Hits and misses from WNBA’s 25th anniversary announcements

Photo Credit: WNBA

In 1997, the first-ever WNBA game tipped off at the Great Western Forum. It featured two of the W’s original teams that are still around today in the Los Angeles Sparks and New York Liberty.

Penny Toler scored the first-ever points, but the Liberty defeated the Sparks by a final of 67-57.

In 2021, after a year where the W flexed its political muscle like never before, it will be old enough to run for the House of Representatives as it ushers in season No. 25.

As the league itself would say … Count it.

The teasers that came from the WNBA’s social media accounts over the last few days apparently were leading up to March 15 – ironically the same day that the NCAA revealed the brackets for this year’s women’s basketball tournament in San Antonio.

As we look to celebrate the first 25 years of the league, we are also setting the stage for the next 25 years. The WNBA’s new distinctive 25th season logo and Count It campaign signify what makes the league unique.

–Cathy Engelbert, WNBA commissioner (release)

We are celebrating a quarter of a century of the impact the WNBA has made on sports and society, and on generations of young and diverse athletes.

–Cathy Engelbert, WNBA commissioner (release)

And while the announcements, obviously had historic value given the WNBA becoming a quarter of a century old, there were some glaring misses as well.

Let us start with the announcements itself – the 25 Greatest Players or W25. This is sure to generate plenty of conversation. Sure – plenty of the obvious such as Sheryl Swoopes, Cynthia Cooper, Teresa Weatherspoon, Swin Cash, Lisa Leslie, Candace Parker, Sue Bird, Maya Moore, Diana Taurasi and Elena Delle Donne will likely be among the 25, but others that barely made or missed the cut will surely be the topic of much discussion among WNBA Twitter.

In fact, some of our closest within our WNBA family have already taken to their respective websites to rank their 25 greatest. The mess is already beginning and it will continue with fans given the option to vote on players.

Along with the 25 greatest players, it will also feature the 25 Greatest Moments, which, says the W’s official release, will be unveiled during the second half of the season and playoffs. Lisa Leslie and Candace Parker’s dunks are locks – as are T-Spoon’s “Shot” and Dearica Hamby’s “Heave.”

Remember when Sue Bird teased to the Seattle Times that there would be alternate uniforms for this upcoming season … possibly “City Edition” wear? It was teased in the release that Nike would …

celebrate the league’s dynamic athletes with new uniform innovation with deeper storytelling and details.

–WNBA release

It also announced a 25th anniversary game ball developed by Chicago-based Wilson – and that Liz Cambage, who recently re-upped with the Las Vegas Aces, would be its first Advisory Staff Member. Having Cambage involved with anything is an automatic hit.

Speaking of hits, the WNBA also had another with the unveiling of its 25th Season Advisory Council. And it includes some of its all-time greats such as Sheryl Swoopes, Cynthia Cooper, Lindsay Whalen, Teresa Weatherspoon, Lisa Leslie and Lauren Jackson. Val Ackerman, current Big East Commissioner and the W’s first league president is a classy touch.

Rick Welts being part of the Council is sure to get some to think about the Golden State Warriors’ deepening connections with the WNBA – and if it intends to unveil a Bay Area franchise in the coming seasons.

Fittingly, the 25th season will also be the first of the WNBA’s Commissioner’s Cup – something that was to be a feature of last season before the pandemic forced the whole of the W to the bubble at IMG Academy. The release says it was comprised of ten regular season games and concludes in a championship game between two teams atop the standings in both conferences, somewhat restoring the relevancy of conferences to the W. It was announced that the championship game will occur after the Olympic break.

No one is going to deny the historic significance of the announcement – and that it had plenty of high points. But as fans, we can get somewhat impatient and that impatience is probably what is fueling what we believe were some of its misses.

The biggest miss from the announcement should be obvious – no release of a full schedule, yet Engelbert told Tamryn Spruill exclusively on her podcast that the plan is to start the season in its usual mid-May date with teams playing at home arenas and with fans.

Not to pat ourselves on the back, but we somewhat called the W going back to arenas in December after spending the entirety of last season in the bubble.

Last year, prior to the onset of the pandemic, the WNBA unveiled what was supposed to be its 34-game 2020 schedule shortly after the announcement that it had inked its “groundbreaking” and “landmark” collective bargaining agreement with the players’ association. We are two months prior to the planned start of the season and we still do not know which teams are playing who.

We have some suggestions though for what we are guessing will be the WNBA’s Tip-Off Weekend (presented by AT&T). Either three games a day for both Saturday and Sunday or another WNBA All Day similar to what it did to start the 2018 season.

Liberty vs. Sparks at Staples Center as an ode to that first-ever game in 1997. Also – Washington Mystics vs. Seattle Storm in the Pacific Northwest given that they are the last two WNBA champions and a fully healthy Mystics with Elena Delle Donne and Tina Charles is sure to give other elite teams such as Seattle and Vegas all they can handle.

Also – Las Vegas Aces vs. Chicago Sky in Candace Parker’s first game with her hometown team at Wintrust Arena (have to do more with that rivalry since Hamby broke Windy City hearts two seasons ago).

Connecticut Sun vs. Atlanta Dream at Gateway Center Arena – this one has the W’s social justice message written all over it given how instrumental the Dream’s own players were in getting Kelly Loeffler out of the league and flipping the United States Senate by helping get Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff elected. In addition, the Dream-Sun connections with Chris Sienko and Nicki Collen.

Minnesota Lynx vs. Phoenix Mercury at the newly renovated PHX Arena could be another presentation of two of the WNBA’s marquee franchises and Dallas Wings vs. Indiana Fever could present two teams with players that, in large part, represent the WNBA’s future.

The second miss from the announcement was nothing on the All-Star Game. Cathy Engelbert mentioned in her press conference prior to last year’s Finals that there would be an All-Star game despite this year being an Olympic year. Likely, an announcement of an All-Star Game would likely coincide with a full schedule release and our guess is it takes place after the Olympic break as well similar to the Commissioner’s Cup Final.

It would be more ideal to have the All-Star Game at the end of the season, but nowhere near feasible since many WNBA players begin their overseas commitments as soon as the W campaign concludes.

Also – there’s still no formal announcement on the WNBA draft. We do know the draft will be the night of April 15 on ESPN, but what has yet to be ironed out is if it will be another virtual affair (similar to last year) or in-person with limited attendance. This probably means Engelbert and the WNBA would prefer for this year’s draft to be in-person again and probably back at the Nike NYC Headquarters similar to the 2019 rendition.

We will get more details on all these elements between now and May … but perhaps it is us just being impatient and wanting it to (it’s gonna) be May already.

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