A first-ever commissioner, the making of a superteam, injuries galore and player legal issues are just a few of the WNBA-related stories Swish Appeal covered in 2019. On this final day of the year and decade, we hit the “rewind” button on some of the year’s biggest stories. Organized by month, these are the top stories of the year, showcasing triumph, travesty and change:
Former Los Angeles Sparks general manager Penny Toler cherry-picked retired NBA champion Derek Fisher for the head coaching position without considering or interviewing other candidates. The move did not sit well with those wanting to see more women in head coaching positions, especially given Fisher’s unimpressive record while head coach of the NBA’s New York Knicks.
Other stories from January:
Marvel Studios debuted an ad for its Captain Marvel movie starring Brie Larson and featuring sick action shots of WNBA superstars doing WNBA superstar-like things with the sounds and images of a superhero movie as the backdrop. Also adding to WNBA visibility during NBA All-Star weekend was A’ja Wilson, Stefanie Dolson and others playing in the celebrity game. It’s just too bad broadcasters and producers didn’t invite Allie Quigley to the festivities to discuss her ownership of the Three-Point Contest record.
Other stories from February:
Four-time WNBA champion Lindsay Whalen hung up her basketball shoes following the 2018 season. Less than sixth months later, Maya Moore — who, as a rookie in 2011, helped the Minnesota Lynx to their first of four championships this decade — announced she would sit out the 2019 season to engage in mission work, which has morphed into a campaign for prison reform.
Other stories from March:
In a EuroLeague Women championship game for Dynamo Kursk, Breanna Stewart suffered a torn Achilles after stepping on the foot of Brittney Griner of UMMC Ekaterinburg. The event started a domino effect of franchise stars going down with season-ending injuries, including Stewart’s Seattle Storm teammate Sue Bird. Diana Taurasi of the Phoenix Mercury missed most of the season. Promising rookie Jessica Shepard of the Minnesota Lynx tore her ACL in the sixth game of her professional career.
Other stories from April:
May was a busy month, and not just because of the media buzz that comes with a new season. Liz Cambage was trying to force a trade out of Dallas to the Las Vegas Aces and claimed the stress of the Wings’ treatment of her was impacting her health. Sue Bird was ruled out indefinitely because of knee surgery. Chiney Ogwumike took her talents to Los Angeles and Sparks guard Riquna Williams was arrested for domestic violence and then re-signed with the team. Through it all, the biggest news was that the WNBA, finally, was getting its very own commissioner following years of the league’s presidents serving at the pleasure of NBA commissioner Adam Silver. Engelbert made her presence known quickly by chartering flights during the playoffs for West coast teams heading to the East coast for semifinals matchups.
Other stories from May:
With games in full swing and the trusted Swish Appeal coverage reflecting that, few big stories broke, unless you consider the roll-out of the dazzling new WNBA.com stats page! But star guard Odyssey Sims, who signed with the Lynx after a stint with the Sparks, was arrested for drunken driving, giving league naysayers another blemish to point to in their efforts to discredit the league and its players.
Other stories from June:
All-Star weekend in Las Vegas was all the players, teams and league could hope for, even with A’ja Wilson sidelined by injury. Chicago Sky forward Diamond DeShields and Jonquel Jones of the Connecticut Sun battled it out in the Skills Challenge, with DeShields winning it while simultaneously putting the world on notice. Shekinna Stricklen, Jones’ Sun teammate, won the Three-Point Contest (in what was, for some players, yikes-worthy performances). But Erica Wheeler played the game of her life in the All-Star Game, won the MVP award and touched the world with her tearful, postgame speeches.
Other stories from July:
It took a fight involving Brittney Griner and the ejection of six players for mainstream media to cover the WNBA
The WNBA finally got the mainstream media attention it seeks, but certainly not for the reasons it had hoped. A near brawl between the Phoenix Mercury and Dallas Wings hit even the morning talk shows. The fight was newsworthy and should have been covered. But in a landscape in which women athletes are not treated equitably to men, the Seattle Storm’s 2018 championship win, and Breanna Stewart’s MVP and Finals MVP awards, also would have been covered. The USA Basketball Women’s National Team perhaps would have made a live appearance on those same shows after winning their umpteenth international gold medal in the 2018 FIBA World Cup.
Other stories from August:
Amid the excitement of the playoffs, the New York Liberty legend was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame and the Indiana Fever parted ways with Pokey Chatman after the team again failed to advance to the postseason. But the announcement that Lisa Leslie — the first face of the WNBA and unequivocal Sparks legend, would get a statue outside of Staples Center — is the kind of legitimizing respect the players and league deserve. The visibility bodes well for the future.
Other stories from September:
Derek Fisher benched Candace Parker — former Rookie of the Year, MVP, champion and Finals MVP — for all but 12 minutes of the Sparks’ win-or-go-home semifinals Game 3 against the sizzling Sun. Parker stated after the game that she was healthy, which inspired suspicions about Fisher’s motives. Not long after L.A. was bounced from the postseason, a damning ESPN report emerged suggesting a toxic culture under general manager Penny Toler, who was fired. Despite concerns over Fisher’s coaching choices, the franchise has maintained support for him.
Other stories from October:
After helping Mystics head coach Mike Thibault captain the D.C. team to a franchise-first championship, Marianne Stanley was tapped to take over head coaching duties of the Indiana Fever. With Tamika Catchings, vice president of Fever basketball operations, assuming an expanding role in collaboration with Stanley, the Fever seem poised to get over the playoff hump in 2020. With Victoria Vivians returning from a season-ending injury and joining former Mississippi State teammate Teaira McCowan — plus veteran Candice Dupree and the Mitchell sisters (Tiffany and Kelsey, not related) on the roster — the pieces are there. Hopefully Stanley will be the one to put them together.
Other stories from November:
A joint press release the day after Christmas revealed that the league and the players’ union are close to a new CBA and would need until Jan. 15, 2020 to finalize the deal. The primary concerns for players were salary and travel. It will be interesting to see what upgrades they get in both areas.
Other stories from December: