WNBA Top 20@20 Survey: The 20th Season

Members of the WNBA Top 20@20 — the league’s list of the 20 greatest and most influential players in its history — have gathered in Minneapolis for the WNBA Finals, set to be honored during a halftime ceremony during Game 1.

WNBA.com took a five-question survey to the legends to hear their thoughts on this year’s Finals, the WNBA’s 20th anniversary and the future of the league.

TOP 20@20: 20th Season | Finals Predictions | Favorite Current PlayersReunion Day

What Does the WNBA’s 20th Anniversary Mean to You?

Ticha PenicheiroWe made it. Back in ’97 when the league started, there was a lot of pressure on us to see if it was just gonna be another failure, another league that tried. I’m glad obviously that we have the support of the NBA first, with Adam Silver — this is his baby and he’s really trying to do anything that he can to help us out. We have people in the front office and players that really fought hard to get this thing alive.

It’s good to be part of it almost from the beginning — I came in ’98. But to see the growth, the level of play, the competitiveness, it’s always taking steps forward. So I’m proud. I mean, I played for 15 years. I didn’t envision that coming from Portugal in ’94. And now I’m an American citizen who played here for 15 years. I’m still involved because I’m an agent now. It’s just great. It went by super fast. I wish it could’ve slowed down a little bit.

Tina ThompsonIt means longevity. It means what we thought in our inaugural season and seasons after that: the WNBA was a great product and a great brand. And the ideas that we had in 20 years has come to fruition. The level of play and just the players itself and the personalities are here to stay.

Cynthia CooperI really feel good about the future of the WNBA, when you look at the players like Maya Moore and Nneka Ogwumike. They are the future. I’m thrilled with the whole idea of imagining the WNBA at 60. Little girls get a chance to dream of being professional athletes and they look up to players like some of the Top 20.

Teresa WeatherspoonA lot of work. A lot of hard work in building our brand, building what we know we were capable of doing for many years.

Lisa LeslieWe’re just happy that we’ve had staying power. We’re really thankful for the television deals that have helped give us a little bit more leverage to stay. And then for the fan support — we couldn’t have survived without them. Although there have been some teams that have moved around, some not there any longer, we really appreciate the support of the fans and really sticking with us because these women are playing for them. We hope that we can be here another 20 years.

Sheryl SwoopesIt’s so crazy when I think about sitting here 20 years later and some of these players have retired now. … I remember myself, when I was pregnant, and Renee Brown, we were the only two to go to the NBA All-Star game to promote the WNBA [in 1997]. When I look at how much it’s grown now, the women are doing events with the men, and it’s a big to do now. So you go from one player to promote the league at the NBA All-Star game to now we’re a part of it. And just remembering people talking about, “Will it stick around?” And, “Maybe in five years they’ll be done.” And we’re sitting here 20 years later. When the league first started, that wasn’t a conversation that people would have.

Becky HammonI think the biggest thing is just it’s a legitimate league and it has to start to be talked about. I get a little frustrated with people on TV who maybe aren’t fans of women’s basketball and they feel the need to bash women’s basketball. You don’t have to like everything; I’m not necessarily a big hockey fan, but I don’t sit there and go on and bash hockey.

Sit down and watch it, take your kids to a game. I find it funny that guys in the NBA can really appreciate it — the best players in the world on the men’s side can appreciate the best in the world on the women’s side — so why can’t the average guy?

Just the fact that little boys and little girls are growing up and watching women athletes on TV is a big deal. That’s how you get to the next 20 is you start to change the perceptions of what it means to be an athlete and a strong woman and an empowered woman. It’s important for little girls to see that.