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What is the WNBA?

By Jennifer Fenn
Updated May 23, 2024
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The WNBA is the Women’s National Basketball Association. Founded on April, 24, 1996 and led by president Valerie Ackerman, the WNBA has gone on to become one of the most watched women’s sports leagues in the country. Sheryl Swopes was the first player signed for the inaugural 1997 season. Other first season players included notables Lisa Leslie, Rebecca Lobo and Cynthia Cooper. Both Olympians and college basketball players were recruited to compete. During its initial season, the WNBA played its games during the summer, when there was less ratings competition from other sports. Live games were aired on three networks: Lifetime, ESPN and NBC. The first, New York against Los Angeles, was played on June 27, 1997. The games were considered a ratings success.

The WNBA has grown from its original ten teams to the fourteen that played in 2008. Cities represented by WNBA teams in 2008 include Atlanta, Houston, Los Angeles, New York City, Phoenix, Washington, D.C., Sacramento, San Antonio, Seattle, Chicago, and Detroit. Connecticut, Indiana and Minnesota are also home to WNBA teams. The league is united under its official slogan, “We Got Next,” a reference to the concept that it’s women’s turn to have a professional basketball league of their own.

Despite the progress toward equality in sports that the WNBA represents, even the most popular and experienced female players make significantly less money than their male counterparts. In 2008, the maximum salary for a WNBA player was $87,000 US Dollars (USD). That same year, the minimum salary for an NBA player was $412,718 USD.

The WNBA and its players are involved in many charity and outreach programs, including initiatives promoting reading, breast health and youth sports. The WNBA promotes reading through its Read to Achieve program, which donates thousands of books through reading events and book fairs. The Junior WNBA supports sports teams for girls across the country.

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