 4, center 5. However, the boundaries between many of these positions have become increasingly blurred in recent years. Many teams below the professional level choose to play three or even four guards, with the remaining player(s) considered simply "frontcourt" players. Common positional "blurs" are:
- Swingman or wing Combination of small forward and shooting guard.
- Forward-center Almost Exactly What It Says on the Tin; this is almost always someone who can play power forward or center.
- Combo guard or lead guard Capable of playing both guard positions.
- Point forward A forward who has strong enough ballhandling skills and basketball IQ to be able to run a team's offense.
- Stretch four Combination of power forward and small forward. The concept is that of a power forward ("four") able to "stretch" a defense by being able to shoot from outside; all leagues award three points instead of the standard two for shots taken behind a designated line on the floor. A related and even more recent innovation is the "stretch five", a center who's a legitimate three-point threat.
There's a lot more to this than can be gone into depth - The Other Wiki has a long, detailed article on basketball's history.
Competitively, basketball is played worldwide. However, it is most popular in North America, where it competes neck-and-neck with baseball for second place after football; the Philippines, where it's by far the most popular sport; and the Baltics, with Latvia winning the first ever Eurobasket and hosting it in 2015, producing several European basketball and NBA stars like Jānis Krūmiņ, Maigonis Valdmanis, Valdis Muinieks, Valdis Valters, Igors Miglinieks, Gundars Vētra, Andris Biedriņ, Kristaps Porziņģis and Dāvis Bertāns, and ASK Riga winning the EuroLeague three times in a row before becoming defunct, and Lithuania winning Eurobasket three times, hosting it twice, winning the EuroLeague once, earning 8 other medals in the Eurobasket, the World Championships and the Olympic Games, the men's national team having extremely high TV ratings with three quarters of the country's population watching their games live in 2014, and producing several NBA players, including the father-and-son pair of Arvydas and Domantas Sabonis, arūnas Marčiulionis, and Jonas Valančiūnas. The elder Sabonis and Marčiulionis are both in the Naismith Hall of Fame.
International basketball is governed by FIBA (a French acronym for "International Basketball Federation"; pronounced FEE-ba), a body based in Switzerland.note Almost all leagues around the world play under FIBA's rules, with the main exceptions being those based in the U.S. The Philippine Basketball Association uses a mashup of FIBA and NBA rules. That said, the rule sets aren't all that different. The main differences in the rule sets are:
- Duration of the game: FIBA uses four 10-minute quarters, as do U.S. college women's basketball and the WNBA. College men's basketball uses two 20-minute halves; the NBA and PBA use four 12-minute quarters. All of the named rule sets have 5-minute overtime periods.
- Shot clock: 24 seconds for all professional play, 30 seconds in college (men's and women's).
- Fouling out: Players are disqualified from the game on their fifth personal foul in FIBA and U.S. college play. In the NBA, WNBA, and PBA, players have to commit six.
- Size of the court: FIBA's is slightly smaller, being about 2 feet (70 cm) shorter and 9 inches (22 cm) narrower than those used in U.S. college and professional play.
- Three-point arc: In increasing order of distance from the basket, it's U.S. college women, FIBA, and NBA. The PBA, WNBA, and NCAA men use FIBA's arc (though in the corners, the WNBA uses the NBA arc instead of FIBA's).
- The rule sets also have subtle differences that affect when teams get to shoot free throws instead of putting the ball back into play, with a new shot clock. (If a player is fouled while shooting, he or she always gets to shoot free throwsone if the basket was made, and two or three if the basket attempt was missed.) While these differences are too involved for this page, suffice it to say that they can significantly affect late-game strategies.
Professional Basketball in America: The NBA
Naturally, the US is where all the top basketball talent in the world goes: it's where the spectators and the money are. As such, the NBA is without dispute the best and most popular basketball league in the world. The section on the NBA got so long and unwieldy that we gave the league its own page.
Other Popular Basketball Leagues
- Lithuania: A former Soviet Republic where basketball seems to be the only sport practiced. Some famous NBA players were born here, including LeBron's buddy ydrūnas Ilgauskas, and the legendary Arvydas Sabonis (7'3"), who could have been the best player ever if he hadn't often been injured.note A few other Lithuanians, among them Arvydas' son Domantas, play in the NBA; many others play in major European teams. The domestic league is usually a battle between algiris, the elder Sabonis' old club from Kaunas, and Rytas, from the capital city of Vilnius.
- Spain: Won the 2006 World Championship (now World Cup), 2009 and 2013 European Championships, and 2019 World Cup. Have reached at least the semifinals in the last nine EuroBasket editions, and lost against the U.S.A. in the last two Olympic finals. Country of Pau Gasol, Catalonia-born ex-forward of the Memphis Grizzlies, Los Angeles Lakers, Chicago Bulls and San Antonio Spurs, and now with the Milwaukee Bucks; his brother, Marc Gasol, ex-forward-center of the Lakers and Grizzlies, now with the Toronto Raptors; 2019 World Cup MVP Ricky Rubio, now of the Phoenix Suns; and Serge Ibaka (born in the Republic of the Congo, but naturalized in Spain), shot-blocking wizard for the Raptors who made his name with the Oklahoma City Thunder. Spain's domestic league, Liga ACB,note is often considered the world's top league outside the NBA, with three especially prominent teams: the basketball squads of Real Madrid and FC Barcelona, plus standalone basketball club Baskonia.
- Greece: Another major country. Two major teams (Panathinaikos and Olympiacos' basketball clubs) fight every year for the conquest of the local title (like they do in pretty much every other sport both are involved, in fact) and are top contenders on the continental level, having won nine EuroLeagues together. Greek supporters really are hot. Treated former Atlanta Hawks and current Phoenix Suns player Josh Childress as a god when he went to Greece to play for Olympiacos. Currently, the country's best-known player is the Bucks' "Greek Freak", Giannis Antetokounmpo.note
- Croatia, Serbia, Slovenia: Formerly known altogether as Yugoslavia, they are, along with Team USA, the most successful team in Basketball World Cups, each with 5 golds. Always have a tough national team, and they are able to beat almost anybody, even after the collapse of the original country. Home to players like Darko Miličić, Peja Stojaković, Goran Dragić, and Luka Dončić, known for their tenacity and accuracy beyond the three-point line. Slovenia are the reigning European champions, winning the 2017 EuroBasket behind Dragić (who had previously announced this would be his international finale) and then-teenage sensation Dončić.
- While they were still Yugoslavia, their team was dominated by close friends Vlade Divac (a Serb) and Draen Petrović (a Croat) who were later both signed to the NBA, but after the split of Yugoslava and Divac throwing a Croatian flagnote , the two stopped talking and Divac was never able to patch up his relationship with Petrović before Petrović died in a car accident in Germany.
- Italy & France: Countries with ups and downs. Italy was the silver medal winner in the 2004 Olympics, losing to Argentina in the Gold Medal game. France is currently the nationality second most represented in the NBA (after the U.S.A. itself). Tony Parker is also famous for his
wifeex-wife, and Joakim Noah (born in New York City and mostly raised in the US) is also famous for his dad, former tennis star Yannick Noah.
- Russia/Soviet Union: As often in sport. The most famous Russian player, the now-retired Andrei Kirilenko, best known for his long tenure with the Utah Jazz, is known to love puns: he chose number 47 because of his initials.
- Angola: Angola is the dominant country in African basketball, as is...
- Puerto Rico: Puerto Rico being dominant in Central American basketball. Their greatest feat was in the 2004 Olympics where they soundly beat seemingly unbeatable Team USA in the group stage.
- Puerto Rico is a US territory and people born there are automatically US citizens. It came as no surprise to astute observers that a Puerto Rican basketball team could go toe-to-toe with one from the rest of the US.
- Argentina: Dominates the sport in South Americaor at least did until the core players from their heyday in the early 21st century got old, though they're still no pushovers, as evidenced by a silver medal at the 2019 World Cup. Was the first world champion, and grabbed the Olympic gold in Athens 2004. Were FIBA's #1 after the Beijing Olympics, but now are #4. Better known for Manu Ginóbili, recently retired from the San Antonio Spurs, the leader of the 2004 gold-medal team who also made it into the World Championship All-Tournament team twice, in 2002 and 2006.
- Before Argentina, there was Brazil: A potency in the 1950s and 1960s, with two World Championships and two Olympic bronzes (plus a third in 1948). In the 80s and 90s, it was the team of Oscar Schmidt, who holds the world record for points scored with 49,702note , many of them thanks to his three-point shooting proficiency. But the team has struggled since Schmidt's retirement in 1996, specially because volleyball started to take basketball's popularity in Brazil. However, the country brought out some good NBA players in Nenê, Leandro Barbosa, Anderson Varejão and Tiago Splitternote , and they qualified for the 2012 Olympics after three non-appearances - in which Brazil nearly trumped rival Argentina in the quarterfinals.
- Germany: "Discovered" basketball with Dallas Mavericks' Dirk Nowitzki (though there was Detlef Schrempf before him, Nowitzki managed to overshadow his notability); now are a regular team.
- Turkey: They may have only four or five notable teams found in this country (Anadolu Efes and Fenerbahçe usually being the big two, with Beşiktaş gaining some recent notice due to them grabbing big-name NBA players like Allen Iverson and Deron Williams, and Galatasaray and Karşıyaka also picking up recent titles), but they also have some good players that came from there like Hedo Türkoğlu, Mehmet Okur, Ersan İlyasova, Ömer Aşık, Semih Erden, and recent Turk Enes Kanter. Basically, they gained interest in basketball starting in 2001 when they got a silver medal in the European Tournament and will more likely than not gain more interest with another silver medal while being the hosts for the 2010 FIBA World Championships.
