Ten years and counting...

2006 Year In Review

Yes, that's right, it has been ten years already. Can you believe it? It's hard to imagine that a decade has passed since the NBA Board of Governors approved the concept of the Women's National Basketball Association, since Sheryl Swoopes became the first player to sign with the league and since the world was introduced to that orange-and-oatmeal game ball we all love. After many doubted that the league would even last this long, the WNBA is stronger than ever and looking to expand in the years to come.

To celebrate the anniversary, the WNBA jump-started the 2006 season with several initiatives, including Ten Years of Caring and the introduction of the All-Decade Team. Ten of the league's most influential players from the first ten seasons were chosen from a group of 30 nominated by the fans along with a panel of national and WNBA-market media, players and coaches. The members of the team and the Honorable Mentionees were honored at the 2006 All-Star Game at Madison Square Garden.

Along with the several living legends, the league has also featured many great moments throughout the years beginning with the very first ever WNBA game between the Los Angeles Sparks and the New York Liberty at the Great Western Forum on June 21, 1997 all the way to the first ever WNBA Finals Game Five last month.

AOL.com joined the anniversary celebration by presenting fans the opportunity to vote for the WNBA's all-time greatest moments. The four finalists included Teresa Weatherspoon's amazing half court shot in Game Two of the 1999 Finals, Sue Bird's no-look, between-the-legs pass to Lauren Jackson, Lisa Leslie's historic first dunk in a WNBA game and Edna Cambell's triumphant return from breast cancer.

The WNBA Greatest Moment presented by AOL.com was unveiled during Game One of the 2006 Finals with Weatherspoon's half court shot coming out as the top moment.

Below is a list of the ten players named to the WNBA All-Decade Team. All ten members have earned Olympic medals and eight have won a WNBA championship.

WNBA All-Decade Team

Name WNBA Team(s)
Sue Bird Seattle Storm (2002-Current)
Tamika Catchings Indiana Fever (2001-Current)
Cynthia Cooper* Houston Comets (1997-2000, 2003)
Yolanda Griffith Sacramento Monarchs (1999-Current)
Lauren Jackson Seattle Storm (2001-Current)
Lisa Leslie Los Angeles Sparks (1997-Current)
Katie Smith Detroit Shock (2005-Current), Minnesota Lynx (1999-2005)
Dawn Staley* Houston Comets (2005-2006), Charlotte Sting (1999-2005)
Sheryl Swoopes Houston Comets (1997-Current)
Tina Thompson Houston Comets (1997-Current)

*Retired

All-Stars Take Over NYC

During this historic season, could there have been a better place to play the league's seventh All-Star Game than Madison Square Garden, the home of the 1999 inaugural game?

Eleven of the best players from each conference, including an All-Star-record four rookies (Seimone Augustus, Cappie Pondexter, Sophia Young and Candice Dupree), joined forces in the Big Apple to battle it out for league bragging rights, which the West has held after each of the six previous contests. But this year, it was the Eastern Conference that finished victorious with a 98-82 win.

Katie Douglas, who was one of five Connecticut Sun players selected to play in the game, brought home M.V.P. honors after scoring a team-high 16 points to lead the East. Douglas' 3-point shooting carried over from the first ever 3-Point Challenge the previous day where she lost to Houston's Dawn Staley by one point. The 6-0 guard shot 4-of-7 from beyond the arc and added five rebounds and four assists in her first All-Star Game. Minnesota Lynx rookie Seimone Augustus, who won The All-Star Dribble, Dish and Swish Challenge, led the West with 16 points in the losing effort.

A Season Of Offensive Highlights And Milestones

Where do we start? With Lisa Leslie still going strong in her tenth season, the rookie class possibly being the best in league history, and Diana Taurasi's hot hands, many offensive records were either set or broken in 2006. League scoring was at an all-time high with the new 24-second shot clock (previously 30 seconds) and six players averaged over 19 points per game. We also saw All-Star's dunking, player's dishing out no-look passes and several buzzer-beating shots, making the 2006 season one to remember.

On her way to becoming only the second player to win M.V.P. honors three-times, Sparks center Lisa Leslie became the first WNBA player to total 5,000 career points. While leading the Sparks to a 105-80 win over the San Antonio Silver Stars on June 25, Leslie, who entered the game with 4,999 career points, reached the milestone less than a minute into the first quarter by hitting a 19 foot jumper. She went on to score a career-high 41 points in the victory. Leslie also made her seventh All-Star appearance and ranked third among all player's in scoring (20.0 ppg) and rebounding (9.5 rpg) during the 2006 season.

Another player who is well on pace to reach the 5,000 career point mark is Phoenix Mercury guard Diana Taurasi. The third-year player proved that she could be the greatest scorer of all-time by averaging a record 25.3 points for the season. On August 10, the two-time All-Star broke Katie Smith's single-game scoring record of 46 points by exploding for 47 points in a triple-overtime win over the Houston Comets.

