Breanna Stewart’s second birthday was approaching when the WNBA officially launched on April 24, 1996. Almost exactly 20 years later, of course, she became the No. 1 pick in the 2016 WNBA Draft.
The story is similar for much of this year’s rookie class, which falls in line with the new generation of players who grew up with the WNBA — as opposed to veterans like Sue Bird and Tamika Catchings, who didn’t know playing pro ball in the U.S. was possible until they were in high school.
With that in mind, WNBA.com asked some of this year’s rookies about their first memories of a league that’s nearly as old as they are.
Imani Boyette, Chicago Sky: “My memories of tagging along with my mom (two-year WNBA vet Pam McGee) are mainly through pictures, ’cause I get to see all the pictures of her in her jersey and me being there as a toddler.
“I was there at the game when Lisa [Leslie] dunked, so that was really cool. I got to grow up [in L.A.] with a WNBA team, so I was around a lot. I went to a lot of [Sparks] games with my high school team.”
Courtney Williams, Phoenix Mercury: “The Lisa Leslie dunk. Everyone knows the Lisa Leslie dunk.”
Watch Leslie’s Famous Dunk
Kahleah Copper, Washington Mystics: “Lisa Leslie dunking the ball. That just changed the game for us. It was exciting just to see that and to see how women’s basketball was evolving.”
Morgan Tuck, Connecticut Sun: “I watched Lisa Leslie, and I remember in fourth grade we had a project where we could pick anyone we wanted to write about and I picked Lisa. So that’s when I really got interested in basketball and the WNBA. I wanted to be like her.”
Breanna Stewart, Seattle Storm: “I was one year old when it started. But [growing up] I knew about Lisa Leslie and Tina Thompson. Then that went into Sue [Bird], D (Diana Taurasi), Candace [Parker], Maya [Moore]. I just watched the progression.”
Jonquel Jones, Connecticut Sun: “I was watching TV, flipping through channels, and I stopped because I saw people playing basketball. I was like, ‘Oh my goodness — those are women.’ I just sat there and watched it the whole time. I had no idea what the WNBA was. I was (home) in the Bahamas — sometimes we wouldn’t even get NBA games. I was just really happy to see this on television. I know for a fact it was the Detroit Shock because I became a Shock fan.”
Tiffany Mitchell, Indiana Fever: “My first impression of the WNBA was watching Coach [Dawn] Staley because I grew up in Charlotte, born and raised. Of course being one of the only girls playing basketball around my age, I was drawn into the Charlotte Sting, so my mom would always take me to their games. She bought me Coach Staley’s jersey and everything. I have it still hanging in my house right now.
Moriah Jefferson: “I grew up watching Cappie Pondexter. I love the way she plays. Also I watched the UConn greats: Sue [Bird], Diana [Taurasi], and Maya [Moore] now. Getting a chance to see those guys compete so hard every day is what keeps me competing the way I do.”