On April 24, 1996, women’s basketball announced “We Got Next” as the NBA Board of Governors approved the concept of a Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) to begin play in June 1997. Since then, the WNBA has been the home for the best women’s basketball talent in the world. The WNBA is a professional basketball league comprised of 12 teams featuring the best women’s basketball players in the world.
Working directly with the WNBA league office and WNBA Players Association, the NBRPA actively seeks partners that can assist in creating female-oriented programs specifically designed to help former WNBA players in life after the game. In addition, the NBRPA is dedicating a significant amount of its community resources toward impacting young females through basketball
The first player signings were announced on October 23, 1996, with Sheryl Swoopes and Rebecca Lobo joining the league. The duo were soon followed by Ruthie Bolton, Lisa Leslie, Cynthia Cooper, Michele Timms (the first international player) and many more WNBA hopefuls. Eight teams were announced for the league’s inaugural season. The Eastern Conference consisted of the Charlotte Sting, Cleveland Rockers, Houston Comets and New York Liberty while the Western Conference was comprised of the Los Angeles Sparks, Phoenix Mercury, Sacramento Monarchs and Utah Starzz. On January 16, 1997, the first 16 players were assigned to teams, and on February 27 an Elite Draft added two more players to each team, increasing team rosters to four. The Comets selected Tina Thompson, the Pac-10 Conference’s leading scorer, with the first pick of the Inaugural WNBA Draft. Margo Dydek, a 7-2 center from Poland, was selected first in the 1998 Draft by the Starzz, and two-time Associated Press Women’s Basketball Player of the Year Chamique Holdsclaw was the Washington Mystics’ No. 1 selection in the 1999 Draft. In 2000, the Cleveland Rockers selected Ann Wauters from Belgium as the first overall pick, and Australian Olympian Lauren Jackson went to the Seattle Storm with the No. 1 selection in 2001.
Since the inaugural season, the WNBA has expanded from eight teams to 16, with the Detroit Shock and Washington Mystics joining the league in 1998, the Minnesota Lynx and Orlando Miracle in 1999, and the Indiana Fever, Miami Sol, Portland Fire and Seattle Storm in 2000. The 2002 season will see 176 women play professional basketball in 256 regular-season WNBA games (schedule history: 32 games in 2001, 2000 and 1999, 30 in 1998, 28 in 1997). With such tremendous growth, the WNBA and the Women’s National Basketball Players Association (WNBPA) announced on April 29, 1999 the league’s first collective bargaining agreement – a first of its kind in women’s team sports.