- Israel: Or, should we say, Maccabi Tel Aviv. Historically the best team on the Israeli league by far (with 49 state championships!), Maccabi has 6 European championships, a highly devoted fanbase, and a reputation as "the country's team" (of course, it helps them that the Israeli national team kinda sucks). Naturally, the other teams don't like Maccabi. The first Israeli player to play the NBA is Omri Casspi, who played for Sacramento before a last-minute (er, last-pre-lockout-day) trade forced him to move to Cleveland.
- China: China has a few professional leagues, but the most popular is the Chinese Basketball Associationnote . They had a few players from China's CBA playing in the NBA, such as the first Chinese NBA player Wang Zhizhi (of Bayi), first Chinese NBA starter and NBA Finals champion Mengke Bateernote , and Yi Jianlian (from Guangdong), but the best one to come out of there was Yao Ming, a former player and current owner of the CBA's Shanghai Sharks. The NBA gained many Chinese fans from Yao Ming playing in Houston, but when Yao announced his retirement in 2011, some of those same fans no longer bothered with that league. The best two teams from their CBA are the Bayi (Army Shanglu) Rockets and the Guangdong (Winnerway Hongyuan) Southern Tigers, the latter of which always makes it to the playoffs. Aside from the two years when Yao's Shanghai Sharks or Stephon Marbury's Beijing Ducks won it all, it's always either Bayi or the Southern Tigers that end up winning it all in that league. You could say that those two teams are like the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers of China. The CBA gained notice internationally when former NBA All-Stars — and polarizing players — Stephon Marbury, Steven Francis, Tracy McGrady, and Gilbert Arenas all went to the CBA after they were unable to find NBA teams who would hire them, joined by some NBA players who went to the CBA during the lockout. Since China knew about their situation, they installed a new rule where any (non-Chinese) NBA player who enters the CBA will stay there for the rest of their season — sometime in February or March, depending on where teams place. China's considered the best basketball country in Asia, but when the Chinese end up coming together for some FIBA World or Olympic challenges... let's just say they don't stack up all that well when compared to other countries. And at the continental level, they now have to tangle with Australia, since FIBA now holds a single regional championship for its Asia and Oceania zones. The first combined continental men's championship in 2017 was won by the Aussies.
- A key note is that in China's state-directed sports system, athletes are chosen from a very young age and sent to sports academies—for instance, Yao Ming was selected at age nine. With very few exceptions, only the graduates of the sports academies are allowed to go into professional sports in the PRC. One of the main problems with this vis-a-vis basketball is that the Chinese academies seem to think that "tall=good at basketball", meaning that many talented players never get a chance to play simply because they aren't flat-out giants. Jeremy Lin, at 6'3", would never have been considered if he had been born in, say, Zhejiang (where his maternal grandmother was born) rather than Los Angeles.note On the flip side, some people get picked for the academies who just aren't cut out to play pro basketball; even some who would be qualified can't handle the pressure of the academy system and burn out before they hit the big time. Between these two factors, Chinese basketball suffers greatly.
- Australia: Basketball gained considerable popularity in the early 90s, with Michael Jordan being named as young Australians' favourite sportsman (to the alarm of some people who didn't like the fact that an American got top spot) and the local National Basketball League airing on prime-time TV. After Jordan's retirement, it declined in popularity, with several NBL teams merging or folding, including the Sydney Kings and Brisbane Bullets, which left the league without teams in two of the country's three largest cities (although the Kings eventually made a comeback). It remains popular at grass-roots level, though. Notable Australian basketballers include former stars Luc Longley and Andrew Gaze, and present stars Patty Mills (the first Aboriginal Australian and Torres Strait Islandernote to win an NBA championship), Andrew Bogut (who briefly returned to the NBA to close out the 201819 season after being named NBL MVP), Dante Exum, and Ben Simmons. Also, the Australia squad for the 2014 FIBA World Cup featured five players who were either already in the NBA or signed with a team for the following season. Emerging superstar Kyrie Irving was born in Australia while his father was playing in the NBL, but his parents (both Americans) returned stateside when he was two years old, and he's playing international ball for Team USA. Notably, the Australian men's basketball system is surprisingly well-integrated with that of the USall of the Aussies named in this section except Exum played college ball in the States, and Exum and Simmons are the Australia-born sons of American players.
- National team-wise, the male "Boomers" have nothing on the female "Opals". The Australian women - which have included WNBA stars Lauren Jackson, Penny Taylor, Sandy Brondello (now the Opals' head coach), and Liz Cambage - won medals in all Olympics from 1996 to 2012, and the 2006 World Championship.
- Philippines: the Philippines is a basketball-mad country, owing largely to it being a former colony of the United States. You can find a basketball court just about anywhere, and basketball at the college and high school levels have the same fervor one can find with the US NCAA. The Philippines prides itself with having Asia's first professional basketball league — the Philippine Basketball Association, which is the second oldest pro league after the NBA. The PBA is composed entirely of corporate teams: i.e., instead of the team name being based on their home city like NBA clubs, PBA clubs have team names such as Toyota (the auto maker) or San Miguel (beer and food). The country also has the semipro Philippine Basketball League (PBL) and the PBA's own in-house D-League, as well as now-defunct leagues that either preceded the PBA, or were competing against it.
- The Philippines is a major power within Southeast Asia (ASEAN), having won the gold medal in almost every Southeast Asian regional meet. They were also a major player in the much wider Asian basketball tournaments in the 1960s to early 1970s, though they were gradually overtaken by China and other nations. The Philippine national team has finally managed to climb back to its former position as a major power when they were able to end the country's Asian medal drought with a silver medal finish at the 2013 FIBA Asian Championship.
- The following year, they kept up with four of the best national teams in the world before winning their first Basketball World Cup game in 40 years, all in underdog fashion, and the "Most Valuable Fans" Award for their incredible devotion of Filipino fans to basketball and to their national team.
- Suffering a major setback because of level of play, Filipino-Americans who can't crack the NBA or even the NBA G League go to the PBA to continue playing, and those same players are being used to compete internationally.
- The Philippines is a major power within Southeast Asia (ASEAN), having won the gold medal in almost every Southeast Asian regional meet. They were also a major player in the much wider Asian basketball tournaments in the 1960s to early 1970s, though they were gradually overtaken by China and other nations. The Philippine national team has finally managed to climb back to its former position as a major power when they were able to end the country's Asian medal drought with a silver medal finish at the 2013 FIBA Asian Championship.
- Also of note is the EuroLeague, basketball's equivalent to the UEFA Champions League. Although it began under the control of FIBA's European section, it's been operated by the big European clubs throughout this century. The competition involves 16 teams, 11 of which are shareholders in the competition's governing body, Euroleague Basketball (not in camel case). The other five consist of four invited teams, based on performance in domestic leagues, plus the winner of the previous season of Euroleague Basketball's second-tier EuroCup (analogous to football's Europa League). Since the 201617 edition, these teams play a full home-and-away league, with the top four teams advancing to the Final Four, run in the same manner as the NCAA version except that the EuroLeague still plays a third-place game. The 11 long-term licensees are:
- Greece: Olympiacos, Panathinaikos
- Israel: Maccabi Tel Aviv
- Italy: Olimpia Milano
- Lithuania: algiris
- Russia: CSKA Moscow
- Spain: Baskonia, FC Barcelona, Real Madrid
- Turkey: Anadolu Efes, Fenerbahçe
The main national championships are the FIBA Basketball World Cup (renamed from "World Championship" after the 2010 edition) for men, the FIBA Women's Basketball World Cup (renamed from "World Championship for Women" after the 2014 edition), and the Summer Olympics for both sexes. All but one of the most recent editions of each championship were won by Team USAthe 2018 Women's World Cup in Spain and both competitions at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. Spain won the 2019 men's World Cup in China; Team USA finished seventh after enough NBA superstars to fill a squad passed on the event. The next Summer Olympics will be in 2021 in Tokyo (delayed from 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, though it will still be called the "2020 Olympics"); the next Women's World Cup will be in 2022 in one or more countries to be determined; and the next men's World Cup will be cohosted by Indonesia, Japan, and the Philippines in 2023, with the Philippines hosting the knockout stage.
Like American football, basketball took shape in colleges and universities. Other similarities: the college game was once the biggest draw until the pro game took over, and the college game still has a unique appeal.
From the huge arena to the small gymnasium, fans cheer for their teams, the school bands play music, and mascots do their thing. Experience may vary.
Games are divided into two 20-minute halves (for men only; the women's game was changed to 10-minute quarters in 201516), the shot clock was shortened from 35 seconds to 30 for the 201516 seasonnote (hence the relatively low scoring), and each team has four timeouts in a gamenote . Effective with the 202021 season, the college three-point line in men's play will be the same as FIBA's (in 201920, only NCAA Division I men used FIBA's arc). The women's arc remains shorter than the FIBA or NBA arcs. The style of play and the overall feeling of watching a game are refreshingly different.
Most American players in the NBA, along with some foreigners, played in college before going pro. In the late '90s and early '00s, however, there was a trend for many players to declare for the draft right after high school. To prevent this, the NBA made a rule in 2005 that all players must be 19 or older during the calendar year of the draft, and additionally players (of any nationality) who complete high school in the U.S., or enroll in a U.S. college or university, must be one year out of high school before entering the draft. It's debatable whether this is for better or for worse.
There are 1,400-or-so four-year colleges in the United Statesnote who field varsity basketball teams. Around 1,100 of them are members of the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association), who splits its membership into three divisions. Most of the rest belong to the NAIA (National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics). Around 350 schools' teams make up NCAA Division I, the top level of college basketball.note All of themnote play in one of 32 conferences. After each team has played somewhere in the neighborhood of 30 games each season, each conference has its own tournament, and the champion of each conference tournament is assured a place in the NCAA tournament. Through the 201516 season, the Ivy League granted its automatic bid to the team with the best record,note but the Ivies started holding their own conference tournament in 201617.