The 2006 Draft class also made some noise on the offensive end as two rookies finished the season ranked among the top five in scoring. Minnesota Lynx guard Seimone Augustus became the first rookie in league history to average more than 20 points per game (21.9) as she finished second behind only Taurasi in scoring. Fellow rookie Phoenix Mercury guard Cappie Pondexter ranked tied for fourth after averaging 19.5 points per game.

And We Can't Forget About The Defense

The scoring in 2006 was remarkable, but there was plenty going on in the defensive end and on the boards as well.

Connecticut Sun center Margo Dydek led the league in blocked shots for the eighth-time in her nine-year career as she totaled 85 blocks in 34 games (2.50 bpg). She continues to hold the record as she now has 811 career blocks.

Two Indiana Fever players also shined on the defensive end as forward Tamika Catchings (2.94 spg) and guard Tully Bevilaqua (2.09 spg) became the first teammates to each average over 2.0 steals per game. Catchings also ranked in the top ten in just about every statistical category including scoring (16.3 ppg), assists (3.7 apg), rebounding (7.5 rpg), blocks (1.1 bpg) and steals.

When it comes to rebounding, nobody cleans the glass like Detroit Shock center Cheryl Ford. The back-to-back league-leading rebounding champ averaged a career-high 11.3 rebounds as she led the league in offensive rebounds (4.06 orpg) and ranked second in defensive rebounds (7.28 drpg). The All-Star also broke Yolanda Griffith's single-season rebounding mark by grabbing 357 rebounds and tied Chamique Holdsclaw's single-game rebounding record of 24 three times this season.

Top Teams Lose In Conference Finals

As the season wound down, the battle for playoff positions really heated up. The Eastern Conference's top four were determined early, but the Western Conference's bottom two positions weren't set until the final week of the season. The Phoenix Mercury looked out of the playoff picture until they went on a season-high seven-game winning streak to end the season, which resulted in a three-way tie with the Storm and Comets. However, the Mercury were the odd team out as they lost the tie-breaker to both teams. The Comets held the tie-breaker over the Storm for the third spot in the West.

The top four Western Conference teams included, in order, the Los Angeles Sparks (25-9), Sacramento Monarchs (21-13), Houston Comets (18-16) and the Seattle Storm (18-16). The Sparks, who were the Western Conference favorites entering the postseason, squeaked by the Storm in a three-game first round series before losing to the Monarchs, who swept the Comets in the first round, in the Western Conference Finals. The Monarchs entered the WNBA Finals for the second straight season.

The top four Eastern Conference teams included, in order, the Connecticut Sun (26-8), Detroit Shock (23-11), Indiana Fever (21-13) and the Washington Mystics (18-16). The two-time defending Eastern Conference champion Connecticut Sun looked poised for their first WNBA championship as they rolled into the postseason winning 15 of their final 19 games before sweeping the Mystics in the first round. But Detroit, who swept the Fever in the first round, appeared too strong for Connecticut in the Conference Finals as they defeated the Sun 2-1 to advance to the Finals where they met the defending champion Sacramento Monarchs.

In A Shocking Series, Detroit Dethrones Sacramento

To end the tenth anniversary season, the Detroit Shock and Sacramento Monarchs played one of the most exciting series of all-time.

The Monarchs took control of the series early by blowing out the Shock, 95-71, in Detroit to steal homecourt advantage. But the Shock bounced back with a 73-63 Game Two win before taking the series to Sacramento. The series would continue to go back-and-forth for the next two games with the Monarchs taking Game Three, 89-69, and the Shock staying alive with a 72-52 Game Four victory before going back to Detroit for a first ever Game Five.

Due to a scheduling confilct at the Palace of Auburn Hills, the game was played at Joe Louis Arena in downtown Detroit, but the fans still came out in full force. Deanna Nolan scored 24 points and Katie Smith added 17 as the Shock pulled out an 80-75 victory in front of the second biggest crowd in WNBA history.

Nolan was named 2006 Finals M.V.P. after averaging 17.8 points, 4.2 rebounds, and 2.8 assists during the series.

Saying Farewell To A Legend

Dawn Staley decided to hang up her sneakers earlier this year, but that doesn't mean the eight-year WNBA veteran is leaving the game for good. Staley, who averaged 7.4 points and 3.9 assists in her final season, will continue coaching at Temple University, where she has held the women's basketball team head coaching position since the 2000-01 season.

Staley ended her playing career after winning three Olympic gold medals and being selected to five All-Star Games. The former Charlotte Sting and Houston Comets guard averaged 8.5 points, 5.1 assists and 2.0 rebounds in 263 career games.

