The WNBA is one of the newer basketball leagues to be formed in the United States and it is also one of the smallest. This league is the women’s counterpart to the NBA and it was founded in 1996. The first league game was played in 1997 and the league runs from June to September. As with the NBA, the WNBA also has an All Star game that is played in July and the season finals, which are played in September and October. There are just 12 teams in the league and many share the same arena as their NBA counterparts. There are just 4 teams that do not play in the same arena, including the Seattle Storm, Chicago Sky, Connecticut Sun and Dallas Wings. These four teams as well as the Atlanta Dream and the LA Sparks are all independently owned. At one time, all of the WNBA teams were owned by the NBA, but with independent ownership, the league has the ability to expand.
When the league was first formed, there were just 89 teams in the Eastern and Western Conference. The WNBA was not the first women’s professional basketball league, but it is the first to receive complete backing from the NBA. Following a successful Olympics appearance of the US Women’s Basketball National Team, the WNBA began the very first season on June 21, 1997. The first game was played between the New York Liberty and the LA Sparks and was held in Los Angeles. The game was televised and most teams in the WNBA had television deals in place.
In regards to the marketing of the WNBA, the campaign called We Got Next was focused on stars from the league, including Lisa Leslie, Sheryl Swoopes and Rebecca Lobo. During the first season, the league turned out many stars, but one stood out above all others. In 1997, the WNBA names Cynthia Cooper the league MVP.
In 1998, two more teams were added and another two were added in 1999, bringing the total number of teams to 12. In 1999, the American Basketball League folded and as a result, many star players were then placed on the rosters of WNBA teams. This enhanced the quality of the games in the league and started to draw much more media attention. Some of the top names to be heard were Nikki McCray, Dawn Stanley and Kate Starbid.
The league continues to grow and expand and in 2000, four more teams were added. At the end of the 2000 season, the Houston Comets remained the team to beat as they won their fourth championship, winning every title since the league started. This was the last surge of growth for the league. In the following years, some teams combined and others folded, resulting in the 12 teams that are in the league today.