Prominent programs in the NCAA historically include, but are not limited to, these teams. These are the eight who have (officially) won at least three NCAA tournaments. The Louisville Cardinals had also won three, but were stripped of their 2013 title after the NCAA found that a program staffer had paid a local madam thousands of dollars to provide strippers and prostitutes to players and recruits over a four-year period that included the championship team.
Duke Blue Devils - UNC's hated rivals, they have been coached since 1981 by Mike Krzyzewski ("shi-shef-skee"note ), often referred to as Coach K.note In 2015, Coach K became the first men's head coach with 1,000 career NCAA Division I wins.note With just four Final Four appearances before Coach K came to Durham, they made it 13 times in the last 30 years, including five national championships. Duke players (Christian Laettner of the Dream Team, Elton Brand, Shane Battier, Jason Williams, J.J. Redick) aren't superstars in the NBA, though, with the notable exceptions of Mr. Nice Guy Grant Hill and Kyrie Irving (who only spent one year at the school).note
Indiana Hoosiers - Five-time national champions, they are famous for having been coached from 1972 to 2000 by Bob Knight, who coached them to three of those titles. Knight is as well-known for getting his charges through school as well as his Hair-Trigger Temper. Indiana's trophy winners at the college level included Scott May and Calbert Cheaney. IU hasn't done much in women's basketball, but the Hoosier women have one very notable alumTara VanDerveer, longtime coach of women's powerhouse Stanford.
Kansas Jayhawks - Three-time national champions, and arguably more intimately connected with the sport's history than any other college team. The team's very first coach was James Naismith... yes, THE James Naismith. Ironically, he was the only Jayhawks head coach to finish his Kansas career with a losing record. Here are just some of their records as of this writing (June 2020):
- Longest streak of NCAA Tournament appearances: 30
- The coronavirus-induced cancellation of the 2020 NCAA Tournament interrupted, but didn't end, the streak. The Jayhawks would likely have been the #1 overall seed had the tournament been played.
- Most winning seasons in Division I history: 99
- Most conference championships in Division I history: 81
- Most consecutive regular-season conference championships in Division I (men's) history: 14 (took sole possession of the record from UCLA in 2018; this streak finally ended in the 201819 season)
Kentucky Wildcats - Coached by the great Adolph Rupp from 1931 to 1972. Won eight NCAA tournaments, including four under Rupp. The Wildcats are the only program to have won national titles under five different coachesRupp, his successor Joe B. Hall, Rick Pitino, Tubby Smith, and current coach John Calipari. They were the program that lost the 1966 final to the considerably less prestigious Texas Western (now Texas-El Paso, or UTEP), and that's the story in the movie Glory Road. They are the all-time winningest team in college basketball, and have won more Southeastern Conference titles than any of the other teams... combined. Recently, the Kentucky women's team had been making some strides as well, but the 201516 season was a complete off-court cluster***, which had the potential to place them in a Dork Age but ended up as just a temporary blip.
North Carolina Tar Heels - First and foremost, famous for being Michael Jordan's alma mater. The Tar Heels are six-time NCAA champions; Dean Smith, their coach from 1962 to 1997, coached them to two of those, and Roy Williams, their coach since 2003, has led them to three. The Heels had the longest streak ever of consecutive NCAA tournament appearances at 27, making every tournament from 1975 to 2001, before Kansas passed them in 2017. The Carolina women have one national title to their credit (1994).
UCLA Bruins - In their prime, Lew Alcindor (later known as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) or Bill Walton was playing. The late, great John Wooden coached this team from 1949 to 1975. The Bruins hold the (men's) record for longest winning streak: 88 games from 1971 to 1974, with Walton among them. They had a couple of long winning streaks in the future Kareem's time there, too. But more importantly, they have eleven NCAA championships, ten of which were won in Wooden's last twelve seasons as coach.
UConn Huskies - Representing the University of Connecticut, the Huskies men were long a regional power in New England for many decades, and the school was also a founding member of the original Big East Conference in 1979. However, UConn didn't become a national name until the 1990s under coach Jim Calhoun. After falling short of the Final Four throughout that decade, they broke through in 1999, not only reaching the Final Four but also claiming the national title. They went on to win two more titles in 2004 and 2011 under Calhoun. After he retired just before the 201213 season, he was replaced by his top assistant (and former UConn player) Kevin Ollie. After being barred from the 2013 tournament for academic reasons, and being left behind in the conference realignment shuffle of the early 2010s,note they picked up a fourth national title in 2014. Among their star players are Ray Allen and Richard "Rip" Hamilton (the latter a star on the first championship team). As strong as UConn is in men's basketball, it's even stronger in women's basketball. Led by coach Geno Auriemma, the Huskiesnote have won 11 national titles.note Speaking of the Big East, UConn moved to the reconfigured Big East in July 2020, reuniting it with several of its old conference rivals, among them the...
Villanova Wildcats - One of Philadelphia's "Big Five" basketball programs,note Nova has been a power in the region for decades, regularly making NCAA appearances, but made their first major splash in 1971, losing in the championship game to UCLA... though that result would be wiped from the record books when it came out that their biggest star had signed a pro contract during that season. The Wildcats' first championship in 1985 was one of the biggest shocks in NCAA tournament history this side of UMBC over Virginia (see below), with Nova stunning heavily favored Big East rival Georgetown thanks to shooting nearly 80% from the field in the final. Nova has reached new heights in this century under current coach Jay Wright, winning its second national title in 2016 over North Carolina on a buzzer-beating three-pointer and its third in 2018 in dominant fashion, winning all of their tournament games by double digits.
Honorable mention goes to the Michigan State Spartans and Gonzaga Bulldogsnote , which, with the aforementioned Jayhawks and Blue Devils, are in the midst of the four longest current March Madness (for which see below) appearance streaks (at 30 years for the Jayhawks, 24 for the Blue Devils, 22 for the Spartans, and 21 for the Bulldogs).note Special honorable mention goes to Gonzaga, even though it hasn't won a national titlenote , for two reasonsfirst, it plays in the decidedly mid-major West Coast Conference,note and second, it's done it without the benefit of any revenue from football (Gonzaga hasn't had a football team since 1941).note Another special honorable mention goes to the 1965-66 Texas Western College team, for being the first (and for more than a decade only) college men's team to ever get into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame (mainly due to the fact they were the first all-black starting team to ever win the NCAA Tournament). Speaking of which, still another such mention should go to the second college men's team to enter the Hall: the 19571959 teams from Tennessee State, a historically black institution in Nashville then known as Tennessee A&I; the Tigers won NAIA titles in the listed years, becoming the first school to win three straight national titles at any level.note
One final special honorable mention goes out to the UMBCnote Retrievers, which in 2018 became the first #16 seed ever to defeat a #1 seed in the men's tournament, dominating the Virginia Cavaliers, never trailing in the second half on their way to a 20-point win. The folks at The Other Wiki put up a page on the game within a couple of hours.
The biggest part of college basketball is the special feeling that sweeps the nation for the NCAA tournament, a feeling known as March Madness. It's almost as much an occasion to party as the Super Bowl, perhaps even more so since the tournament is spread across three weeks. As is the case with other sports postseasons, this is when teams get by far the most attention they will get all year.
After 68 teams are chosen to play and the announcement of the field is made one Sunday in mid-March on CBS, it's time for people from across America from all walks of life—up to and including a certain former presidentnote —to pick the teams they think will win each game by "filling out the bracket." This is done for fun, but some play betting games and hold office pools, which the NCAA looks down on. The study of the bracket is often referred to as "bracketology".
Throughout The '60s and The '70s the NCAA tournament was only open to conference champions and a few highly-ranked independent schools, with a total field of around two dozen teams. Eventually everyone recognized that this restriction was leaving a lot of good teams out of the tournament. In particular the plights of USC in 1971 (the Trojans finished 24-2 and were clearly the second best team in the country, but UCLA's dynasty was in full gear and they took the Pac-8 title) and Maryland in 1974 (ranked #4 in the country, the Terrapins had nowhere to go after a crushing overtime loss in the ACC tournament title game against NC State) helped spur the NCAA to start handing out at-large bids. 1975 saw the NCAA field expand to 32 teams, a move that solidified it as the premier postseason tournament, demoting the NIT (see below) to also-ran status. Since then, the base of the tournament structure has involved up to 68 teams divided into four groups and seeded within each group (starting with 32 teams, in 1979 it was expanded to 48 teams, expanded to 64 in 1984, 65 in 2001, and the current 68 in 2011. Number 1 plays number 16, 2 plays 15, and so on. The tournament added a play-in game, in which two small schools play for a 16th seed, in 2001. Since 2011, there has been a new series of four games, the First Four, held in Dayton, Ohio. Two of the games feature the four lowest-ranked conference champions playing for #16 seeds. The other two involve the four lowest-ranked at-large entries; they most often play for #11 seeds (13 times through 2019), though in the past they have played for #12 (three times), #13 (once), and #14 seeds (once). Confused yet here? (The VCU Rams made history in the very first year of the First Four's existence, going all the way from the First Four to the Final Four.)
