NEW YORK, July 12 -- Prior to the WNBA All-Stars taking the court at Madision Square Garden tonight, another group of inspiring individuals came together to celebrate greatness of another kind

This summer, the WNBA celebrates its historic 10th Anniversary, a milestone in which we can all take a great deal of pride. With the league's staying power, we are proud to serve as a beacon that inspires and motivates, helping to ignite the dreams and aspirations of women across all walks of life and in all fields of endeavor. As part of this year's 10th Anniversary Celebration, the WNBA held its inaugural 2006 All-Star Salute: Celebrating Inspiration Luncheon.

With a distinguished list of inspiring individuals on hand for the luncheon in New York City, many of whom are female business executives, leaders and politicians and those who support them, the event celebrated individuals, who on a daily basis, demonstrate their ability to inspire others through their commitment, passion and dedication to work, family and community. These are the qualities that are core to the WNBA athlete and the spirit that embodies the league.

WNBA President Donna Orender first welcomed the more than 300 guests as they noshed on their salads.

"It is such an honor to represent these women," Orender said. "The women of the WNBA are indeed inspiring women. They move others to thought and deed, they cause celebration, theyflat-out deliver great entertainment."

That was followed by an inspirational video featuring clips of the best players in the world talking about what inspiration, motivation, dreams, strength, hope and passion mean to them.

But the program was highlighted by a brief speech and question-and-answer session with one of the most respected women in the world, Former United States Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, as the keynote speaker. As the first woman to hold the highest ranking position in the State Department, Albright is recognized for having blazed new paths, broken glass ceilings and inspired others to achieve. Also now a best-selling author for The Mighty and the Almight: reflections on America, God and World Affairs, Albright embodies the qualities - Passion, Commitment and Dedication - that continue to inspire others to thought and deed.

"The WNBA has given my granddaughter and millions of others in their generation something for which to shoot," Albright said. "It has also consistently and generously given back to the community."

Albright was also accompanied by her assistant, who actually was a high school teammate of Fever forward Tamika Catchings and routinely poked fun at her own "limited stature." But the she also took the time to address significant social and global issues, including reproductive health, family planning, the global AIDS crisis and the American involvement in Iraq. When asked by Comets forward Tina Thompson about her concerns with North Korea, Albright minced no words.

"Before meeting (North Korean dictator) Kim Jong Il, I was told he was a crazy pervert," Albright admitted. "But he is not crazy."

The event was presented by Kohler, manufacturer of so many products we all are familar with. Herb Kohler, himself, was on hand to honor Secretary Albright and pay homage to the WNBA.

"Kohler is honored to be a part of the WNBA family and the innaugural All-Star Salute," he said. "We help celebrate the collective passion and values of the sport and share in the WNBA's mission to lead, inspire and create change."

The WNBA also presented the inaugural WNBA Inspiration Award. The award, intended for an individual or group that serves as a role model to all of us who aspire to make a difference at work, at home and in the communities in which we live, was presented to the WNBA All-Decade Team, all of whom were on hand for the luncheon. Sparks center Lisa Leslie spoke on behalf of the great WNBA players.

In addition to the luncheon and presentation, guests were also invited to bid on signed memorabilia in the WNBA Cares Silent Auction at special computer terminals.