In anticipation of the forthcoming WNBA All-Star Weekend festivities, we revisited All-Star Weekends of years past to bring you these noteworthy memories, moments and storylines. Be sure to share your favorite flashbacks, or future dreams, in the comments.
8. Three-point goddess Allie Quigley
Let’s begin with last year when Chicago Sky sharpshooter Allie Quigley put on a three-point shooting clinic. Quigley won her second-consecutive Three-Point Shootout title, netting 29 threes in an overtime round against Kayla McBride of the Las Vegas Aces. Her score is the highest attained in such a contest, better than the still-impressive scores of the NBA’s past two champions: Phoenix Suns’ Devin Booker and Brooklyn Nets’ Joe Harris. It also should be noted that only Booker has bettered Quigley’s 2017 score of 27.
Quigley’s scintillating shooting spectacles seemingly encouraged the league to better showcase the event. Instead of being held during halftime of the All-Star Game, this year’s contest will take place on Friday night, along with the return of the Skills Challenge (more on that below). On Friday night, Quigley again will have to out-shoot McBride, who will have the home crowd behind her, and the Los Angeles Sparks’ Chelsea Gray, New York Liberty’s Kia Nurse, Connecticut Sun’s Shekinna Stricklen and Indian Fever’s Erica Wheeler.
7. Thrills of the Skills Challenge
Yes, the Skills Challenge is back! The WNBA held the contest at the 2006, 2007, 2009 and 2010 All-Star Weekends. The now-legendary Minnesota Lynx star Seimone Augustus won the inaugural contest in 2006. Renee Montgomery, meanwhile, notched the fastest time in the event’s history, completing the course in 25 seconds in 2010 while a member of the Connecticut Sun. In 2009, the contest featured four teams of three players: two from the East and two from the West. The West’s trio of guards — Phoenix Mercury’s Cappie Pondexter, San Antonio Silver Star’s Sophia Young and Minnesota Lynx’s Charde Houston —took the victory.
This year, the contest will be enlivened by the participation of wings and bigs. Wings Napheesa Collier (Minnesota Lynx) and Sami Whitcomb (Seattle Storm) and bigs Brittney Griner (Phoenix Mercury), Jonquel Jones (Connecticut Sun) and Elizabeth Williams (Atlanta Dream) will contest Chicago Sky guards Courtney Vandersloot and Diamond DeShields and Minnesota guard Odyssey Sims for the Skills crown.
In the coming years, might a Dunk Contest join the roster of Friday night activities? With the slamming and jamming soon-to-be Stanford freshman Fran Belibi seemingly fated for WNBA stardom, not to mention other now-collegians who can throw it down, it’s worth considering.
6. USA vs. WNBA
With the WNBA All-Star Game debuting in 1999, this year marks the 20th year of All-Star action. Yet, it only will be the 15th official All-Star Weekend. In the Olympic years of 2008, 2012 and 2016, the WNBA did not host the event. In 2004, also an Olympic year, the league instead held an exhibition game at Radio City Music Hall between Team USA and a team of other WNBA stars. A similar such game was held in 2010 due to the World Championships (now World Cup). In 2004, the Olympic Team beat their WNBA colleagues, 74-58, spurred by Sacramento Monarch Yolanda Griffith. Team USA triumphed again in 2010, winning 99-72 at Mohegan Sun Arena. Sylvia Fowles, then of the Chicago Sky, put up 23 points, leading a team full of players still in the WNBA today, including 2019 All-Stars Candice Dupree (Indiana Fever) and Tina Charles (New York Liberty).
5. WNBA All-Star: The next generation
The 2011 All-Star Game featured a record 11 first-time All-Stars, inaugurating the next generation of the WNBA. The number of new stars who made their name known in the fifteenth year of the exhibition evinced not only the sustainability of the WNBA but the more talented population of young women basketball players the league helped produce. Some of these formerly fresh-faced All-Stars now are savvy still-All-Star veterans, including Tina Charles, Courtney Vandersloot and Liz Cambage. Yet, for all the excitement about the new players, the league also used the 2011 All-Star Game to appreciate those who had helped to establish the WNBA by honoring the Top 15 Players in WNBA History. Two of these top-15ers, Diana Taurasi and Sue Bird, are still in the league and likely looking to remind the world of their during the second half the 2019 season.