The first two rounds (which were called the second and third rounds from 20112015) are hosted by eight different cities, including some with NBA teams, in traditional arenas. Four more cities host "regionals", consisting of the Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eight, and one more hosts the Final Four, which consists of the semifinals and the championship game. Nowadays, the Final Four is always hosted by a city with an indoor football stadium converted to host a basketball game with 70,000+ seats. During the first decade or so of the 21st century, there was a trend toward also holding at least one regional at such a stadium. However, the trend now is to hold the regionals in traditional arenas; all regional sites from 2016 through 2019 were traditional arenas, and only one of the canceled 2020 regionals had been scheduled for a football stadium. From 1946 to 1981, there was also a third-place game, and until 1975 each regional also had a third-place game.
While the NCAA tournament is the sport's official championship, there are some other postseason events. Most notable among these is the National Invitation Tournament (NIT), which is actually one year older than the NCAA tournament (the first NIT was 1938, the first NCAA was 1939). For the first part of its history, all NIT games were played at Madison Square Garden in New York City, which gave schools important media exposure in the era before widespread television coverage of sports. Up until the end of The '50s, the NIT was considered the equal of the NCAA tournament, but as the NCAA tournament started expanding, the NIT's importance gradually faded, and it became a tournament for teams not quite good enough to make the Big Dance. The NIT started expanding as well, finally settling on 32 teams, with early rounds played at home arenas, while the semifinals and championship game are still played at Madison Square Garden. The NIT champ is sometimes derisively called the "69th best team in the country".note There are also two other tournaments, the CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament (normally a 32-team field, though the 2017 edition had only 26; makes a point of not even inviting teams from major conferences) and the College Basketball Invitational (16-team field; invites members of power conferences sometimes, but in the past few years none of them have shown up). In the 201516 season, there was yet another tournament called the Vegas 16 (it had an 8-team field, but was aiming for 16), which tried to revive the old NIT format of all games at a single venue, but that event folded after only one edition. Collectively, they are pretty much college basketball's equivalent to those otherwise non-important bowl games whose only purpose are to give ESPN something to do in mid-December. The majority of fans never take them seriously, and teams turn down those bids regularly. The NIT is generally considered to be the best of these tournaments, and the Tulsa Golden Hurricane have frequently promoted their two NIT wins as being part of their "championship tradition". Some recent Cinderella runs in the NIT (Cal State Bakersfield making the semifinals in 2017, Lipscomb making the championship game in 2019) have brought some renewed attention to that tournament. The COVID-19 pandemic scuttled the 2020 editions of all of these events.
NCAA Division II and III also have 64-team championship tournaments (though the 2020 editions were also canceled due to COVID-19). Division II's is divided into 8 regional sections hosted by the top team in the region, and the 8 winners go to a neutral site for the final rounds. Division III does geographically-based early rounds, with a neutral-site Final Four. NAIA basketball was divided into two divisions through the 201920 season, and each held a 32-team tournament with all games hosted at a single site, with Kansas City hosting the NAIA Division I tournament every year since 1937, except two with no tournament (1944 during World War II and 2020 due to COVID-19) and eight years (1994-2001) in Tulsa, Oklahoma. To fit 8 games into a single day for the first round of the NAIA tournament, the first game tipped off at 9:00 A.M., while the last game started after 10:00 P.M.! However, beginning in 2021, the NAIA will reduce to a single division, with a 64-team tournament, and only the final 16 teams will get a chance to play in Kansas City.
Women's college basketball
Then there's the women's game. Naturally, it's less prestigious than the men's game, and before the WNBA, it was the premier showcase of female hoopsters outside the Olympics. The women's game really started to emerge in the '70s, and in 1982, the NCAA— hey, where are you going? Get back here! This could be useful someday!
Basic differences between the men's game and the women's game, besides the sex of the players, include a smaller ball and (at some levels) a closer three-point arc. On the college level, teams will occasionally have Lady appended to the team name, sometimes to the point of absurdity (ahem, University of South Carolina "Lady Gamecocks") or a feminine form of the team name (Cowgirls instead of Cowboys). However, the clear trend in this area is for men's and women's teams to use the same nickname. In fact, the aforementioned South Carolina has dropped "Lady" from its women's team names.
Women's college basketball has been played with a 30-second shot clock since the early 1970s; this is shorter than the 45- and 35-second clocks formerly used in the men's game. Also, since the 201516 season, the women's game is played in 10-minute quarters instead of 20-minute halves. It's only been sanctioned by the NCAA since the early '80s; before that, it was sanctioned by the Association of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women, or the AIAW. Conference affiliations match those of men's college basketball described above.note
Notable teams have included:
Wayland Baptist College (now "University"): The Flying Queens were the first great college team, though they predated not only NCAA sponsorship of women's sports but also college women's competition in general. The small school from the Texas Panhandle instead competed in the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU), today mainly a youth sports body but then the main sponsor of amateur sports competition outside the NCAA. While some colleges competed in the AAU alongside Wayland Baptist, their main competition was well-funded business teams, which employed players in (quasi-)legitimate day jobs to get around amateurism rules. Wayland Baptist responded by being the first school to offer full-ride basketball scholarships. They also got air travel to games supplied by a wealthy local businessman, which is how they became known as the Flying Queens. They notably had a 131-game winning streak in the 1950s in AAU play (take that, UConn!), and won 10 national titles in the AAU and AIAW before stepping down in class when the NCAA took over women's sports. Wayland Baptist's teams from their glory years of 19481982 entered the Naismith Hall as a unit in 2019.
Immaculata College (now "University"): The Mighty Macs, representing a small Catholic school in Philadelphia's Main Line suburbs, were the first great team of the early era of women's college basketball, who reigned in the early '70s. Notable for producing three players who in turn became Women's Basketball Hall of Famenote coaches: Theresa Grentz, Rene Portland, and Marianne Stanley. Also, the coach of the 1970s Mighty Macs, Cathy Rush, is a member of both the Women's Hall and the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. Like Wayland Baptist, they stepped down in class when the NCAA took over women's sports, and are now a historical footnote. Their national championship-winning teams from 19721974 entered the Naismith Hall as a unit in 2014. They were also the subject of the 2009 film The Mighty Macs (with Carla Gugino as Rush).
Old Dominion: The Lady Monarchs, out of the Hampton Roads city of Norfolk, Virginia, were a dynasty of the early '80s, coached by the aforementioned Marianne Stanley. Its stars included Anne Donovan and Nancy Lieberman, both of whom are members of the Naismith and Women's Halls. When power schools were forced to pay more attention to women's sports, their star faded, though they are still a force in their conference.
University of Southern California: USC, or the Women of Troy. At their peak in the mid-80s, their stars included the McGee twins, Pamela and Paula (if you're an NBA geek, you might recognize Pamela's son JaVale, and if you're a WNBA geek you may recognize Pamela's daughter Imani), Cheryl Miller (if you follow basketball at all, you probably recognize her kid brother Reggie), and Cynthia Cooper. They had a renaissance in the mid-90s, then faded out. Cooper was their head coach for four seasons until stepping down after the 201617 season.
Louisiana Tech: The Lady Techsters were another superpower of the 80s, with four players who went on to the Women's HallPam Kelly, Janice Lawrence Braxton, Kim Mulkey (now the head coach at Baylor), and Teresa Weatherspoon (see WNBA section below), with the last two also making it to the Naismith Hall (Weatherspoon as a player in 2019 and Mulkey in 2020 as a coach). They also had two Hall of Fame coaches in Sonja Hogg (Women's) and Leon Barmore (Naismith and Women's). LA Tech remained a national force into the 90s, and strongly competitive into the 21st century, but faded in the later years of Weatherspoon's tenure as head coach (20092014). LA Tech then fired Weatherspoon and replaced her with Tyler Summitt, the then 23-year-old son of a famous coach any women's basketball fan should know. After two seasons, things only got worse for the Lady Techsters, as Summitt abruptly resigned shortly after the end of the 201516 season after admitting to an "inappropriate relationship".note
Tennessee: The Lady Vols have been a consistent powerhouse in women's basketball for thirty years and counting. Legendary head coach Pat Summittnote racked up over a thousand wins, including eight titles, since taking over as a grad student in 1972 and is the first coach in the Division I college game, men's or women's, to have over 1,000 wins (since joined by Coach K, Tara VanDerveer, Sylvia Hatchell, Geno Auriemma, and C. Vivian Stringer). Known for her Death Glare. The 'Lady' is a bit of a requirement,note or Summitt will glare at you from beyond the grave. After Summitt was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's in 2011 (which would ultimately claim her life in 2016), she coached one final season before retiring in 2012 and being succeeded by longtime assistant Holly Warlick. Summitt proved to be a Tough Act to Follow; while the Lady Vols have maintained their record of appearing in every single NCAA tournament, they haven't made it past the first weekend since 2016 and also had their first-ever sub-.500 season in Southeastern Conference play in 201819, which led to Warlick being shown the door. Warlick's successor, former Lady Vols point guard Kellie Harper, showed some improvement, though the Lady Vols were seen as squarely on the NCAA Tournament bubble before its coronavirus-induced cancellation.
UConn: The Huskies hit the national scene like a freight train in 1995 with an undefeated seasonthe first of six, including three separate Division I-record winning streaks of (in chronological order) 70, 90, and 111 games. Not to mention a regular-season winning streak of 126, also a record. The 90- and 111-game streaks each encompassed at least part of three seasons, while the 126-game streak covered three full regular seasons and parts of two others. They've won 11 national titles, the most in the women's game, all under current head coach Geno Auriemma; the most recent title in 2016 took him past John Wooden for the most Division I titles by a head coach in either the men's or women's game. Auriemma, who became the fourth D-I women's head coach with 1,000 wins mere hours after North Carolina's Sylvia Hatchell became the third, is basically Philadelphia distilled into a short first-generation Italian-American. They have a web page dedicated to their history of churning out WNBA stars.
