It would only seem proper that the 20th anniversary of the WNBA Finals would culminate in an all-time classic; a game where legacies will be defined by whoever wins.
Let’s take a closer look at the L-word: legacy.
20 seasons ago, the inaugural season of the WNBA, the world got a glimpse of what would become the first super-team in league history: the now-defunct Houston Comets.
With Kim Perrot running the point, Tina Thompson and Hall of Famers Cynthia Cooper-Dyke and Sheryl Swoopes, the Comets won the first four championships in league history from 1997 to 2000 (note: Kim Perrot passed away midway through the 1999 season), with Cooper-Dyke winning the Finals MVP all four times.
In the 2001 and 2002 seasons, the Los Angeles Sparks, led by another Hall of Famer in Lisa Leslie, won two straight championships; Leslie also was named the Finals MVP in both cases, sealing her case as one of the most dominant women of all-time. The Sparks team of that era was also the last WNBA team to win consecutive championships.
Now, let’s bring it back to the present. It’s not hard to argue that Maya Moore and the Minnesota Lynx are the WNBA’s version of the Chicago Bulls. They have won three championships since 2011, and have been in the Finals now for the fifth time in the last six years. And with Moore, it’s hard not to compare her to the greatest player that the world of basketball has ever seen: Michael Jordan.
If the Lynx win tonight, they will not only be the first team since the 2002 Los Angeles Sparks to win consecutive championships; they will become the first team since the 2000 Houston Comets to win four WNBA championships.
For Moore, she will become only the fourth player to win an Olympic gold medal and a WNBA championship in the same season, following in the footsteps of Swoopes (2000), Katie Smith (2008) and Tamika Catchings (2012). Not bad company to be in.
For the Sparks, legacies will be defined as well. The Sparks are competing for their first championship since 2003, when they were dethroned by the Detroit Shock (now the Dallas Wings). Of the original eight teams remaining, only Phoenix has won more than twice (they won their third in 2014). Los Angeles can add to that total tonight, and also bring the city their first championship since the 2010 Lakers.
On an individual level, the power duo of Candace Parker and Nneka Ogwumike can build their legacy among the best in WNBA history as well. If Parker wins her first title, she will become only the fourth player in women’s basketball history to win the Final Four MVP, the WNBA MVP, and a WNBA championship (the other three being Swoopes, Diana Taurasi and Maya Moore).
For Ogwumike, her first title would make her the fifth player in WNBA history to win the MVP and a championship in the same year (Cooper-Dyke, Swoopes, Leslie and Taurasi).
No matter who ends up holding the trophy at the end of the game, they will hold it up knowing one thing: their place in women’s basketball will forever be etched in the history of all-time greatness.