Ask a WNBA fan who has been around a while and they'll surely tell you that the number of non-US players in the league has decreased over the years. They might even regale you with tales of Elena Baranova's beautiful jumper or Janeth Arcain's uncanny ability to always be in the right place or Michele Timms' amazing court vision. The perception of having fewer foreign players is pervasive. Let's see if it is actually true!
We'll start with some raw numbers:
As you can see, the percentage of minutes played by non-US born players peaked in 1998 at just over a quarter of the league's total minutes. The total minutes peaked during the 16 team era, as you might expect. We've set new record lows for foreign participation in each of the last three seasons. The last two have seen fewer foreign minutes than the 1997 season, when we had only eight teams.
Where are the foreigners coming from? Let's break them out by continent:
No player born in Antarctica has ever played in the WNBA.
What teams have used the most/least foreign players?
Lots of teams have used no foreign talent at all. Last year Chicago and New York had none. This continues the Bill Laimbeer trend from his Shock days. He always got little or no participation from foreign born players when he was coaching there. As for most, here is the top 10:
The 1998 Shock got nearly as many minutes from foreign players as the entire league in 2013. To compare:
You can see a full breakdown of every team here.
Should we really consider players like Aneika Henry and Korie Hlede, who spent four years at US universities, as foreign?
I counted every player who was born outside the US in the above charts. If we count only those who did not attend a US university, the overall trend doesn't change:
It does change who the top teams are:
What's the bottom line?
Foreign participation in the WNBA has dropped. After 2003, when the league contracted and the CBA began limiting the salaries of new players, the incentive for young foreign players to come here has largely dried up. There's also the increased professionalism of US players. In the early years the W needed foreign talent more because there were few US players with pro experience and the ABL took up half of them. Nowadays top US players plan and prepare for pro careers from high school (or before) in a way they didn't when the league began.