By Barry Janoff, Executive Editor
March 9, 2011: Back in the day, skeptics were vocal in decrying the future of the WNBA.
In 2011, to celebrate what is being called "a significant milestone for the WNBA," the league will fete its 15th campaign with season-long celebrations involving past and current players, coaches and executives and activation from its array of marketing partners.
A multi-media marketing campaign featuring current and former players and coaches will run nationally under the theme, "WNBA 1997-2011. Expect Great."
“This is a significant milestone for the WNBA,” NBA commissioner David Stern said in a statement. “The league continues to be the destination for the greatest women basketball players in the world. The WNBA has also developed into an icon and a vehicle for social change, providing extraordinary role models for young women and individuals of all ages.”
The WNBA said it would celebrate its 15th season, which tips off on June 3, by selecting the top 15 players and greatest moments in league history. ESPN2 will feature the 15th anniversary of the league’s inaugural contest and WNBA teams will host specially themed events and fan promotions.
Among other activations, the WNBA will select and honor the league’s most influential players since its inception in 1997. According to the WNBA, the top 15 players in league history will be named "based on their overall contribution to the league. Consideration will be given to such factors as on-court performance and ability, leadership, sportsmanship and community service as well as to contributions to team success and the overall growth of women’s basketball."
A panel comprised of media members and basketball experts has compiled a list of 30 past and current WNBA players that will be unveiled this spring. From that list, the top 15 players will be selected, and that group will be announced during the week of the 2011 WNBA All-Star Game.
The 2011 All-Star Game is scheduled for July 23 in San Antonio.
The WNBA is currently seeking to replace Donna Orender, who resigned at the end of the 2010 season after five seasons as league president.
Teams are also running individual promotions to select the greatest players in each respective franchise's history. The New York Liberty, for example, is asking fans to vote for the top six players in team history. Each player will then be honored with a Liberty ticket feature their image.
The Los Angeles Sparks are among the teams that will unveil 15th anniversary logos, with Sparks jersey sponsor Farmers Insurance part of the activation.
"With the WNBA celebrating its historic 15th season this summer, we are pleased that an outstanding brand in Farmers Insurance will continue its alignment with one of our most accomplished franchises in the Los Angeles Sparks,” Christopher Granger, NBA evp-team marketing and business operations, said in a statement. “This partnership has been a tremendous success since 2009, broadening both organizations' reach to WNBA fans and to the community as a whole.”
The WNBA’s 15 greatest moments will also be determined during the 2011 campaign and unveiled during the second half of the season and the playoffs.
WNBA teams will celebrate the league’s historic milestone by hosting specially themed games, fan promotions, interactive events and presentations to long-time season ticket holders throughout the season. In addition, ESPN2 will nationally televise the 15th anniversary of the league’s inaugural game on June 21, when the Sparks, led by Candace Parker, host Cappie Pondexter and the Liberty at Staples Center.
That match-up comes 15 years to the date of the first game in WNBA history when those same teams squared off in The Forum in Inglewood, Calif. Led by then head coach Nancy Darsch, the Liberty defeated the Sparks, 67-57, before a crowd of 14,284. Penny Toler, who as a member of the Sparks scored the first basket in league history, went on to become the team’s general manager and joined with head coach Michael Cooper to lead the team to a pair of WNBA championships in 2001 and 2002.
“This is a significant milestone for the WNBA. The league continues to be the destination for the greatest women basketball players in the world."
Tina Thompson of the Sparks is the lone remaining player from the WNBA’s first season. The league began with eight teams and now operates with 12. Nine teams along the way have folded or relocated: Charlotte Sting, Cleveland Rockers, Detroit Shock (now in Tulsa), Houston Comets, Miami Sol, Orlando Miracle (now the Connecticut Sun), Portland Fire, Sacramento Monarchs and Utah Starzz (now in San Antonio).