‘A lot more opportunities for WNBA players': Notable Quotes from the W25
Recap of media sessions with a subset of the W25 held before Game One of the WNBA Finals
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To celebrate the 25th anniversary of the WNBA this season, the league announced the W25, a group of the 25 greatest players in league history. Seven of these all-time greats spoke with the media on October 10 before Game 1 of the WNBA Finals between the Chicago Sky and the Phoenix Mercury in Phoenix. You may have missed it with all the excitement happening on the court, but they offered great insight that we wanted to highlight today in our newsletter. The players spoke in three groups: Breanna Stewart alone, followed by Nneka Ogwumike, Katie Smith and Ticha Penicheiro and concluding with Lisa Leslie, Swin Cash and Cynthia Cooper. Excerpts appear below.
Breanna Stewart of the Seattle Storm was named to the W25 after playing only five seasons in six years. Her qualifications are unquestionable though: Rookie of the Year, two WNBA championships, MVP in both those championships, three-time All-WNBA, two-time All Defensive team and MVP of the first-ever Commissioner’s Cup.
On being named to the W25 team:
It's a huge honor for me to be part of the W25, having been in the league for six years, and especially looking at the former players that are a part of this group, the current players that are a part of this group just makes it even more special. To kind of be in the same company as Lisa [Leslie], Catch [Tamika Catchings], obviously D [Diana Taurasi], Sue [Bird], Katie Smith, Ticha [Penicheiro], like the list goes on and on and on. I just really appreciate the opportunity to be here and the opportunity to play in the WNBA and help continue to grow the game like the ones before us did.
On league parity:
I think that everyone has really realized, maybe more so this year than any other year, is just how hard it is to play in this league and how many good teams that we have in this league. Like all 12 teams are capable of competing night in and night out. For us to have a five versus six seed Finals for the first time ever, just shows the versatility of the league, and I think that it's great for the WNBA, it's great for women.
On teammate Sue Bird’s future:
She knows that I would love for her to be back and I would love to play with her again and have another opportunity. I know that she's got a lot going on, a lot on her mind as far as coming back, not coming back. I don't bug her, but she knows I would prefer her to be back playing because she can. She's more than capable of being out on the court and competing, no matter how old she is.
On the future of the WNBA:
I think just continuing to cater to the players and help us get as much as we can and show our values and appreciate us and continue to get the eyes and the viewers. I think that this year having the first year where the new CBA was really enforced, because last year we were in the bubble, just shows how exciting things are going to be, and I think that there's going to be a lot more opportunities for WNBA players. I mean, you see it now, but it's going to just continue to grow, and for the WNBA to have our back with that is really the main message point.
Nneka Ogwumike, Katie Smith, Ticha Penicheiro
This group played a combined 40 seasons in the WNBA (Ogwumike 10, Smith and Penicheiro 15 each), won 4 championships (Ogwumike 1, Smith 2, Penicheiro 1), made 17 All-Star teams (Ogwumike 6, Smith 7, Penicheiro 4) and includes a member of the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame (Smith).
Ticha Penicheiro on Courtney Vandersloot
Vandersloot is currently the all time league leader in regular season assists per game (more than 100 games) (6.7) and is fourth in overall assists (2,180). Penicheiro is second per game (5.7) and total (2,599).
I was able to be Sloot's [Courtney’s] teammate in 2012 when I was in Chicago. She was a baby then, right? But everybody could see the potential, even when she was playing in college for Gonzaga. I'm not surprised by the way she makes the teammates better, the way she plays the game, the way she passes, and when she needs to, she can score as well. I'm not surprised we're talking about Sloot as probably one of the top five point guards in the history of this league, and I'm extremely proud of her.
Nneka Ogwumike on the WNBA season and future direction of the league
It started with us trying to figure out what the season would look like coming off of a bubble, and then of course a very active free agency season, and that leading up until just training camp and games. We had our first ever Commissioner's Cup, which was awesome. The Olympics happened.
I just think that right now we're at a point -- we're kind of on the cusp of really revving things up when it comes to league investment. I think [WNBA Commissioner] Cathy [Engelbert] is doing a great job of stirring that pot and really trying to get results because I know Cathy's all about, obviously, results and getting things done, but through the process, I think she's also -- I know I've been able to develop a really great relationship with her. It’s just been great.
One thing that I think was really successful was the safety of our season in a pandemic. I think that was something we can be very proud of. It was certainly a journey, and it was all hands on deck, whether it was players, coaches, organizations, the league, everything. So, I know we're probably -- not even probably, we have no choice but to maintain that moving forward. I really look forward to continuing the conversation around traveling for the players, and not just the players, but the teams. That all plays into safety.
Katie Smith on coaching opportunities for women in the NBA
Becky [Hammon] was the first, and Jenny Boucek obviously branched off and now these others. So, I do think there's an avenue for us in the NBA, and it's being cultivated. Again, it's a little slow, but it's happening. I think there is a place for us. I think the relationship that we have with the NBA and the players and coaches is starting to get better and better where we stay connected. Basketball is basketball. It's not a foreign thing for women or men. Obviously, the men are on our side, and we could be on their side.
Lisa Leslie, Swin Cash, Cynthia Cooper
This group played a combined 32 seasons in the WNBA (Leslie 12, Cash 15 and Cooper 5 - after 10 seasons overseas), won 9 championships (Leslie 2, Cash 3 and Cooper 4), made 15 All-Star teams (Leslie 8, Cash 4, Cooper 3) and includes two members of the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame (Leslie, Cooper)
Cynthia Cooper on Candace Parker, whom Parker has cited as an influence on her game
Candace is just an amazing talent because of her versatility, because of her longevity, and when you look at her game, it's complete. What she's really added to her game is the ability to make players around her better. But the thing that impresses me the most is her motor. She just comes back every single year, and she just brings her "A" game every single year. For that, definitely hats off and I applaud her.
Lisa Leslie on one-time LA Sparks teammate Parker
Candace probably has not played the best in her career this year, but she's been the best leader I think that she's ever been. Her ability to communicate and to lead and lead by example and to be able to be open and to teach her teammates, her young teammates with Kahleah Copper, who's had an outstanding season, I think Candace has been in a role that's been awesome for her.
We laugh about it because I think I was in that role probably when she and I started playing. As a leader, not being necessarily the best player that you've ever been, but that leadership and that vet experience that she has, sometimes we talk about it from the media and just talk about how old a player is, but you don't recognize experience, you can't buy that. She's come in in a very unselfish way, lent out so much information, and she made everybody around her better. That's the sign of a great player.
Swin Cash on the state and growth of the WNBA
I think the league is in a great place right now as far as visibility. A big shout out to people who have covered the league even from the beginning and even the new social media people who have come on board and really started elevating our league.
The second part is the sponsors that are out there, the commitment to this league and understanding the value of the women. I think those dollars need to start coming in more frequently.
And I think the final thing for me is to bring back a lot of the legends that this league was built on. I think my challenge to all of the teams that are out there is to get more of the legends of our league that have been around to start pouring into the younger players. That's how we grow the game. That's how we share the knowledge, the institutional knowledge, about what the WNBA, women's basketball is truly about
As Swin Cash stated, we should hear more frequently from these pioneers and women who made the WNBA possible. They have so much wisdom and insight to share and are a true asset to women’s basketball. Listening to this subset of the greatest players certainly leaves one wanting more from them and others on a more regular basis.