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The “First” Generation of the WNBA

What was so remarkable to witness on this draft night, was to see a generation of girls who grew up realizing that playing professional basketball could be their dream or a goal that they could achieve

Danielle Robinson and Sue Bird by Lorie Schaull is licensed under CC BY SA-2.0

The “First” Generation of the WNBA

Estimated Reading Time: 4 Minutes

Well, we’ve made it through our first virtual draft. And it actually wasn’t that bad in my opinion. Some small glitches naturally slipped in here and there, but if ESPN was considering this somewhat of a dry run for next week’s NFL draft then I think it’s safe to say that we are in good hands.

On Friday night the WNBA held their 2020 draft with 36 of the top prospects around the country. It came as no shock to literally anyone who follows women’s college basketball, or college basketball in general, or just basketball for that matter, that Oregon senior Sabrina Ionescu went first overall to the New York Liberty. Ionescu is a once in a generation player whose name has been the hot topic of analysts and fans of the game from coast to coast. She is the only college player, male or female, to score over 2,000 points, and have over 1,000 assists and rebounds respectively. And that’s with a senior season that was shortened thanks to this little thing called the Coronavirus.

While there was not much in terms of surprises when it came to the order of the picks in this year’s draft there was something very interesting that stuck out to me and my family as we sat down to watch it. My mom posed a question that made me think…

Have any of these girls about to be drafted ever known a world without the WNBA?

Answer: NONE OF THEM. The WNBA was founded in 1996 and they started play in 1997 which means the league is still under a quarter of a century in age. Ionescu, this year’s headliner, was born in December of ’97, which means she quite literally has never known a world without a professional women’s basketball league. I myself am just about a mere decade older than many of this year’s prospects so I clearly remember the formation of the league that happened after the ’96 Atlanta Olympics. An era when names like Lisa Leslie, Tereasa Weatherspoon, Becky Hammon, Sheryl Swoopes, Cyntia Cooper, Tamika Catchings, and Chamique Holdsclaw dominated the women’s basketball world and began to open the doors for the Sue Birds, Diana Taurasis, Elena Della Dones, Breanna Stewarts, and Sabrina Ionescus to come.

Of course, there are plenty of elite female athletes around the world and there have been for quite some time, but while some teams like 1999 and 2019 USWNT or the fab five of ’96 Olympics gymnastics have legend status, there has never been a women’s professional league with the stature that the WNBA has. Team sports like soccer and hockey have struggled to get pro leagues off the ground and sustain them in either popularity or financially like the WNBA has. That may be due in no small part to the unique relationship that they have developed with the NBA. The two leagues have almost become symbiotic in their support of each other.

What was so remarkable to witness on this draft night, was to see a generation of girls who grew up realizing that playing professional basketball could be their dream or a goal that they could realistically achieve. While they may not be on par with their brother league economically or popularity-wise, they aren’t doing too poorly for being less than a quarter of a century old and being the leading women’s professional league in the world.

The Generation That Could Have Been

As if emotions weren’t already running high enough on draft night, commissioner Cathy Englebert hit us all right in the feels when she opened the draft by honorably drafting what she dubbed as the “Mambacita Generation”.

I’m crying. You’re crying.

And once again Vanessa Bryant in her late husband’s WNBA sweatshirt, alongside family members of those we lost too soon, proved that they are shining lights of grace in the face of catastrophic loss.


An actor by degree, sports lover by day, and a bartender by night. As a native of suburban Detroit it took moving to NYC for Katie to fully realize her love of all things Michigan and Detroit sports. Feel free to engage her in her love of the coolest city and prettiest state in the country and why she will always root for Ohio State to lose every sporting event ever. No, really I am dead serious about that last statement.

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