4. Fan favorite Elena Delle Donne
Every year since her 2013 arrival in the WNBA, Elena Delle Donne has finished either first or second in All-Star voting. In 2013, 2015, 2018 and, of course, 2019, she received the most love from fans. Maya Moore took the top spot in 2014 and 2017. But Delle Donne, the 2015 MVP and momentarily-masked marvel, certainly has deserved these repeated honors. She is second all-time in player efficiency rating and she already is in the top 25 in win shares.
3. A victory for the East
In 2006, the East, finally, won its first All-Star Game, 98-82. Katie Douglas, then representing the Connecticut Sun, earned MVP honors for a 16-point effort that was highlighted by four three-pointers.
The following year, the East again triumphed, winning a close 103-99 contest due to Douglas’ scoring punch and Cheryl Ford’s all-around force. Ford, then of the Detroit Shock, was named MVP. Yet, overall, the West has dominated WNBA All-Star Games, leading the series 10-4. With last year’s debut of the popular draft format, the West’s record seemingly should be secure.
3. A marvel of fierce competition
While the West regularly triumphed in the win column, they did not totally thrash the East on the court. The games, especially in the early years, were quite competitive. Maybe too competitive? The first five All-Star Games were low-scoring slug fests featuring much more intense defense than is expected of All-Star Games. After coaching the West All-Stars in 1999, Houston Comets coach Van Chancellor told the New York Times:
Our defense was 300 percent better than I ever dreamed it would be in an All-Star Game. We were switching on screens. We looked like we had been working on defense for a long time.
It was not until 2009 that both teams would exceed the hundred point barrier. These low scores, however, do not mark the illegitimacy of the WNBA All-Star Game. Rather, the sometimes ugliness of these games signaled seriousness. The women of the early WNBA took these exhibitions seriously because they so appreciated the opportunity. As players who had been forced to ply their trade overseas, the ability not only to play professional basketball in the United States but compete in a professional basketball All-Star Game was not taken lightly. As such, All-Star battles ensued. It was not until the second generation of WNBA stars populated All-Star rosters that the games resembled more typical All-Star affairs: high-scoring, offensive showcases limited on defense until the fourth quarter.
2. Queen of the All-Star Game, Lisa Leslie
Of course, some of the rough-and-tumble character of the early All-Star Games is attributable to the woman who dominated these contests during her career — Los Angeles Sparks legend Lisa Leslie.
Before she became the best coach in the history of the BIG3 (sorry Nancy!), Leslie injected ferocity into the annual All-Star affair. At the inaugural event, she won MVP, her first of three. Remarkably, in the year in which Leslie would be named WNBA MVP and Finals MVP, the Hall of Famer was not voted an All-Star starter. She suggested she did not take umbrage at this slight, but her play indicated otherwise. She scored 20 points, grabbed nine rebounds and swatted three shots on her way to the unanimous All-Star Game MVP award.
I wasn’t playing out of anger. What I ... decided [was], ‘Okay, I’m coming off the bench. What can I do to help this team?
She also nearly threw down a dunk, only to be foiled by the New York Liberty’s Tari Phillips.
The following year, Phillips again would attempt to stall Leslie, fouling out in the process. According to Leslie, Phillips got her money’s worth, leaving a significant welt on Leslie’s shoulder.
After the game, Leslie stated:
I said, ‘Tari, calm down.’ I mean, it’s an All-Star Game. But she only knows how to play the game one way, and I told her at the end, ‘I just love competing against you’ and I’ll see her next week.
The nearly 20,000 fans in Washington, D.C. appeared to sympathize with Phillips and her Eastern compatriots who again fell victim to Leslie, who recorded 18 points and 14 rebounds to give the West the 81-76 victory. When Leslie was named MVP for the second-straight year, fans booed — their dissatisfaction a testament to her dominance.
1. Whitney, Mia and more at MSG
The first WNBA All-Star Game was quite the spectacle. Not only did Whitney Houston sing the national anthem, but notables from sports, entertainment and politics filled the courtside seats of Madison Square Garden.
Bringing star power to the event were Tyra Banks, Queen Latifah, Spike Lee, Hillary Clinton, Tipper Gore and members of the then-newly minted 1999 World Cup champion U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team, including Mia Hamm and Brandi Chastain. The full-scale spectacle just three years into the league’s existence communicated legitimacy, that the WNBA was here to stay.