Stanford: The Cardinal (yes, Cardinal, the color, not the bird) was the lone representative of high-quality women's basketball on the West Coast for a loooong time until the very recent emergence of other Pac-12 schools, most notably Oregon. Two-time national champions and several more times bridesmaid, they're coached by Tara VanDerveer, who became the second D-I women's head coach with 1,000 wins in 2017. They ended Connecticut's 90-game winning streak.note You might not want to mention Harvard around them. note
Rutgers: The Scarlet Knights are best known for stifling defense, unwatchable offense, coach C. Vivian Stringer's Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness, and that incident with Don Imus that left Imus fired and the governor of New Jersey in a car accident. Stringer reached the 1,000-win mark early in the 201819 season.
Baylor: The reigning national champion (2019) Lady Bears rose to national prominence early in the current century with the aforementioned Kim Mulkey as head coach. When she took over in 2000, Baylor was coming off a last-place Big 12 finish. She took them to the NCAA tournament the next season, and they've only missed the NCAA once since. Their first national title in 2005 saw Mulkey become the first woman to win D-I national titles as a player and coachnote , and their second championship team in 2012 was the first NCAA team of either sex to go 400 in a season. Baylor's WNBA alumni include Sophia Young from the first title team and Brittney Griner and Odyssey Sims from the second. Also notable for the most one-sided win in D-I women's history, a 14032 annihilation of Winthrop in 2016. Not to mention ending UConn's 126-game regular-season winning streak in 2019.
Notre Dame: The Fighting Irish have emerged as a major national rival to UConn in recent years. While the Huskies have had the upper hand overall, the Irish have a 53 lead in their NCAA tournament matchups. National champs in 2001 and 2018, and runners-up in five other NCAA tournaments in The New '10s (to Texas A&M in 2011, Baylor in 2012 and 2019, and UConn in 2014 and 2015), and alma mater of current WNBA stars Skylar Diggins-Smith and Jewell Loyd. Much has been made of the supposed Arch-Enemy relationship between now-retired Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw and UConn's Geno Auriemma, who both share Philadelphia roots and fiercely competitive personalities. Reporters have even asked about possible Foe Yay between the two, but Auriemma and McGraw have said that they view each other more as a Worthy Opponent than anything else. The 201920 season, however, was definitely rebuilding time under the Golden Dome, as the Irish had lost their entire starting lineup to graduation; despite several promising recruits, they finished under .500. McGraw stepped down after that season, with Niele Ivey, a former Irish player who went on to a long tenure as an Irish assistant and a season as an NBA assistant, taking her place.
UConn and Tennessee are fiercely opposed to each other. The rivalry became an annual series, until Summitt ended it in 2007, accusing Connecticut of improper recruiting. Many attempts were made to reconcile the two sides, or at least have them meet in the NCAA tournament. It took the Naismith Hall to broker a deal to have them play again; they finally played again in 2020, with the second leg of the home-and-home set for 2021. Neither is particularly fond of Rutgers. And the Huskies are not exactly fond of Notre Dame these days.
The women's NCAA tournament has 64 teams, much as the men did before the play-in game was added in 2001. One huge difference between the tournaments is that the top four seeds in each regional get to host the first two rounds.note Another significant difference is that the women's Final Four is almost always held in a traditional arena.note
Before the 2018 men's tournament, if you wanted to stump your friends, you could have asked them the only time a #16 seed had ever beaten a #1 seed in the NCAA tournament. When they looked at you and say "Never", you'd have told them you didn't specify gender and Harvard beat Stanford in 1998. (If you're unfortunate enough to have a Stanford fan in the group who will haughtily inform you that Harvard had the nation's leading scorer and Stanford had lost their two top players to knee injuries in the two weeks before the tournament... run.) That won't work any longer, now that UMBC took down Virginia in the 2018 men's tournament.
The WNBA started up in 1997. There were leagues before, but none of them lasted long (the longest was the WBL, which had three seasons in the late '70s/early '80s).
Differences to note: the ball is smaller (by 1 inch/2.54 cm in circumference) and lighter (by 2 ounces/57 g) and also striped oatmeal and orange, the three-point arc is closer than in the NBA (the FIBA arc except in the corners, which are NBA distance), quarters are 10 minutes each.
That said, arguably the biggest difference is the season structure. The WNBA's season is out of phase with basketball in the rest of the worldit's held during the northern hemisphere summer, when other basketball leagues (even those south of the equator) are in their offseason. The league was started, and is still owned, by the NBA, although it's had its own chief executive throughout its history (titled "President" until 2019, now "Commissioner"). Originally, all WNBA teams were owned by the league; the summer season was established partly due to the desire of team owners for more arena dates. After the 2002 season, the league sold the teams; eight were purchased by their then-current NBA counterparts, one was bought by an NBA team in a different city,note another was bought by an outside party,note and twonote folded when new owners weren't found. The regular season normally starts in late May and ends in September, with playoffs running into October. However, in Olympic years, the league takes a break to allow players to represent their national teams. Also, the start of the 2020 season has been delayed due to COVID-19, and the abbreviated season will be played entirely at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida.
Another difference is that starting in the 2020 season, the WNBA planned to have have a mid-season tournament, a rare feature in major US team sports.note The Commissioner's Cup was planned to start with 10 regular-season games for each team, specifically the first home and away games against each other team in the conference. After all teams play their 10 Cup games, the teams that top each conference in the Cup standings will advance to a one-off Cup final. The final was originally set for August, but COVID-19 scuttled plans for the Cup for the time being.
Because the league started with all teams owned by NBA franchises, most teams have names similar to their NBA counterparts. There have been exceptions, and teams not owned by NBA owners have more independent names, even if they're in NBA cities.
- Atlanta Dream
Founded in 2008, named for the "I Have a Dream" speech. As of 2019, three-time Eastern Conference Champions. But they've yet to cross the finish line of winning a WNBA championship, getting swept three consecutive times, twice by the Minnesota Lynx in 2011 and 2013. While the Dream shared State Farm Arena with the Hawks from 2008 to 2016 and again in 2019, the Hawks never held any ownership stake in its WNBA contemporary. In 2020, the Dream planned to move into the Gateway Center Arena in the south Atlanta suburb of College Park, sharing the venue with the Hawks' G League affiliate, the College Park Skyhawks. One of the Dream's co-owners, Kelly Loeffler, currently serves as the junior U.S. Senator for Georgia.
- Chicago Sky
Founded in 2006, notable for being the first franchise to be founded without NBA ties. Named for the Chicago skyline. They made an especially strong run in 2011, but never made a playoff appearance until picking up college superstar Elena Delle Donne in 2013. During EDD's time in Chicago, their flameouts came in the playoffs (first-round exit, swept in the Finals, first-round exit, second-round exit). And now she's gone to Washington...
- Connecticut Sun
Founded in 1999 as the Orlando Miracle (tied to the Orlando Magic), moved to Connecticut in 2003 to become the Sun (named for the Mohegan Sun casino where they play). Called USunn due to the plethora of UConn alumnae on the roster (five out of eleven players in 2013). The Sun was the first WNBA team to be owned independently of an NBA team (specifically by the Mohegan Native American tribe) and the first profitable team in league history.
- Indiana Fever
Founded in 2000, named for Indiana's basketball obsession. Saved from potential folding with a run to the 2009 Finals, and then won the 2012 Finals. Was projected to make its first profit in 2013, after gaining a male fan base. Remained a competitive force until the end of the 2010s. While they normally share the Indiana Pacers' home of Bankers Life Fieldhouse, they'll be displaced for all of 2020 and 2021, plus at least part of 2022, by a major renovation project. They planned to play at Butler University's iconic Hinkle Fieldhouse, also notable as a key site in the film Hoosiers, but with the current state of COVID-19, it's highly unlikely that they will ever play there.
- New York Liberty
The last inaugural franchise left in the East, founded in 1997 and named for the big green statue in the harbor. This is the team that has gone the longest without a WNBA title. Dubbed the Libs, and in recent years the Libbies, as well as the Libkids for their young roster. The team's popularity swelled upon the acquisition of Cappie Pondexter, though it waned again after the news of said exile, and, to a lesser extent, the suspension of Janel McCarville. And then the Libs' owner James Dolan, also owner of the New York Knicks, tried to bring in Isiah Thomas to run the team... the same Isiah Thomas who had proved to be as epic a failure as an executive as he was great as a player, and on top of that had lost a sexual harassment lawsuit. In 2019, the Liberty was acquired by Joseph Tsai, now sole owner of the Brooklyn Nets, and will move into the Nets' home of the Barclays Center in Brooklyn once the WNBA returns to home arenas, now unlikely to happen until 2022 or later. The "Libkids" name will likely come back in 2020they had three first-round picks (including #1) in the 2020 draft and ended up with seven rookies on their opening-night roster of 12, with no player even 30 years old and only one over 26. The #1 pick, to the surprise of absolutely no one, was Sabrina Ionescu, arguably the face of US women's basketball before being picked.
- Washington Mystics
Founded in 1998, named for the Washington Wizards; they share ownership with the Wizards and the NHL's Washington Capitals. The Fan Nickname Mystakes came up for their incredible knack for screwing things up. Despite this, they have a pretty strong attendance record (several "Attendance Championship" banners were once raised on their arena's rafters). Home of a very Broken Base, though EDD's arrival plus other roster upgrades for the 2017 season gave the fans hope, which was cemented with a 2018 Finals appearance and their first-ever title in 2019. It's highly unlikely that they'll win any more "attendance championships" in the futurethey moved out of the Wizards and Caps' home of Capital One Arena after the 2018 season to a new arena in southeast DC which only seats 4,200; the Mystics share the venue with the Wizards' G League affiliate, the Capital City Go-Go.
