After a recent NBA TV interview with LeBron James in which he discussed who might be on the NBA's Mount Rushmore, people around the internet have been discussing which players in league history deserve a spot.
And given LeBron's heroics against my beloved Golden State Warriors on Wednesday night, I certainly won't challenge the notion that he should certainly be sculpted into the hypothetical monument by the end of his career if not sooner.
Today, the SB Nation-NBA network is putting their own spin on that topic of discussion for a theme day: who would be on each NBA team's individual Mt. Rushmore (or, as one Golden State of Mind community member noted, on the Warriors Half Dome monument at Yosemite)? Here at Swish Appeal, we decided to put our own spin on that theme: who would be on the WNBA's Mount Rushmore?
We've been given no rules for this exercise, but we thankfully have two relatively recent aids to help us in discussing this question:
- The WNBA's official list of Top 15 Players of All Time, which we discussed at length back in 2011.
- James Bowman's Hall of Fame Probability Calculator, which he updated after the 2013 season.
To make a long story short, there are eight players that we can probably agree upon as belonging in this discussion for inclusion on our hypothetical WNBA Mount Rushmore:
|Name||WNBA Teams||WNBA Hall of Fame Probability|
|Lisa Leslie||Los Angeles Sparks (1997-2006, 2008-2009)||100%|
|Lauren Jackson||Seattle Storm (2001-Present)||100%|
|Cynthia Cooper||Houston Comets (1997-2000, 2003)||100%|
Tulsa Shock (2011)
|Tamika Catchings||Indiana Fever (2002-Present)||100%|
|Diana Taurasi||Phoenix Mercury (2004-Present)||100%|
|Tina Thompson||Seattle Storm (2012-13)
Los Angeles Sparks (2009-2011)
Houston Comets (1997-2008)
|Yolanda Griffith||Indiana Fever (2009)
Seattle Storm (2008)
Sacramento Monarchs (1999-2007)
From there, the challenge is cutting that list in half. So let's start with two rather obvious ones (and you can refer back to the breakdowns above
Cynthia Cooper, Guard
Do we even really need to discuss this? Cooper was the leader of the first four championship teams in the league and is in a select group of WNBA superstars that any self-respecting basketball fan has to know something about, even if it's just that she raises the roof. Whether she's the best ever is irrelevant to this particular discussion: she dominated her era, which happened to be about a quarter of the league's history. If we leave her out, we might as well scrap the entire project - if you just want a challenge, try to come up with arguments to leave her off this list.
Lisa Leslie, Center
Immediately following the Cooper era was the period in which the Lisa Leslie-led Los Angeles Sparks won two consecutive titles and Leslie went on to win three of the next six MVP awards. In addition, Leslie stands out as another of those ambassadors to the game that even people who don't follow women's basketball are likely to recognize. We haven't even gotten to the gold medals.
Again, like Cooper, the more challenging task would be to somehow leave her off this list.
After those two, reasonable people might disagree on who the final spots should go to. But if we continue to focus on both basketball accomplishments (in the WNBA) and significance to women's basketball/sports as a whole, it's a bit easier to zero in on two more names.
Sheryl Swoopes, Wing
Again, a part of that dominant Comets dynasty at the beginning of the league, which is worthy of two (or more) selections to this list. Individually, Swoopes has three MVPs and a scoring title to her credit. From a broader perspective, her significance to the game - and perhaps women's sports as a whole - was summarized in a review of ESPN's Nine for IX documentary about her by Adrienne Vogt: "Her talent, individuality, and sexuality came to define an era in women's basketball." Debatable? Certainly. But the case for Swoopes above the other qualified candidates is quite strong.
Diana Taurasi, Guard
The fourth player is the toughest here, but Taurasi is a name that's hard to ignore. She has a pair of scoring titles, which have been harder to come by in an era that includes Angel McCoughtry and (former teammate) Cappie Pondexter. She won both league MVP award and Finals MVP in 2009. Since 2009, the only thing between her and another WNBA Finals appearance has been the existence of juggernauts in Minnesota and Seattle that stormed through the Western Conference. Fortunately for her, she got two titles prior to that point.
There might always be debate about whether Taurasi was truly the best player of her time with Tamika Catchings (a personal favorite), Lauren Jackson, Candace Parker, and a steadily improving Maya Moore also in the league. Right now, she's not even the most well-known player on her own team with 6-foot-8 dunking superstar Brittney Griner as a teammate. But the attitude and swagger that makes Taurasi "the bad guy" among many WNBA fans gives her a mass appeal that others lack. And there is perhaps no player whose personality has with her team's system better than Taurasi to such exciting effect. Michelle Smith of espnW summarized what makes Taurasi special in a piece back in October:
...she is a singular figure in women's sports, sporting her trademark bun, with relentless swagger and one-of-a-kind charisma.
"Ask the other players who they want to play with, who they want to watch, and they say Diana," said Ann Meyers-Drysdale, the Phoenix Mercury vice president who is also a legend in the women's game.
Again, part of this exercise involves people's significance to the game in addition to basketball accomplishments/talent - it's not just a "best players ever" or "players I'd start a team with today". Moore just hasn't been around as long. Parker hasn't led her team to a title, Jackson's career has been hampered by injury. Catchings doesn't have that offensive flair that makes for the highlight reel plays that Taurasi makes.
Taurasi is the player people want to watch and who has a long list of accomplishments to justify what hype she gets. For a league fighting for ratings, that has to count for something.
Who would be on you WNBA Mount Rushmore? Or better yet, who would be on your favorite WNBA team's Mount Rushmore? Feel free to sound off in the comments and let us know what you think.
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