Lisa Leslie Wins Third M.V.P. Award

To top off a season where she led her team to the top record in the Western Conference while averaging a career-high's in points and assists, Los Angeles Sparks center Lisa Leslie was named the 2006 WNBA Most Valuable Player, joining Sheryl Swoopes as the only other player to win the award three-times.

The seven-time All-Star, two-time Finals MVP and three-time Olympic Gold Medalist received 40 first place votes from a panel of national sportswriters and broadcasters, and totaled 508 points. Her nearest contender, Diana Taurasi of the Phoenix Mercury, only received 211 points. The other top-five vote-getters included Connecticut Sun forward Katie Douglas (208 points), Seattle Storm forward Lauren Jackson (193 points) and Indiana Fever forward Tamika Catchings (181 points).

And The Award Goes To...

All-WNBA First Team:
Los Angeles Sparks center Lisa Leslie once again led all vote-getters, narrowly edging out Phoenix Mercury guard Diana Taurasi, as she was selected to the All-WNBA First Team for the seventh time in her career. Joining Leslie and Taurasi was Indiana Fever forward Tamika Catchings, Seattle Storm forward Lauren Jackson and Connecticut Sun guard Katie Douglas.


All-WNBA Second Team:
The 2006 All-WNBA Second Team was led by Detroit Shock center Cheryl Ford. She was joined by Washington Mystics guard Alana Beard, Connecticut Sun forward Taj McWilliams-Franklin, Minnesota Lynx guard Seimone Augustus and Houston Comets forward Sheryl Swoopes.

 

Kim Perrot Sportsmanship Award:
Houston Comets guard Dawn Staley won the Kim Perrot Sportsmanship Award for the second time in her career.

The award was named after former Comets guard Kim Perrot, who passed away in 1999 after a seven-month battle with cancer. Each year the award honors a player who exemplifies the ideals of sportsmanship on the court.

Rookie of the Year:
Minnesota Lynx guard Seimone Augustus was named the 2006 Rookie of the Year after a close race with Phoenix Mercury guard Cappie Pondexter all season. San Antonio Silver Star forward Sophia Young was the only other player to receive votes for the award.

Chicago Sky All-Star center Candace Dupree and Charlotte Sting forward Monique Currie joined Augustus, Pondexter and Young on the 2006 WNBA All-Rookie Team.

Coach of the Year:
Connecticut Sun head coach Mike Thibault won the 2006 WNBA Coach of the Year award after leading the Sun to the league's best overall record (26-8) and best road record (12-5). Thibault also coached the Eastern Conference to its first ever All-Star Game victory and led the Sun on a franchise-record 12-game winning streak from July 16 - August 9. Other coaches receiving votes included Sparks coach Joe Bryant, Fever coach Brian Winters and Comets coach Van Chancellor.

Most Improved Player:
Sacramento Monarchs forward Erin Buescher won the 2006 Most Improved Player award. The five-year veteran posted career high's in points (9.7), rebounds (3.9) and steals per game (0.97) as she saw extended minutes due to DeMya Walker return from pregnancy. Other players receiving votes included Indiana Fever forward Tamika Whitmore, Charlotte Sting guard Kelly Mazzante, Connecticut Sun guard Katie Douglas, Washington Mystics center Nakia Sanford, Connecticut Sun center Margo Dydek and New York Liberty forward Cathrine Kraayveld.

Defensive Player of the Year:
After leading the league in steals (94) and ranking fifth in defensive rebounds (172), Indiana forward Tamika Catchings won the Defensive Player of the Year for the second consecutive year. The All-Decade Team member received 43 of 66 possible votes.Other players receiving votes included Connecticut Sun guard Katie Douglas, Houston Comets forward Sheryl Swoopes, Los Angeles Sparks center Lisa Leslie, Detroit Shock guard Deanna Nolan and Connecticut Sun center Margo Dydek.

All-Defensive Team
Los Angeles Sparks center Lisa Leslie, Houston Comets forward Sheryl Swoopes, Connecticut Sun guard Katie Douglas and Indiana Fever guard Tully Bevilaqua joined Defensive Player of the Year Tamika Catchings on the 2006 All-Defensive First Team.

Washington Mystics guard Alana Beard, Connecticut Sun center Margo Dydek, Sacramento Monarchs forward Yolanda Griffith, Detroit Shock guard Deanna Nolan and forward Cheryl Ford were selected to the All-Defensive Second Team.

Peak Performers
The WNBA Peak Performers Program recognizes the league’s leaders in scoring, rebounding and assists per game. Phoenix guard Diana Taurasi led the league in scoring (25.3 ppg), Shock center Cheryl Ford led in rebounding (11.3 rpg), and Mystics guard Nikki Teasley led the league in assists (5.4 apg).

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