Which former WNBA players should have their numbers retired?

John David Mercer-US PRESSWIRE

Swish Appeal suggests a short list of candidates who should be considered for a club's highest honor.

The WNBA has been around for about fifteen years or so. During this time, only a handful of WNBA numbers have been retired.

The reason you might not know what these numbers are is that only seven numbers have been retired, and four are numbers associated with defunct teams.

Charlotte Sting: #32 Andrea Stinson
Houston Comets: #10 Kim Perrot, #14 Cynthia Cooper
Sacramento Monarchs: #6 Ruthie Bolton, GM Jerry Reynolds

Yes, Jerry Reynolds has a retired number - rather, he has the retired number "GM" in honor of his duties as GM.

In addition, there are three players who have something called "honored" numbers:

Connecticut Sun: #12 Margo Dydek and #42 Nykesha Sales are "honored numbers"
New York Liberty: #11 Teresa Weatherspoon is an "honored number" - her number is displayed at Madison Square Garden in front of celebrity row

What the difference is between an "honored" number and a retired number is beyond me. No one currently on the Sun's roster is wearing either #12 or #42, and in New York no one currently wears #11. Is it because new players are forbidden to wear those numbers? Or discouraged from wearing them? Or is it just that no one wants to wear them? No one can say, and you can't find out from the media guide from either team.

There are only three retired numbers from currently active WNBA teams:

Los Angeles Sparks: #9 Lisa Leslie and #11 Penny Toler
Phoenix Mercury: #7 Michelle Timms

Several WNBA teams (Atlanta, Chicago, Indiana, Washington, Minnesota, San Antonio, Seattle and Tulsa) have neither a retired number or an "honored number. Some of these teams have been around for a long time.

So are there any candidates for a retired number?
As far as I know, no WNBA team has ever established a hard and fast criteria for deciding what numbers (if any) get retired and what numbers do not. This is as it should be, as players that get their numbers retired generally get them retired by consensus. It becomes obvious when a player's number should be retired, even if no one can say why.

However, some basketball institutions like college basketball teams have a minimum set of criteria that a player must meet for their number to be retired by the school. These are schools with very successful programs that have lots of numbers retired and would rather not have their present-day players wearing three-digit numbers. I decided to create a hypothetical criteria to use as the minimum requirements for a WNBA player to have her number retired, and I would see which players met the minimum requirement. I looked at the criteria created by these college basketball programs and then mixed and matched to create my own.

The first rule is that five years must pass after a player's last game for a number to be retired. So this list would only apply to players whose last game was in 2007 or earlier.

With that in mind, a player would have to meet two of the four criteria below to have a number retired:

A player must achieve *two* out of the four criteria.

1. The Most Valuable Player of a WNBA Finals team.
2. A member of the WNBA First Team.
3. A gold-medal winning Olympian from the year 2000 or later - gold medals predating the league's foundation aren't counted.
4. A WNBA All-Star

This suitably cuts down the number of players to the following, as there are only seven players whose last game was in 2007 (or before) and meet at least two of the above criteria:

Cynthia Cooper
Lisa Leslie
Ruthie Bolton-Holifield
Jennifer Gillom
Natalie Williams
Janeth Arcain
Merlakia Jones

The first three have already had their numbers retired. This leaves us to look at the remaining four players.

#22 Jennifer Gillom (PHO 1997-2002, LAS 2003). If you look at Gillom's basketball record, she was one of those players who was hurt by the fact that she was already about 33 or so when the first season of the WNBA started, losing maybe a decade to the fact that no United States pro league existed.

Even so, she started every regular season game for Phoenix between 1997 and 2002. In each of those years she averaged over 10 points a game. She did turn the ball over a lot, but was all-WNBA in 1998 and had 21.12 Win Shares over the course of her career, presently at #45 on the WNBA list. (Tully Belivaqua has 21.96.) Her coaching career might hurt the overall impression of Gillom, but we retire a player's numbers for their accomplishments as a player.

Should she get a retired number? She should be at least considered for one. Charde Houston is currently wearing #22, so a special exception for Houston can be made as long as she's on a Phoenix roster while "Grandmama's" number is officially retired.

#12 Natalie Williams (UTA 1999-2002, IND 2003-05). Natalie Williams leaves the question of which of the two teams should be honored - the San Antonio Silver Stars who have inherited the Starzz legacy, or the Indiana Fever?

I believe that she has the strongest argument for having her number retired. (Although Gillom is currently in the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame while Williams waits.) She played in 221 regular season games and she started in 219 of them. She averaged 13.1 ppg and 8.3 rebounds a game for her career. Like Gillom, she is a gold medal winner - but Gillom's gold medal predates league play (1988) whereas Williams earned hers in 2000.

She was top twenty in total rebounds at the end of the 2012 season and fourth all time in rebounding average. She lost seasons both to the fact that there was no league around in 1992, and that she stayed with the American Basketball League, the WNBA's competitor until it went out of business in 1998. Imagine what she could have done if she had more years in her American pro career.

I suspect that she's behind the eight ball in a few respects - her career is split between two different WNBA teams and she doesn't seem to have stuck in the collective memory of the WNBA - which is a shame. (She was a finalist, however, for both the WNBA's Top 15 of all time team and the All-Decade Team.) She might never see her number retired.

#9 Janeth Arcain (HOU 1997-2003, 2005). The retiring of Janeth Arcain's number is a superfluous exercise - her team no longer exists, and there is no where that her number can be retired until the Comets are revived (if ever) in Houston.

However, I have a suggestion for another honor. I think a new award should be added to the WNBA's current list of awards - "Best Foreign Player" and it should be called the Janeth Arcain Award. The only problem with such an award might be that it will belong to Lauren Jackson for the foreseeable future.

#25 Merlakia Jones (CLE 1997-2003, DET 2004). Jones was a sometimes starter for the Rockers and started only two games for Detroit in her final year. None of her teams still exist, and the one that does exist is now in Tulsa. She was an All-Star and a First Team WNBA player (2001) at one point, so she makes the list. Unfortunately, I don't think that Jones will make the cut.

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