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Why Yolanda Griffith, Lauren Jackson and Val Ackerman are headed to the Hall of Fame

Three WNBA icons — Yolanda Griffith, Lauren Jackson and Val Ackerman — will be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame as members of the Class of 2021. Here’s why Griffith, Jackson and Ackerman are absolutely worthy of this honor.

Jackson battles with Griffith
2021 Hall of Fame honrees Lauren Jackson and Yolanda Griffith battle for the board during their WNBA heydays.
Getty Images

This past weekend, Tamika Catchings and Kim Mulkey were enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

This coming fall, Yolanda Griffith, Lauren Jackson and Val Ackerman will join them.

For all three, the honor is unsurprising and well-deserved. While Griffith and Jackson were definitional, influential players, Ackerman was instrumental to the league’s establishment and continued existence.

Here’s why all three will be inducted into the Hall of Fame on Sept. 11, 2021.

Yolanda Griffith

Sacramento Monarchs v San Antonio Silver Stars, Game 3
Yolanda Griffith, 2007.
Photo by Alissa Hollimon/NBAE via Getty Images

Career highlights

2005 WNBA champion

2005 Finals MVP

1999 MVP

1999 Defensive Player of the Year

5x All-WNBA (1999-01, 2004-05)

2x All-Defensive (2005-06)

7x All Star (1999-03, 2005-07)

Yolanda Griffith’s career exemplifies why the WNBA matters to the history of women’s basketball. Unlike many WNBA superstars, Griffith was not did not play for one of college basketball’s blue bloods, which would have allowed her to introduce herself to women’s hoops fans through multiple NCAA tournament runs. Instead, she suited up for Palm Beach Community College and Florida Atlantic University.

Without the WNBA, Griffith’s great potential would have gone unfulfilled. Fortunately, women’s pro hoops arrived just in time for Griffith. After two seasons in the ABL, Griffith jumped to the WNBA, becoming the face of the Sacramento Monarchs’ franchise even before she led the organization to the 2005 championship.

Lauren Jackson

WNBA Finals Game 3: Seattle Storm v Atlanta Dream
Lauren Jackson, 2010.
Photo by David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images

Career highlights

2x WNBA champion (2004, 2010)

2010 Finals MVP

MVP (2003, 2007, 2010)

2007 Defensive Player of the Year

8x All-WNBA (2003-10)

5x All-Defensive (2005, 2007-10)

7x All-Star (2001-03, 2005-07, 2009)

Lauren Jackson was not the first Australian to play in the WNBA. However, she was the first Australian to arrive in the WNBA as a teenager, with much hype and high expectations. As the above list of accomplishments indicates, Jackson exceeded what was envisioned for her, confirming and cementing Australia’s importance to women’s professional basketball.

All the more, she did so with an ahead-of-her-time style of play. Standing 6-foot-5, Jackson possessed a position-less, versatile skillset. She could drill 3-pointers and swish mid-range jumpers, while still dominating against more traditional bigs in the low post. This package could be unstoppable, as evidenced by the trio of MVPs and pair of titles she won with the Seattle Storm.

Val Ackerman

1997 WNBA Finals - Game One: New York Liberty v Houston Comets
Val Ackerman, 1997.
Photo by Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images

Career highlights

University of Virginia women’s basketball (1977-81)

NBA attorney, special assistant and vice-president of business affairs (1988-96)

WNBA president (1997-05)

USA Basketball president (2005-08)

FIBA Central Board member (2006-14)

Big East commissioner (2013-present)

A basketball lifer, Val Ackerman’s crowning achievement is the WNBA. In the mid-1990s, the idea of a women’s professional basketball league inspired skepticism. A successful, sustainable women’s basketball league? Such a prospect provoked even more doubt.

Yet, Ackerman successfully shepherded the WNBA into American sports culture, with the league exceeding expectations during its first few seasons. As the league then experienced a downturn, Ackerman maintained a steady hand, making the hard decisions necessary in order to ensure that the WNBA would survive. More than two decades later, the league is thriving, something that would have been impossible without Ackerman’s early efforts.