- Dallas Wings
Founded in 1998 as the Detroit Shock (so it's the car part, to better reflect the Detroit Pistons), moved to Tulsa in 2010, retaining their nickname. Tulsa was the league's Butt-Monkey for virtually all of its time in Oklahoma. In 2011, they set a new league record for futility with a 3-31 skid. The case of the Shock was unique in that Tulsa claimed the history of the Detroit Shock, including Detroit's three championship banners... but with Tulsa's Butt-Monkey status, most fans were uncomfortable with giving them Detroit's Guile Hero status. In 2013, things finally looked hopeful when they gained the charismatic Notre Dame superstar Skylar Diggins (now Diggins-Smith). Her weak rookie debut might have damaged those hopes, but those fears largely disappeared after a strong sophomore season, and she became one of the league's top guards before a pregnancy leave in 2019, followed by her departure to Phoenix after that season. The Shock finally made their first playoff appearance since the move in 2015... right after the team announced it would move to Dallasnote for 2016, later announcing that it would drop the Shock name.
- Las Vegas Aces
Founded in 1997 as the Utah Starzz (named for their Spear Counterpart, the Utah Jazz, and the Jazz's precursor, the ABA's Utah Stars), moved to San Antonio in 2003 as the Silver Stars and brought into the fold of the San Antonio Spurs. Started off lousy, but they got better in San Antonio, turning a profit in 2011. Dropped "Silver" from their name shortly before the start of the 2014 season. In 2017, the Spurs sold the Stars to MGM Resorts, who moved the team to Vegas and rebranded the team as the Aces.
- Los Angeles Sparks
One of the inaugural franchises, founded in 1997. The only one with a Non-Indicative Name of any kind, as their name comes from a secretary watching a welder (and the lack of a feminine equivalent to Lakers). Sometimes called Sporks or Sharks by opposing fans. Three-time champions. This team was captained by basketball legend Lisa Leslie, who made WNBA history in 2011 by becoming the first alumna to become part owner of a team.
- Minnesota Lynx
Founded in 1999, named as a counterpart to the Minnesota Timberwolves. Survived several rough seasons to stockpile approximately a metric crapton of young talent that has paid dividends since 2011. Once they picked up collegiate superstar Maya Moore and hometown hero Lindsay Whalen, momentum immediately began to shift in their direction. Finally won a title in 2011. They made it back to the Finals in 2013 and won their second title by beating the same team they faced in 2011, the Atlanta Dream. They won their third title in five years when they beat the Indiana Fever in 2015, officially becoming a dynasty. Won their 4th title in 2017, after getting revenge against the team that beat them in 2016, the Los Angeles Sparks.
- Phoenix Mercury
Founded in 1997, named as a counterpart to the Phoenix Suns... and they play like them too. Sometimes called the Merc, while multiple players at once are Mercs. Three-time champions. Normally share Talking Stick Resort Arena with the Suns; they were scheduled to play the 2020 season at the Suns' past home of Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum while TSRA is being renovated, but COVID-19 ended that plan.
- Seattle Storm
Founded in 2000, named for Seattle's weather. Three-time WNBA champions, most recently in 2018. Lots of star power, and now Seattle's main basketball team because of the loss of the Sonics, attracting plenty of fans in the process. Normally plays out of the Seattle Center Arena, but the Storm temporarily moved to the Hec Edmundson Pavilion on the campus of the University of Washington while the interior of the Seattle Center Arena (now known as Climate Pledge Arena) is rebuilt for the NHL's forthcoming Seattle Kraken.
- Charlotte Sting
Founded in 1997, folded in 2007. Originally tied to the Charlotte Hornets, later tied to the Charlotte Bobcats; the shift in ownership after the Hornets moved to New Orleans signaled the beginning of the end for this once proud franchise.
- Cleveland Rockers
Founded in 1997, folded in 2004. Named for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Left a LOT of bitterness behind, due to the perception of former owner (and Cavaliers owner at the time) Gordon Gund blocking alternate ownership, which resulted in a Harsher in Hindsight moment when Gund recorded a macular degeneration PSA with the tagline "How would you feel if you couldn't see your favorite team?" ("Like a Rockers fan, jerk.")
- Houston Comets
The league's first dynasty, winning its first four championships. Their name kept up the space Theme Naming for many of Houston's sports teams. If you're referring to the Big Three in a women's basketball context, you're referring to Cynthia Cooper, Sheryl Swoopes, and Tina Thompson, or you have just made a lot of people very angry. Founded in 1997, folded in 2008.
- Miami Sol
Founded in 2000, folded in 2003. WMG suggests that this was the team meant to move to Connecticut, as the Sun's original color scheme closely matched the Sol's, and well.
- Portland Fire
Founded in 2000, folded in 2003. Their name is a play off Blazers. One of only two franchises never to make the playoffs in their history (if you count Tulsa/Dallas as holding Detroit's history).
- Sacramento Monarchs
Founded in 1997, folded in 2009. Were the WNBA champions in 2005. Though their name was related to the Sacramento Kings, they also played with the Monarch butterfly theme.
WNBA Finals champions by yearNote: The first year of the WNBA had only one championship game, where winner takes all. After that, the WNBA had a best-of-three series until 2005, when the championship series became best-of-five. Also, keep in mind that the WNBA begins their season in the middle of the year. Also, since 2016, the league has not used conference affiliation to determine playoff spots; the top eight teams in the regular season, regardless of conference, make the playoffs. (Since then, only one Finals matchup has been East vs. West, namely 2018.)
- 1997: The Houston Comets won over the New York Liberty with the final score of 65-61.
- 1998: The Houston Comets won over the Phoenix Mercury 2-1.
- 1999: The Houston Comets won over the New York Liberty 2-1.
- 2000: The Houston Comets swept the New York Liberty 2-0.
- 2001: The Los Angeles Sparks swept the Charlotte Sting 2-0.
- 2002: The Los Angeles Sparks swept the New York Liberty 2-0.
- 2003: The Detroit Shock won over the Los Angeles Sparks 2-1.
- 2004: The Seattle Storm won over the Connecticut Sun 2-1.
- 2005: The Sacramento Monarchs won over the Connecticut Sun 3-1.
- 2006: The Detroit Shock won over the Sacramento Monarchs 3-2.
- 2007: The Phoenix Mercury won over the Detroit Shock 3-2.
- 2008: The Detroit Shock swept the San Antonio Silver Stars 3-0.
- 2009: The Phoenix Mercury won over the Indiana Fever 3-2.
- 2010: The Seattle Storm swept the Atlanta Dream 3-0.
- 2011: The Minnesota Lynx swept the Atlanta Dream 3-0.
- 2012: The Indiana Fever won over the Minnesota Lynx 3-1.
- 2013: The Minnesota Lynx swept the Atlanta Dream 3-0.
- 2014: The Phoenix Mercury swept the Chicago Sky 3-0.
- 2015: The Minnesota Lynx beat the Indiana Fever 3-2.
- 2016: The Los Angeles Sparks beat the Minnesota Lynx 3-2.
- 2017: The Minnesota Lynx beat the Los Angeles Sparks 3-2.
- 2018: The Seattle Storm swept the Washington Mystics 3-0.
- 2019: The Washington Mystics beat the Connecticut Sun 3-2.
Note: these are mostly players who have, or have had, pop culture currency; if you want to make a women's basketball reference, you'll probably use one of these players.
- Tamika Catchings: A forward who spent her entire 15-season career with the Indiana Fever, Catchings was drafted #3 overall in 2001 out of Tennessee. She's one of the league's most decorated playersRookie of the Year in 2002 (she missed the 2001 season with a torn ACL), MVP in 2011, a record 10 All-Star appearances, five-time Defensive Player of the Year, Finals MVP in 2012, named to the league's All-Decade Team in 2006 and Top 15 Team for the league's 15th anniversary in 2011. Basically a stretch four, much like her contemporary Lauren Jackson and more recent players such as Elena Delle Donne and Candace Parker (all below). Catchings ended her career in 2016 as the league's all-time leader in rebounds and steals (the rebound record has since fallen twice, with Sylvia Fowles as the current leader), and #2 scorer, and made it to the Naismith and Women's Halls in 2020, by which time she had become the Fever's general manager. And back in high school, she became the first known player to manage a quintuple-double. (It's happened once more since.)
- Cynthia Cooper: The league's first MVP and a member of both the Naismith and Women's Halls of Fame. A sixth woman at USC, she honed her skills in Italy before being assigned to the Houston Comets and proceeding to heck everyone's garbage up on her way to four straight titles before retiring in 2000. Her single-game scoring record (44) in the inaugural season stood for ten years. An all-around threat, though not a great pro coach. Now known by her married name of Cynthia Cooper-Dyke, she's since gone into college coaching, now in her second stint at Texas Southern, with a few years at her alma mater of USC in between.
- Becky Hammon: A point guard out of Colorado State who played 16 seasons in the league before retiring at the end of the 2014 season. Although small by WNBA standards (5'6"/1.68 m) and not exceptionally fast, she made up for her relative lack of physical skills with an extraordinary basketball IQ. Represented Russia internationally; that country was one of her many overseas stops during her career. A six-time All-Star, Hammon was named one of the league's 15 greatest players at the league's 15th anniversary in 2011. Before the end of her final season as a player, she made headlines when the San Antonio Spurs hired her as an assistant (effective at season's end). Hammon became the first woman to be a full-time coach in any of America's four major professional leagues, and remains with the Spurs today (July 2020); she's increasingly being seen as a potential NBA head coach in the making.
- Chamique Holdsclaw: What Could Have Been in a smooth, athletic package with a knack for getting into small spaces. She came into the league in 1999 with high expectations after being part of three championship teams at Tennessee. Lingering knee and hamstring problems cut many of her seasons short, while battles with depression compounded by family tragedies left gaps in her career. You might not want to get into that last part with people.
