When the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) played its inaugural game at the Forum in Inglewood, California on June 21, 1997, anticipation and excitement ran high. With a crowd of 14,284 in attendance to witness the New York Liberty face the hometown Los Angeles Sparks, the Forum had to open the upper deck to accommodate the high demand.
“I remember I threw up the first ball. It was the first game, so everyone was very nervous,” said Val Ackerman, the WNBA’s founding president, and current commissioner of the Big East Conference. “It wasn’t a particularly well-played game. It was low-scoring. The players were jittery. The teams were playing together for the first time, so there was no real chemistry in any one team because they were all newly united as teammates. It was a crowning moment for the league because we got it done. We had this year of preparation. It was kind of exhausting getting to that point.”
The Liberty won the game 67-57, marking the WNBA’s arrival. With it, the league introduced Cynthia Cooper, Lisa Leslie, Rebecca Lobo, Sheryl Swoopes, Tina Thompson, and Teresa Weatherspoon. Twenty-six years later, Weatherspoon found herself experiencing another first day, having been officially introduced as the Chicago Sky’s seventh head coach.
She radiated an energy that could command any room, embodying the confidence and passion she displayed throughout her playing career. Weatherspoon’s journey to Chicago was long and transformative, from humble beginnings in Pineland, Texas, to her current role as head coach. Her tone was soft yet serious, reflecting the weight of the moment and the responsibility of being a pioneer in the league.
Selected through the WNBA’s initial player allocation, Weatherspoon, along with Lobo, became members of the New York Liberty. Cooper and Swoopes were assigned to the Houston Comets, with Thompson joining them through the draft. The league initially consisted of eight teams, with the players being allocated based on national team performance and overseas play.
The Comets, consisting of Cooper, Swoopes, and Thompson, became a league dynasty, with Weatherspoon and the Liberty being their formidable opponents. One of the most memorable moments in WNBA history came when Weatherspoon made “The Shot,” a last-second, game-winning shot from beyond half-court, in the 1999 WNBA Finals.
Despite the intense rivalries on the court, these players have remained close, supporting each other through the ups and downs of their careers. As Weatherspoon embarks on her new role with the Chicago Sky, the impact of her journey will extend beyond the basketball court, shaping the lives and careers of the players she mentors. “Fire becomes contagious,” remarked fellow WNBA icon Sheryl Swoopes, highlighting Weatherspoon’s potential to prepare players for life after the WNBA.
Rachel Adams is your WNBA insider, delivering comprehensive coverage of women’s basketball. With a commitment to highlighting the talent and achievements of WNBA players, she provides game analysis, player profiles, and inspiring stories from the league.