For many years, the WNBA has been a major part of basketball history. There have been hundreds of fantastic players who have played in this league and contributed to bringing it attention from the public. Before the first WNBA season started in 1997, women were not allowed to play professionally anywhere throughout the United States. This caused many women who wanted to play professionally to go overseas and play for teams in other countries. However, the WNBA was created because of all this talent that had been unseen by the public. When the WNBA started, there were eight teams throughout the United States that would compete against each other in hopes of winning a championship at the end of each season. Throughout the years, the talent in the league has improved and more teams have been added. The WNBA currently consists of twelve teams throughout the United States. Each year, eight teams compete against each other in a four to five week round-robin tournament at the end of which a champion is declared.
The Birth of Professional Basketball – 1995
In February of 1995, NBA commissioner David Stern announced that the WNBA would begin its first season in June of 1997. The situation was unique because there were no professional leagues at all for women to play basketball in the United States. Women who had dreams of playing professionally had to either try out for male teams or go overseas and play on teams with other professional women players. NBA president Val Ackerman stated the importance of creating a women’s professional basketball league in the United States. “What this will give is a chance for women to stay at home and play their sport as a profession,” he said.
NBA Commissioner David Stern – 1995
The first WNBA player signed was Teresa Weatherspoon from the New York Liberty, who was a member of the 1996 U.S. Women’s Olympic Basketball Team that won the gold medal in Atlanta. The first WNBA player signed was Teresa Weatherspoon from the New York Liberty, who was a member of the 1996 U.S. Women’s Olympic Basketball Team that won the gold medal in Atlanta.
WNBA First Season Begins – 1997
The first WNBA game was played on June 21, 1997 in Los Angeles. The New York Liberty defeated the Los Angeles Sparks, 67-51.
June 21, 1997 Date of the first ever WNBA game.
On April 24, 1996, more than 10 years before the creation of the WNBA, the first women’s professional basketball league began its first season. The American Basketball League (ABL) would not last very long because there was not enough interest from fans to watch their games. However, it proved that there was a need for women to play professionally in America and showed an example for David Stern and Val Ackerman to look at when they were working to create a women’s professional basketball league. The ABL lasted just three seasons and abruptly ended in January 1999. There were ten teams throughout the United States that participated in the American Basketball League inaugural season. The ABL was not able to get very far, however, because it could not compete with the popularity of the NBA. The ABL was not able to compete because it could not get national sponsorships to advertise its games, which would lead to low attendance rates for fans wanting to see players play. Despite its short life span, the American Basketball League played a key role in the development of the WNBA today.
Teresa Weatherspoon was the first professional basketball player signed to play in the WNBA. The ABL team where she played, New York Liberty, transferred to the WNBA when it was created.
Teresa Weatherspoon Was the First WNBA Player Signed – 1995
She is one of only three women who played in both leagues and won championships in both leagues. In the ABL, she won a championship with the New York Liberty in 1998 and also won a WNBA Championship with Los Angeles Sparks in 2001.