- Lauren Jackson: A versatile stretch four from Australia, she spent her entire WNBA career for the Seattle Storm, from her overall #1 selection in 2001 through 2012. An eight-time league MVPthree in the WNBA, four in the WNBL in her homeland, and one in the Korean leaguebasketball's definitely In the Blood for her. You may know her as that blonde chick who posed naked in 2004. Despite her many accomplishments, she was still an example of What Could Have Been, as she battled near-constant shin, ankle, and knee injuries throughout her career. Retired completely from basketball in 2016 after missing almost all of the previous two years to the aftereffects of a particularly bad knee injury.
- Lisa Leslie: One of the cornerstones of the Los Angeles Sparks and the league, she was assigned to LA at the league's beginning- appropriate for an Angeleno who went to USC. For a fair chunk of the league's existence, she was one of the best players, and the best center, out there. A two-time champion, three-time MVP (in 2002, sweeping All-Star MVP, regular season MVP, and Finals MVP), many-time All-WNBA and All-Star, the league's all-time leading rebounder until Catchings passed her in her final season, and member of the Naismith and Women's Halls of Fame. Also notable for recording the first-ever dunk in a WNBA game. There are those who call her Lisamort, and those who call her the Diva, and those who... she has a lot of FanNicknames. Her number is retired and the Sparks' court is named after her; she's since bought into the team as a part owner.
- Sheryl Swoopes: One of the game's greats, originally assigned to the Houston Comets, later with the Seattle Storm and, after a two-year retirement, the Tulsa Shock for one final season in 2011. A brilliant defensive player and incredible slasher in her prime. Her marriage to her high school sweetheart and pregnancy with son Jordan was heavily marketed by the league. Revealed in 2005 that she was gay and in a relationship with her former assistant coach Alisa Scott. Now remarried to a man. If you're having trouble keeping up, you're not the only one. After retiring for good, she went into coaching; she had been the head coach at Loyola University Chicago before being fired during the 2016 offseason amid allegations of mistreatment of players. Entered the Naismith Hall in 2016 and the Women's Hall in 2017.
- Tina Thompson: A forward, she was the league's first-ever draft pick,note chosen #1 overall in 1997 by Houston out of USC. She then signed with her hometown Sparks after the Comets folded, and then moved to the Storm after the 2011 season. Thompson was the last player from the WNBA's first season to be active in the league, finally retiring after the 2013 season. The league's all-time leading scorer. Rarely seen without her lucky lipstick.
- Teresa Weatherspoon: A fiery point guard, "Spoon" was assigned to the New York Liberty in 1997 and left there after the 2003 season. We do not discuss her 2004 season with the Sparks. Best known for her buzzer-beating halfcourt heave in Game 2 of the 1999 Finals to win the game for New York and extend the series; it was selected the greatest moment in league history during the 15th anniversary season of 2011. Coached at her alma mater, Louisiana Tech, for five seasons until being fired in 2014. Member of the Women's Hall since 2010 and Naismith Hall since 2019, and now an assistant with the New Orleans Pelicans.
- Lindsay Whalen: Longtime point guard for the Minnesota Lynx. Started out as the hometown hero of the University of Minnesota, where she graduated the all-time leading scorer. Known for her quiet yet machine-like consistency of play, she helped made women's college basketball popular in the state by bringing twice as many people to the arena during games. She won many college titles while playing. She was drafted #1 by the Connecticut Sun in 2004 and helped lead them to two Finals appearances. Was traded back to her home state of Minnesota in 2010 to play for the Lynx. In 2011, she helped lead the Lynx to their first title in WNBA history. And she did it again in 2013. Despite missing a lot of games in 2015, Whalen helped lead the Lynx to another title that season. Whalen retired in 2018 and is now the head coach at her alma mater of Minnesota.
- Seimone Augustus: Forward for the Los Angeles Sparks who made her name with the Minnesota Lynx. Discovered in high school for her promising basketball talent. She was even featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated for women, promoting her as the possible female Michael Jordan. Her success continued during her college years at Louisiana State University where she won many awards including College Player of the Year. She lead her college team to three Final Four appearances. She was drafted #1 overall by the Minnesota Lynx in 2006, where she quickly made her presence known by winning Rookie of the Year. In 2011, when another promising rookie named Maya Moore joined the team, she lead the Minnesota Lynx to their first WNBA title and won the Finals MVP Award. In 2013, she once again helped lead the Lynx to their second title in franchise history. In 2015, she came back from an injury just in time for the playoffs and helped led the Lynx to a third WNBA title. She initially planned to retire after the 2019 season, but lost most of that season to injury, and ultimately left as a free agent for L.A.
- Sue Bird: Point guard for the Seattle Storm, drafted #1 overall in 2002 out of UConn. The quintessential Girl Next Door- if the girl next door could find you blind on the fast break or drain a dagger three in your face. Her especially clutch play in 2011 earned her the Fan Nickname "Die complaines". Bird is the WNBA's all-time leader in games played and total assists, though she doesn't have the per-game assists record (see Courtney Vandersloot below).
- A group of players whom the WNBA heavily marketed in 2013 as the "Three to See", who entered the league as the first three picks in that year's draft. In order of selection, they are:
- Brittney Griner: Center for the Phoenix Mercury, drafted from Baylor, where she was consensus NCAA player of the year in her last two seasons. The 6'8" (2.03 m) Griner, known in college for her dominant shot-blocking and as one of the few women who can routinely dunk, entered the league with as much hype as any player in years. Also made headlines in 2013 when she came out as lesbian. Had the league's top-selling jersey in her rookie season as well. A perennial All-Star, Griner has led the league in blocks in each season of her career to date (sharing honors with Jonquel Jones in 2019), and has also led the league in scoring twice.
- Elena Delle Donne: Perhaps the most positionally versatile player ever in the women's game, the Delaware product, who spent her first four WNBA seasons with the Chicago Sky before being dealt to the Washington Mystics in the 2017 offseason, is listed as a guard and forwarddespite being the size of most WNBA centers (6'5"/1.96 m). Center, power forward, small forward, shooting guard, point guard, swingman, stretch four, point forward, combo guard... you name it, EDD can play it. With her arrival, the Sky took multiple levels in badass and became legitimate title contenders... until the Fever swept them out in the first round. In 2013, EDD was the first rookie ever to be the top vote-getter for the All-Star Game, and was also the unanimous choice for Rookie of the Year. In 2015, she led the league in scoring and free throw percentage (unheard of for center-sized players), and earned MVP honors. In 2017, she forced a trade to the Mystics, the closest team to her Delaware home (significance noted below), and led the team to its first-ever WNBA Finals berth in 2018 and first title in 2019. She was also league MVP in the latter season on the strength of the first 504090 seasonnote in league history. Not to mention leading the league in jersey sales in 2019. EDD, the first player to be named WNBA MVP for two different teams, is also the current career free-throw percentage leader in league history.
- For the first few years of her WNBA career, she was one of the very few high-profile WNBA players who never played overseas. (She has publicly stated that she normally stays in the States to help care for her disabled older sister; her family ties were seen as playing a big part in her desire to move to Washington.) EDD did join a Chinese team for that country's 2017 playoffs, but a flareup of Lyme diseasenote forced her to return prematurely to the States. Her Lyme disease history, which has left her seriously immunocompromised, means that she may not play in 2020 despite the league turning down her petition to skip the abbreviated season (the Mystics announced they would pay her whether or not she plays). With disability causes so close to her heart, she's also a high-profile ambassador for Special Olympics, and is also heavily involved with Lyme disease charities.
- Skylar Diggins-Smith: Was a superstar point guard at Notre Dame, where she graduated as the school's second-leading career scorer. Known for her charisma and good looks, Diggins (now Diggins-Smith) was hyped as the next great WNBA point guard after she was drafted by the then-Tulsa Shock in 2013. She got off to a slow start in her debut rookie season, however, shooting way below her points average from college. Lived up to expectations in 2014, being named first-team All-WNBA and the league's most improved player, as well as being an All-Star starter. Missed most of the 2015 season to a torn ACL, but came back strong, becoming another perennial All-Star. Another rare example of a WNBA star who doesn't play overseas, in her case because she has enough endorsement and outside business income to not need it, although she was considering playing in China in 201516 before her ACL injury. Missed the 2019 season while pregnant with her first child; when she became a free agent in 2020, the Wings sent her to the Mercury in a sign-and-trade deal during that offseason, getting three draft picks in return.
- Sabrina Ionescu joined the league in 2020 as the face of American women's basketball, starting her pro career with the New York Liberty as the first overall pick out of Oregon and having already entered First-Name Basis. Unfortunately, her rookie season came to a sudden end, as she went down with a severe ankle sprain in the Libs' third game in the COVID bubble. What she did at Oregon deserves mention...
- She annihilated all previous NCAA triple-double records. Before her arrival in Eugene, no one in any division of NCAA basketball, male or female, had recorded more than 6 triple-doubles in a season or 12 in a career. Sabrina had 8 in both her junior and senior seasons, and 26 overall. Her career total is more than the next three women on the Division I career list combined (23) and the total of the top three on the D-I men's career list (24).
- Sabrina started her senior season by leading the Ducks to an exhibition win over TEAM USA, the first such win by a college team in 20 years. She went on to become the only NCAA player in any division, male or female, with 2,000 points, 1,000 assists, and 1,000 rebounds.
- She claimed multiple national player of the year awards in both 2019 and 2020, sweeping all of them in the latter.
- Speaking of the "2K/1K/1K" milestone... she reached that mark in a game at Stanford, also collecting what proved to be her last college triple-double, mere hours after being a featured speaker at the memorial service for Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna. While suffering from the flu. And having barely eaten that day.
