The 2022 WNBA season included the retirement tours of two of the greatest athletes ever to play women’s basketball: Sue Bird and Sylvia Fowles.
Both appear on numerous lists of the top all-time players. However, comparing their feats with those who excelled in the sport before NCAA records were compiled and before the founding of the WNBA is hard.
Pre-NCAA legends include those who later became involved in the WNBA as coaches, executives, and even players, including Nancy Lieberman, Ann Meyers Drysdale, Lynette Woodard, Carol Blazejowski, and the late Anne Donovan.
The Debate for All-Time Players
Since the onset of WNBA play in 1997, media and fans have debated who should make up the greatest of all-time in league history.
From a viewpoint that relies heavily on statistics, here is a list of the ten best players the league has seen so far. The list skews heavily on history and does not include several players who are still in the prime of their careers and have not finished making an impact. It doesn’t include Brittney Griner, Breanna Stewart, A’ja Wilson, and Elena Delle Donne. Maya Moore, who retired during the height of her career, is also missing from the list.
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Diana Taurasi, Phoenix
Five-time Olympic gold medalist Diana Taurasi has spent her entire career with the Phoenix Mercury. Drafted in 2004, she is the league’s all-time scoring leader and finished the 2022 regular season with 9,693 career points, putting her 2,205 points ahead of Tina Thompson. She is a three-time WNBA champion and two-time Finals MVP.
Sylvia Fowles, Minnesota
Minnesota Lynx center Sylvia Fowles played her last season in 2022. The LSU grad and rebounding machine began her career in Chicago, but demanded a trade to the Minnesota Lynx in 2015, a move that served her well. She wanted to win championships and she did with the Lynx in 2015 and 2017. The two-time Finals MVP is the league’s all-time leader in rebounds with 4,006.
Tamika Catchings, Indiana
Catch, as she is affectionately known, is the greatest all-around player the league has ever seen. Known for her prowess in every aspect of the game, her lockdown defensive skills are what opponents were most afraid of during her time with the Indiana Fever. The five-time Defensive Player of the Year ranks high in all-time stats for points, assists, rebounds, and steals.
Sue Bird, Seattle
Seattle Storm point guard Sue Bird also concluded her career in 2022 and entered the playoffs with the team. She had 3,234 assists at the end of the regular season, a record that will stand for some time as she also leaves the WNBA as the oldest player in the league. Bird, along with her UConn alum bestie, Diana Taurasi, is just one of two basketball players to earn five Olympic gold medals.
Cynthia Cooper, Houston
As a member of the Houston Comets’ dynasty, Coop as fans and media call her, came back from overseas player in Italy to electrify fans when she joined the brand-new league. The four-time WNBA champion is No. 1 on the all-time list for career scoring average at 21.0 points per game.
Lisa Leslie, Los Angeles
Three-time MVP and four-time Olympian, Lisa Leslie was a legend even in high school in Southern California when she scored 101 points in a single game. She spent all her WNBA career with the Los Angeles Sparks. Leslie was the first player to dunk in the league and ranks high in several all-time categories.
Sheryl Swoopes, Houston
Off the court, Sheryl Swoopes will go down in history as the first-ever women’s player to have a signature shoe, the iconic Air Swoopes. On the court, as a member of the Houston Comets’ big three, she was the first in the league to earn a triple-double, the first in NBA and WNBA history to win three MVP and Defensive Player of the Year awards. Swoopes is among the few players with an Olympic gold medal, a WNBA championship, and an NCAA title.
Lauren Jackson, Seattle
Undoubtedly, Lauren Jackson is the greatest basketball player, woman, or man, Australia has produced. Drafted by the Seattle Storm when she was just 19 after playing as a pro in Australia, Jackson made an immediate impact. With Sue Bird as the floor general and her savvy moves inside and outside the paint, the Australian Opal quickly become a star. The three-time MVP retired due to recurring injuries but is making a comeback in 2022 as a member of the Australian National Team.
Candace Parker, Los Angeles/Chicago
With the nicknames Ace and CP3, Candace Parker was a household name before she entered the WNBA as the first overall pick in 2008. In her first year in the league, she became the first player to earn MVP and Rookie of the Year in the same season. Parker followed in the dunking footsteps of Leslie and became the second player to throw down in the regular season. She won a championship with the Sparks in 2016 and another with the Chicago Sky in 2021.
Tina Thompson, Houston
The third member of the Comets Big Three, Tina Thompson, who played at the same high school as Leslie, is the league’s second all-time leading scorer. The two-time Olympic gold medalist and power forward is fifth all-time in three-point shots. Her treys were the stuff of legend as the daggers time and again sunk the hopes of opponents during crucial minutes down the stretch.
AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin