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20/20 vision: Cherishing (and Challenging) the WNBA's growth

The Chicago Sky’s Elena Delle Done and Head Coach Pokey Chatman chime in on the WNBA’s 20th anniversary. Although the growth of the league is evident, that is not to turn a blind eye to the ways in which it can continue to improve heading into the next two decades and beyond.

Chris Poss - Swish Appeal

Party like it's 2016.

This year commemorates a big one for the WNBA. At now 20 years of existence, the league celebrates tremendous growth while simultaneously pushing for more. There has been no shortage of neigh-sayers since 1996 -€” and they still linger -€” but WNBA players and coaches far and wide are staying the course.

"It means the world to me that the league is 20 years strong," reigning WNBA MVP Elena Delle Donne said. "But we're continuing to grow; this is a huge year to capitalize on."

"I'm already smiling because this takes me back to the year the WNBA started," Head Coach of the Chicago Sky Pokey Chatman noted. "There was so much excitement around that, and there continues to be. We're still going strong 20 years later; attendance has improved, exposure has improved. It's incredible. I'm proud to be a part of it."

From eight teams in the WNBA's inaugural season, to now 12 with the newest addition in the Dallas Wings, it would be a crime to dismiss the strides the league has made since its inaugural season. Even beyond the gains made in the quantity and quality of teams, comes the visibility and coverage of the many facets the WNBA has to offer.

A while ago, fewer people noticed Delle Donne walking the streets. A while ago, you wouldn't see many sporting a WNBA jersey outside the arena. A while ago, wearing a Chicago Sky t-shirt in public didn't resonate with many. However, now the storyline is shifting -€” and shifting in a favorable direction.

"I was at the gym last night, and a little boy saw my shirt," Chatman said, "He told me he was at the NBA All-Star game with Elena Delle Donne and pulled out his phone to show me pictures of him and Steph Curry.

This picture wouldn't have happened if it weren't for Elena Delle Donne. And this is a 12-year-old kid. Now they are coming to our game on Saturday, and it just made me think, wow, this is a small world, and we're still growing. It's going to continue to be special."

"Even just walking around the street, I feel like more people will notice me, " Delle Donne commented. "That's always a good sign. Not only that, but our fan base and the amount of exposure has grown. The cover of ESPN Magazine that just came out -€” that's all really big stuff."

It's a double-edged sword, however. The WNBA is still faced with challenges day in and day out whether it's dealing with a lucrative European market or the negative stigma so often attached to the league.  The mission is not necessarily to figure out the why, but delve into the how. It's about trusting the process.

"We have to continue marketing and telling the stories of these amazing players that are in our league," Delle Donne said. "Not just their stories on the basketball court, but the things they are into off the court. That's the way fans are able to connect with players as individuals, and eventually, they become fans of the entire game."

"It comes down to getting eyes on the action and continuing to embrace the things that outsiders want," Chatman added. "I think even the social media aspect in the last three years is great. It's changed the landscaping. It's slow and steady, but I've been told that that wins the race. So I'm going to be a believer in that and continue to push for our growth."