It’s been two decades since the women’s basketball world declared “We Got Next” when the NBA Board of Governors approved the creation of the WNBA.
The league enters its landmark 20th season brimming with young talent and intriguing storylines. Maya Moore captains a dynasty in Minnesota after leading the Lynx to their third title in her five seasons. Chicago’s Elena Delle Donne enters 2016 in the afterglow of a historic MVP campaign. Seattle rookie Breanna Stewart arrives on the scene fresh off her fourth consecutive national championship at UConn, boasting a resume virtually unmatched in college hoops history.
They have now.
But the new wave still shares the spotlight with the old guard. After 14 spectacular seasons, Tamika Catchings will say a long goodbye to the game during her final year as the heartbeat of the Indiana Fever. Alpha dog Diana Taurasi is back with the Phoenix Mercury, ready to chase her fourth title. In August, she’ll join forces with Catchings, Seattle Storm vet Sue Bird, and nine other stars as Team USA goes for its sixth straight Olympic Gold Medal in Rio.
All that and more will be on display when play opens on May 14. Here are 20 things to know about the WNBA’s 20th season:
1. Minnesota reigns over the league… for now.
Three titles in five years certainly qualify the Lynx as a dynasty, which is nothing new to the WNBA. The league opened with a four-peat from the Houston Comets, and four teams in all have won at least three rings.
The Lynx are a formidable champion that have been built on continuity of their Big Four of Maya Moore, Seimone Augustus, Lindsay Whalen and Rebekkah Brunson. But Finals MVP Sylvia Fowles, who was acquired in a midseason trade last season, may emerge as Minnesota’s No. 2 option this season. With Moore still in her prime at the age of 26, she and Fowles form a virtually unstoppable inside-outside combo.
Fowles was a force that the Fever couldn’t handle in a five-game championship series last October that went down as an instant classic. Moore’s winning shot in the final seconds of Game 3 will be the indelible image of the series, stamping her place at the top of the game.
MORE: Recap the 2015 Finals
2. Tamika Catchings is hoping to write a triumphant swan song.
Kobe Bryant, exit stage left. Now it’s Tamika’s turn.
Catchings is held in that kind of esteem in women’s basketball circles, and her place in the WNBA compares to Bryant’s on the NBA side. In fact, they met as children when their fathers were both playing professionally in Italy.
Catchings, too, has a competitive fire that should make her final season unforgettable. The 36-year-old announced her retirement before last season, and stunningly guided Indiana to its third Finals appearance during her 14-year career.
Always tough and dependable in the mold of their leader, the Fever should be right back in the title mix. Even if “Catch” can’t add a second ring, she will leave the game with a Hall-of-Fame resume:
- 10-time All-Star
- Five-time Defensive Player of the Year (league record)
- 2 in career scoring and rebounding; No. 1 in steals
- 2002 Rookie of the Year
- 2011 WNBA MVP
- 2012 champion and Finals MVP
3. Diana Taurasi and the Mercury are back at full strength.
It was no secret that the Mercury played shorthanded in 2015 after Taurasi opted to sit out the season to rest. And they still earned the No. 2 seed in the West and advanced to the Conference Finals.
That speaks to the type of talent on Phoenix’s roster. Taurasi returns to a team that features veteran All-Stars in DeWanna Bonner and Candice Dupree and ever-improving fourth-year center Brittney Griner. Penny Taylor, a key contributor on all three Mercury title teams, also returns after missing last season.
The last time that core was intact, Phoenix blitzed through the league, posting an all-time best 29-5 record and going 8-1 in the playoffs en route to the 2014 title. In other words, the list of contenders who could challenge the Lynx starts in the desert.