During the preceding days’ ceremonies, Teresa Weatherspoon became the tenth former WNBA player to be inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.
When she sunk that incredible shot — “The Shot” — in the 1999 WNBA Finals, Weatherspoon ensured that she went down into WNBA history.
However, it is not just her successes and stats that make T-Spoon important to the history of women’s basketball. It is also her story.
The story of Teresa Weatherspoon can provide a perspective of the history of women’s basketball in the United States.
The early story of T-Spoon
Now the Director of Player & Franchise Development for the New York Liberty, the basketball journey of Teresa Weatherspoon began at Louisiana Tech University. As a senior in 1988, she won the Wade Trophy and led the Lady Techsters to the National Championship. Like many of the WNBA’s first generation of players, Weatherspoon then headed abroad to begin her professional career, playing in Italy, France and Russia.
When the WNBA launched in 1997, Weatherspoon was allocated to the New York Liberty. Although she was not imagined as being the Liberty’s signature star — that honor belonged to Rebecca Lobo — Weatherspoon soon became the soul of the team, injecting one of the new league’s flagship franchises with a contagious charisma.
Spoon’s impact on the early days of the Liberty and the WNBA
Even though, retrospectively, we remember the early Liberty teams for never overcoming the dynastic Houston Comets, it was the Liberty who at first seemed to be the WNBA’s unbeatable team. Much of this was due to T-Spoon.
The Liberty began the WNBA’s inaugural season with a 7-0 record, with Weatherspoon, according to Sports Illustrated, as “the Spoon that stirs the Liberty.”
The New York Times similarly estimated:
“Name it, and the Liberty’s Teresa Weatherspoon stirs it up — from her teammates’ emotions to her opponent’s game plan.”
As Sports Illustrated additionally described, she frequently “stomped on the Garden floor and hollered at her team to pick up the intensity,” leading Liberty head coach Nancy Darsch to assert that “this team’s poise just takes over, and we beat people with attitude and aggressiveness.” Speaking with the Times, Weatherspoon’s backcourt-mate, Sophia Witherspoon, added:
“We have a leader in Teresa Weatherspoon. She brings such aggressiveness and excitement. She has a winning spirit and a big heart. She hates to lose. She tells us: ‘Hey, we’re going to win this. If we do the things we need to do, we’ll win it.’”
Opponents appeared to concur, with Utah Starzz head coach Denise Taylor telling Sports Illustrated, “Someone is going to have to play a near-perfect game to beat this team. They’re not invincible. But close.”
Weatherspoon proudly owned her integral role, insisting, “I can be a full-on nut on the court.”
The Liberty, of course, fell short of a title, losing to the Houston Comets in the first WNBA Championship Game. However, Weatherspoon was named Defensive Player of the Year. She also made the All-WNBA second team. The following season, she repeated both of these honors. In 1999, Weatherspoon was selected for the inaugural WNBA All-Star Game, the first of five consecutive All-Star honors. In 1999 and 2000, she also again made the All-WNBA second team.
Yet, the aforementioned “The Shot” defined Weatherspoon’s 1999 season. And even though the Liberty did not take the title, again falling to the Comets, “The Shot” was the WNBA’s first famous play, a viral moment that predated sports virality. As asserted by sports writer George Vescey in the New York Times:
“The Liberty lost the third and deciding game but The Shot endures — as marketable as any player the league has developed …”
“Make Way” for T-Spoon
While responsible for this iconic on-court moment, Weatherspoon also began to pave the way for WNBA players to be off-court icons. In the fall of 2003, Weatherspoon debuted the TSpoon Collection, a line of fur coats that, according to the Times, “had flash and flair,” much like Weatherspoon’s game. As Weatherspoon told the Times:
“I wanted something that when you looked at it, you would say, that’s Spoon.”
We can only imagine how Spoon would have “slayed the day” as she strolled into MSG.
However, despite her excellence and influence, Weatherspoon was not immune to the criticisms that tend to surround women athletes, especially women athletes of color, as they enter the final years of their careers. With a young (and blonde) Becky Hammon waiting in the wings at the outset of the 2002 season, voices in the media and around the WNBA began to suggest that Weatherspoon should cede her starting position. She defended her right to keep playing, telling the Times:
“I’ve heard what they’ve said. The only talk that matters to me is what my teammates say. Spoon is still here.”
With the attitude she expressed both on and off the court, Weatherspoon helped to pioneer the brand of confidence, charisma and class that characterizes many of today’s WNBA stars. Ahead of her time, Weatherspoon demonstrated how a professional women’s basketball player could “Make Way.”
Weatherspoon’s all-time accomplishments
Weatherspoon completed the 2002 and 2003 seasons with the Liberty before finishing her career with Los Angeles Sparks in 2004.
Today, Weatherspoon still sits at the top of multiple WNBA record lists. She is 12th all-time in defensive rating. In terms of steals, she is fourth all-time at 3.7 percent and sixth all-time with an average of 1.8 per game. Although known for her defense, Weatherspoon was also an all-time distributor, ranking third all-time with an assist percentage of 33.7 percent and fourth all-time with 5.3 assists per game.
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Longest red carpet stroll.of my life! Reposted from @bms_ervin (@get_regrann) - Congratulations @tspoon_11 well deserved receiving her BHOF jacket. Day 1 of the wonderful event....#striveforgreatness #bms #naismithmemorialbasketballhalloffame #tspoon #theshot #nyliberty #basketballislife - #regrann