Did 2016 just come and go like that?! It certainly seems like it did, but in the midst of that coming and going, the WNBA had plenty of memorable moments throughout this year.
There were a lot so it was kind of difficult for us to narrow it down to simply five, but after some discussion and debate amongst ourselves, we were able to able to agree on what we see were The W’s top five memorable/notable stories of 2016!
5. Legends retire
The 2016 campaign also saw the departure of a number of the greatest players to step foot on a WNBA court.
Among them was Lauren Jackson, who in March, before the season began, announced that she was retiring. There was talk in Australia of a possible return at the Olympics but knee injuries ended any shot of a comeback bid. Her jersey was hung to the rafters at Seattle’s Key Arena in June.
Jayne Appel-Marinelli also declared that 2016 would be her final season in The W. She played her entire career with the San Antonio Stars after being drafted with the fifth overall pick in the 2010 WNBA Draft. Appel-Marinelli also won a gold medal in international competition with USA Basketball at the 2010 FIBA World Championships.
The WNBA also said goodbye to Penny Taylor after the 2016 campaign. All one needs to do is look at the three Phoenix Mercury WNBA championship trophies they have won to look at the impact Taylor has had on her team and the league. She, like Jackson, will also be remembered as one of the greatest basketball players in Australian history.
It is hard to imagine the WNBA without Tamika Catchings, but this past season was also the last for her. Her final regular season game resulted in a win for the Indiana Fever over the Dallas Wings in which she finished with 16 points and seven rebounds. A retirement ceremony was held after the game for a career that included 10 All-Star appearances, a WNBA championship, and four Olympic gold medals.
It is also difficult to imagine the league without Swin Cash as 2016 was also her last season. In September, a tribute was held to her at Madison Square Garden. Cash announced her intentions in June in a Players’ Tribune article titled “Curtain Call.” Her illustrious career includes three WNBA championships.
4. Top 20@20
With the WNBA celebrating its 20th season of existence, it was only fitting the league would announce the 20 greatest to ever put kicks to the WNBA court. The announcement was made in June during an edition of ESPN’s SportsCenter.
Among the honorees, nine current players were named in addition to eleven former participants.
They were: Seimone Augustus, Sue Bird, Swin Cash, Cynthia Cooper, Yolanda Griffith, Becky Hammon, Lauren Jackson, Lisa Leslie, Maya Moore, Deanna Nolan, Candace Parker, Ticha Penicheiro, Cappie Pondexter, Katie Smith, Sheryl Swoopes, Diana Taurasi, Tina Thompson, and Teresa Weatherspoon.
3. Six-Peat Complete
There was no All-Star Game this year because of the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro—an Olympics where the USA Basketball Women’s National Team was a runaway favorite to leave Brazil with gold draped around their necks once again.
The team did not disappoint.
Their run through the Olympics included several games where they crossed the century mark in terms of points scored as well as a number of record-setting performances. When all was said and done, it was a six-peat for head coach Geno Auriemma and his team, departing from the 2016 Games with gold medal number six.
2. First ring for Candace and Nneka as Sparks win title
For much of the 2016 WNBA season, it essentially served as the Minnesota Lynx-Los Angeles Sparks invitational. It was only fitting that the league’s top two teams, under the new playoff format, would do battle for the number one spot.
It was a classic series—possibly one of the best WNBA Finals in history—that went five games, culminating in an unforgettable Game 5, that included a controversial shot from Nneka Ogwumike that counted but probably should not have.
Ogwumike would hit the game-winner, and Candace Parker won Finals MVP as the Sparks won its first title since 2002.
1. Black Lives Matter
It was also a very active year for the WNBA in the social arena as well.
After the police shootings of Alton Sterling in Louisiana and Philando Castile in Minnesota—along with the killing of five Dallas police officers at a Black Lives Matter protest, players throughout the WNBA wore black shirts in support of the Black Lives Matter movement as well as to show support for the five officers shot.
While the initial reaction was supportive from the league, the WNBA still fined several teams $5,000 as well as several players $500 for what was claimed to be a uniform violation.
The gesture from the players and the subsequent action from the league put The W at the heart of the Black Lives Matter movement. Eventually, the fines were rescinded, proving that when athletes use their voices to empower the greater good, their voices will be heard and listened to.
We at Beyond The W also wanted to give a couple of honorable mentions for those that just barely finished outside the cut for our starting five moments.
One was the first game at home for the Dallas Wings at the College Park Center on the campus of UT-Arlington. The Wings defeated the San Antonio Stars 82-77 in a contest where Odyssey Sims scored 23 points and Skylar Diggins made her season debut after knee surgery.
And one also has to give mention to Lisa Borders in taking over the reins of The W in her first season. Borders, of course, was influential in the league’s expansion to Atlanta and has brought a businessperson’s touch to running the league.
Only two questions now remain—how will 2017 top 2016?
And secondly—is it May 13 yet?
Happy New Year from all of us at Beyond The W!