I've always been of the mind that it's hard to quantify "greatest ever" in sports, particularly when current players (and sometimes even relatively "new" players) are in the discussion.
So when the WNBA decided to celebrate its 15th anniversary with the Top 15 all-time greatest players, I was apprehensive about who might be included on that list. Among the honorees there are current stars, league starters and a few notable names that are forever associated with not just the WNBA, but the game of women's basketball.
One such woman that fits all three of those categories is Sheryl Swoopes.
Her "current star" status can be seen in her first year with the Tulsa Shock after taking a two year hiatus from the WNBA. Swoopes is posting averages of 5.6 points, 2.6 rebounds and 1.9 assists per night for the Shock. She inserted herself into the starting lineup after a Tulsa injury and has started in 10 of Tulsa's 14 games. Swoopes' return is more than just for stats, though. She's a team leader for the young franchise, someone for rookies Kayla Pedersen and Liz Cambage to learn from. Someone for interim head coach Teresa Edwards to rely on for much-needed and appreciated leadership,experience, wisdom.
As a "league starter", Swoopes was in the inaugural class of the Houston Comets organization and the first player to ever sign with the league on Oct. 23, 1996.
She didn't just play, she accumulated a handful of hardware including four consecutive WNBA championship titles. Individually, she's a six-time all-star, a five-time all-WNBA team selection and earned three defensive player of the year awards. In fact, Swoopes was named the top player in the league in 2000, 2002 and 2005 as the WNBA most valuable player. Five years ago, when the league created an all-decade team, Swoopes made the cut.
As a "notable name" for the game of women's basketball, Swoopes' influence can be seen by not only her extensively decorated WNBA career, but also her medal hardware as a member of the United States National Team. Swoopes has had three gold medals hung around her neck from the top of the Olympics podium, in 1996, 2000 and 2004. She was on the FIBA World team in 2006 that went on to get a bronze medal. In college, she won a national championship with the Texas Tech Red Raiders and is one of four on the distinguished list of 15 to get the trifecta of a WNBA championship, gold medal and NCAA championship (also Sue Bird, Cynthia Cooper, Diana Taurasi). Swoopes even had a shoe named after her - the Nike "Air Swoopes". Does it get any bigger than a shoe?
It does now - welcome to the Top 15 WNBA players in league history, Ms. Swoopes!
When Swoopes was announced as one of the Top 30 candidates, we spoke about the honor of being selected to the initial list. Here are some of her thoughts from that interview:
Who would be in your Top 15?
Cynthia Cooper. My thing is how could - yeah she was my teammate in Houston, but we won four championships. She was a huge part of what we did there, she was a huge part of our success and not just in the games but I practiced with her every day. You know how people always say practice makes perfect, she was a prime example of that. She never took a practice off, she brought it every single day. Without a doubt, she's definitely one of my top 15.
- also answered by then-assistant, now interim head coach Teresa Edwards -
I'd definitely put Lisa Leslie, Sheryl Swoopes. I would put most of the premier first-year players for absolutely sure because they are the catalyst to beginning what is here. And they sustained a lot of great years, they've had some championships. Lisa and Sheryl would definitely be some of my first two. Teresa Weatherspoon, who was the most exciting player at the beginning of the WNBA. These are just people that are coming to mind immediately. And then you just have to go down and say who really put in some work and who sustained and persevered throughout some years and became top-caliber players and consistently. And the ones that are still around and doing it.
What do you think of the voting process?
Sometimes I think it's unfair because obviously you have the true fans that really understand basketball so they're going to vote on the people that are good basketball players. And then you have the fans that, I don't care what or whoever, they're just fans of that player so they're going to say I don't care, whenever this player's name is one any kind of list I don't care what the list is I'm voting for her because I like her. So sometimes the voting is like I feel about American Idol and a lot of those reality shows like that, I don't know. I think it's great that the fans are involved. I think players should get a chance to vote.
How would you do all-star voting?
I just think it should be based on your performance, regardless of the position. But then people are going to say what happens if you have five centers starting? Then you have a mess is what you have! (laughs) Who's going to be your point guard?
I do think it's great that fans are given an opportunity to vote because they're here, they're paying their money, they're coming out and supporting us so they have to be involved. But I also think there's got to be a way for it to be fair. I'm only saying that because there have been a lot of players who have been left off of all-star teams because of the fan voting. Some of those players, it's sad to say, but a lot of the fans might not know them. But their performance on the court is incredible and yet they're being left off of an all-star team because of that.
I know you want to keep the fans involved and they love being involved, I'm not saying you completely count them out. You allow them to vote, but I also think that coaches and players should also get to vote because those are the ones that are here all the time. As far as players, we play against each other all the time and the coaches are getting to see the competition. I think lots of times fans vote on who they like, it's not necessarily all about the performance. I think it's great that the fans are involved. I think players should get a chance to vote.