- Not to mention being the first active college women's player to have her jersey sold by Nike, with the first batch selling out within a day. And the first batch of her Liberty jerseys sold out within an hour of her selection in the draft. She's since signed a sponsorship deal with Nike that will reportedly give her a signature shoe.
- Angel McCoughtry: Forward for the Las Vegas Aces who made her name with the Atlanta Dream, drafted #1 overall in 2009 out of Louisville. A slashing, high-scoring forward with a penchant for drawing fouls, and also a top-tier defender, she has helped lead the Dream to playoff berths in each season since her arrival, including three Finals appearances (all losses).
- Maya Moore: Forward for the Minnesota Lynx, drafted #1 overall in 2011 out of UConn. She helped lead the Minnesota Lynx to their first WNBA championship in 2011, and won Rookie of the Year. Finished a close second to Candace Parker for the regular season MVP Award in 2013, but won the Finals MVP Award by helping lead Minnesota to their second title in franchise history. In 2015, she led the Lynx to a third WNBA title. And for a few years, she had her own signature shoe. However, her future in basketball is somewhat uncertain for unique reasonsshe decided to sit out the 2019 season to pursue personal interests (mainly related to Christian ministry), and is sitting out 2020 as well, this time to pursue criminal justice reform.
- Nneka and Chiney Ogwumike: Sisters and Stanford products who both play forward for the Los Angeles Sparks.
- Nneka, the older by two years and shorter by one inch (6'2"), was named Pac-10/Pac-12note Player of the Year twice, and went #1 in the 2012 draft. She made an immediate impact, earning Rookie of the Year honors, and has since gone on to make the All-Star Game in each year it's been held in her career.note In 2016, she took her game to a new level, leading the league in field goal percentage and setting personal highs in scoring, rebounds, and assists, earning MVP honors while leading the Sparks to the title. Since then, she's continued to play at All-Star level, and is also known for her Nice Gal image on-court, winning the league's sportsmanship award in 2019.
- Chiney, through her first season in the WNBA, was almost a mirror image of Nnekatwice Pac-12 POY, #1 pick in the 2014 draft, an All-Star as a rookie, and Rookie of the Year. However, while at Stanford, she picked up one major honor that eluded her sisterthe Wooden Award, one of the three major NCAA POY awards in the women's game. Unfortunately, she seems to be becoming a Glass Cannon. First, she tore her right ACL and missed the 2015 WNBA season, but came back strong enough in 2016 to earn that season's Comeback Player of the Year Award. She then went to play in China, where she hurt the Achilles in her other leg; she missed the 2017 WNBA season because of it. Chiney would recover from this setback, making another All-Star appearance in 2018. In the 201819 offseason, she was traded to the Sparks, reuniting her with her older sister; she then settled into the role of sixth woman. During the traditional basketball season, she's now an ESPN analyst; this enabled her to make the choice to sit out the 2020 season to more fully recover from past injuries. During that time, she also became the first black woman to host a national ESPN Radio program, teaming up with Mike Golic Jr. for the network's 3-hour afternoon drive-time* show.
- Candace Parker: Forward for the Los Angeles Sparks, drafted #1 overall in 2008 out of Tennessee. Silky, smooth, and incredibly athletic... when not sidelined with injuries or pregnancy. Married to NBA journeyman Shelden Williams. She won the MVP Award in 2013. Kept out of the 2016 Olympics in Rio, in favor of Breanna Stewart, which caused some controversy. She finished the year strong, however, by winning her first WNBA title and Finals MVP.
- Cappie Pondexter: Guard for the Chicago Sky, who picked her up before the 2015 season in a trade with the New York Liberty. An explosive, offensive-minded guard, drafted #2 overall in 2006 out of Rutgers by Phoenix. She, Diana Taurasi, and the Mercury won two titles in three years... and then she demanded a trade, either because she wanted to be on the Liberty or because of her fashion business. Controversial among New York's faithful before being dealt to Chicago, especially after making some unfortunate remarks after the earthquake/tsunami/meltdown in Japan.
- Breanna Stewart: Stretch four for the Seattle Storm, drafted #1 overall in 2016 out of UConn. The 6'4" Stewie came into the league as perhaps even more hyped than the "Three to See"led the Huskies to NCAA titles in each of her four seasons in Storrs, also being named the Final Four MVP in all four seasons; consensus national player of the year in her last two seasons (also winning a major national award as a sophomore); becoming a fixture on Team USA while still at UConn... you get the picture. After leading the league's rookies in scoring, rebounding, blocks, and minutes per game in 2016 (co-leader among all players in minutes, and in the top six in the other three categories), Stewart was the runaway Rookie of the Year, receiving all but one vote. Stewie didn't stop there, going on to earn season and Finals MVP honors in 2018 while leading the Storm to the title. Sadly, she missed the 2019 season to a torn Achilles suffered in the 2019 EuroLeague Women final.
- Her injury made her the latest poster child for the league's salary issues. As of 2019, about 70% of the league's players go overseas to play during the traditional basketball season, with the biggest stars making several times what the WNBA can offer. Unfortunately, this also means that they don't get any significant offseason. One ESPN writer noted shortly after Stewart's injury that in calendar 2018, she played in China, had little time off before the WNBA season, almost immediately followed that with duty for Team USA at the FIBA World Cup in Spain, and then had little downtime before going to play in Russia. The last time she'd had any real time off was in 2015, before her senior season at UConn.
- Diana Taurasi: Guard for the Phoenix Mercury, drafted #1 overall in 2004 out of UConn. Hot-headed, foul-mouthed, charismatic, and exceedingly talented. She became the league's career scoring leader during the 2017 season. Has gotten in a little bit of trouble, caught DUI in 2009 and implicated in steroid use (turned out to be a false positive from a sketchy lab). Sat out the 2015 WNBA season at the request of the Russian team she plays for during the traditional basketball season, which offered her a bonus well in excess of her WNBA salary to sit out.note note
- Courtney Vandersloot: Point guard for the Chicago Sky, Vandersloot is basically the league's poster child for Overshadowed by Awesome, despite currently standing as the league's all-time leader in assists per game. A native of the Seattle area, she wasn't seen has a big-time recruit out of high school, ending up on the other side of the Cascades at Gonzaga. After leading the Zags to a surprise run to the NCAA regional finals in her 201011 senior season, and becoming the first NCAA player (male or female) with 2,000 points and 1,000 assists in a career (since joined by Sabrina),note the Sky made her the third pick in that year's draft. Sloot made an immediate impact, making the All-Star Game and the All-Rookie team... though in a harbinger of things to come, she happened to join the league at the same time as Maya Moore. With other big names at her position, most notably Sue Bird and Skylar Diggins-Smith, she didn't make another All-Star team for a while. Despite leading the league in assists in 2015. Then setting a new league record for assists per game in 2017. And another in 2018. She finally got her second All-Star nod in 2019, with a third straight assists record to boot. Further developing the "overshadowed" theme, she didn't make the 2016 US Olympic team, and given USA Basketball's long track record of demonstrating loyalty to established players, wound up opting to play internationally for Hungary in 2017, believing (not without reason) that she'd never get to play for Team USA in her prime.
The international game
The USA was late to the party when it came to founding a stable league, and still competes with European leagues for the full attention of elite players.note Most players spend their winters in Europe to supplement their incomes and stay sharp. Between 1981 and 1996, Europe, Asia, and South America offered the only options for a woman who wanted to keep playing. The pecking order of leagues is fluid; currently the most prestigious and lucrative include Russia, Turkey, and in very recent years China. You can also find W players, alumnae, and hopefuls in Spain, France, Italy, Germany, Poland, Israel, Australia, and other countries.
In international play, the US is the heavyweight, rarely contested. The game has a presence in several other countries, though:
Australia: The Opals have been one of the most consistent sides in the world in the last fifteen years, but haven't been able to finish the job. Known for Lauren Jackson, Penny Taylor, and bodysuits.
Brazil: The gender dynamic of basketball and soccer is, for the most part, reversed between Brazil and the US, which has resulted in Brazil being a world power in women's basketball for a looooong time. Like other Brazilian athletes, they are best known by their first names or nicknames ("apelidos"). Their legends include Magic Paula (real name Maria Paula da Silva, and yes, the nickname comes from Earvin Johnson's), Hortência Marcari and Janeth Arcain; current stars include Érika de Souza and Damiris Dantas.
The USSR/Russia: The Unified Team brought back Olympic gold in 1992, spurring the development of the US national team. Russia is still a power on the world stage, though they haven't developed their young talent in recent years.
France: Not historically a powerhouse, but came out of nowhere to win their group and take silver at the 2012 Olympics. We have yet to see if this is just a fluke or if it will continue.
Spain: Also not a historic powerhouse, but came out of nowhere to win their group and take silver at the 2014 World Championship. Following a silver at the 2016 Olympics and bronze at the 2018 World Cup, they now look to be emerging as the next European power.
The Harlem Globetrotters
An anomaly in American basketball: A highly popular team which is not affiliated with a league. The Globetrotters are an exhibition team, which mixes athletic talent with comedic routines. The team is not actually from Harlem either in foundation (Chicago) or current home-base (Phoenix), but the name was instead selected to denote that the team consisted entirely of African American players, as Harlem was seen as a center for African American culture when the team was founded in the 1920's. The team has played thousands of games since, including exhibition games against NBA teams, and several of the team's players (such as Naismith Hall of Fame inductees Meadowlark Lemon and Curly Neal) were as famous as their NBA counterparts during their heyday. More info on the real-life team can be found on The Other Wiki; what we have here on them is a cartoon and a pinball table.