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Women's Basketball History
Women's Basketball History By Peter Portero
The Women’s National Basketball Association, created in 1996, is the first women’s league to be fully endorsed by the NBA, their male counterpart. The first season began in June of 1997, following a much-celebrated gold medal win at the 1996 Summer Olympics for the USA Women’s Basketball team. The league is divided into the Eastern and Western Conferences, much like the NBA, and the playoffs result in the Finals between the advancing team from each conference.
The WNBA plays during the summer, between NBA seasons, using many of the same venues as their counterpart NBA teams. The regular season consists of 34 games, and during the middle of July, this play comes to a halt for the WNBA All-Star game, with the star players from the Eastern Conference facing off against the stars of the Western Conference. The fans get to vote throughout the season as to who they wish to see in this game.
The playoffs consist of series featuring the top four teams from each conference, with the first round between the first and second round being best of three series, and the finals being the best of five. Typically, the team with the best record will play the team with the fourth-best record, and the second and third best teams play each other in the first round. The winner of each series then play each other the second round (the conference finals), and the victor advances to the league championship finals.
The WNBA started its first season with only eight teams (1997). By the 2000 season, that number had doubled. Two teams were added in 1998, again in 1999, and four more joined the ranks in 2000. At the time, the league was collectively owned by the NBA. Upon finishing the 2002 season, the NBA sold the individual franchises of the WNBA to either their NBA counterparts hailing from the same city or to a third party owner. This caused two teams to relocated, and the Cleveland Rockers folded at the end of the 2003 season.
This was only the beginning of the troubles for the WNBA. The players threatened to go on strike in 2002 if they could not work out a new deal with the league, and this postponed the start of the 2003 season. Then, in October of 2004, Val Ackerman, the first president of the WNBA, announced her plan to resign. She was replaced in February of the following year by Donna Orender, the Senior Vice President of the PGA Tour who had once played in the former Women’s Basketball League.
The first expansion team in years was awarded in February of 2005 to Chicago, taking the name the Chicago Sky. During the off season that same year, there were several changes to the governing rules of the WNBA to make it more similar to the NBA.