The WNBA season is well past the halfway point and the race for the playoff spots is heating up. The WNBA has been in the news more than usual this summer, but not for the play on the court. Instead, the battle to bring one of the league’s biggest stars home from Russia has been the headline. Brittney Griner was arrested in mid-February at a Moscow airport after vape canisters containing hashish oil were found in her luggage.
The WNBA has been around for 26 years and has provided fans with some incredible players. It is still extremely difficult to determine who is the greatest of all time. There are a lot of factors that come into play for the greatest of all time in any sport, and that is exactly why it is such a good debate. I will be looking at career stats, awards, championships, team success and impact on the league for my rankings below.
Two of the players on the list below may be retiring after the 2022 season, which means the changing of the guard is happening in the WNBA. There are plenty of stars ready to take over and force their way onto future GOATs lists. For now, this is how I see it.
Sheryl Swoopes, Candace Parker, Sylvia Fowles, Elena Delle Donne, Brittney Griner, Seimone Augustus, Skylar Diggins-Smith.
It was tough to keep some of these women off of this list. Sheryl Swoops is the first player signed in the WNBA and one of three to win three MVP Awards. Candace Parker may be the most physically gifted woman to play, putting up 15/10/5 lines nightly. Sylvia Fowles is the all-time rebound leader and two-time Finals MVP.
No. 7 – Sue Bird
Sue Bird has played more WNBA basketball than anyone and is the all-time leader in All-Star appearances. Bird has won four championships and is the only player to win a WNBA championship in three different decades. Bird will retire after the 2022 season as the WNBA all-time assist leader (by over 600 assist) and possibly with the highest three-point shooting percentage (39.3%). Best point guard in league history? I think so.
At any level, the measure of a great PG is if they make the players around them better, which is exactly what makes Bird great. Her team-first mentality has enabled her to excel at every level. Five Olympic gold medals, four FIBA World Cups, five-time EuroLeague Women’s champion, two NCAA championships, and a state and national champion in high school. The WNBA will miss Sue Bird’s all-around greatness on and off the court.
No. 6 – Cynthia Cooper
WNBA fans were robbed of watching Cynthia Cooper-Dyke in her prime because she was a 34-year-old rookie in 1997, the first year of the WNBA. Upon the league's formation, she played for the Houston Comets from 1997 to 2000 and was named the WNBA’s Finals MVP each of those four years (a still-standing record for most Finals MVPs).
Cooper-Dyke won the league MVP in 1997 and 1998, averaging over 22 points per game in both those years. Cooper-Dyke was the first player in WNBA history to score 500, 1,000, 2,000 and 2,500 career points. She is the WNBA’s career points-per-game leader with 21, and no one has surpassed her 35.2 minutes per game average. The top of this list is where she may have been if she had a full career in the WNBA.
No. 5 – Maya Moore
It’s almost unimaginable that someone was able to top what Bird has done at every level of women’s basketball, and yet, Sports Illustrated has called Maya Moore the greatest winner in women’s basketball history. Due to Moore’s domination in high school and college she had sky-high expectations when entering the league as a first-overall pick by the Minnesota Lynx. In 2011 she won Rookie of the Year, quickly becoming the face of the league and in eight seasons has already surpassed all expectations. She has led the Lynx to the playoffs every year she’s been in the league, winning the WNBA championship four times in 2011, 2013, 2015 and 2017.
Although she only has one Finals MVP and one regular season MVP, Moore has one of the best all-around games that the WNBA has seen. A WNBA scoring champ (2014), steals leader (2018), and a record three-time All-Star MVP (tied with Lisa Leslie). In 2019 Moore suddenly stepped away from the game to focus on reform in the American justice system. She has nothing to prove but if she does come back she will easily climb into the top-three GOATs of the WNBA. Her highlights are clips of pure beauty.
No. 4 – Lauren Jackson
Australian-born Lauren Jackson is the greatest international player in the WNBA and one of three women to become a three-time WNBA MVP. The 6-foot-5 PF is also a three-time scoring champ and a two-time WNBA champion with the Seattle Storm, where she played her entire 12-year career. In 2007 Jackson put together one of the best years ever in professional basketball (men’s or women). That year she took home the MVP Award, Defensive Player of the Year Award, and was the league rebounding and scoring champ, all while shooting better than 40% from three. This incredible feat should have a name like “The Jackson Sweep.”
Jackson dominated the WNBA while still playing abroad for a lot of her career. Just like in the WNBA, she won many awards and championships overseas. To top it off, Jackson ranks second in the WNBA all-time in win shares by basketball-reference.com (Tamika Catchings is No. 1).
No. 3 – Lisa Leslie
Lisa Leslie was part of the inaugural draft playing her whole 12-year career in Los Angeles where she became one of three women to be a three-time WNBA MVP. Leslie was selected to the All-WNBA team every year of her career and won four WNBA championships. She ranks second all-time in both All-WNBA selections and first-team selections with 12 and eight respectively.
The 6-foot-’5 center was a dominant mismatch on both ends of the floor, nearly averaging a double-double in her career (17.2 ppg, 9.2 rpg), while earning two DPOY Awards and finishing second on the all-time blocks list (874). As any great does, Leslie shined the brightest around the league's brightest stars – winning the All-Star MVP a record three times (tied with Maya Moore).
No. 2 – Diana Taurasi
Diana Taurasi was selected No. 1 overall in 2004 by the Phoenix Mercury and is still dominating the league 18 years later. She is a 10-time All-Star, 14-time All-WNBA selection (record 10x First Teamer), five-time scoring champ, and a one-time MVP. The six-foot guard is the greatest scorer in the history of the WNBA, outpacing second place (Tina Thompson) by a whopping 2,000 points.
Taurasi, a.k.a “The White Mamba,” has averaged more than 20 points per game seven times in her career, including the top two ppg averages in a single season of 25.3 points in 2006 and 24.1 points in 2008. Not quite the two-way player that Catchings was, but by far the best scoring threat ever. Even though she was always a threat to get buckets, she was no stranger to dimes – leading the league in assists in 2014 and finishing her career fifth all-time in assists.
Taurasi has said she is considering retiring after this season but her 18-year run has been unmatched by any other women in basketball – internationally and in the WNBA. She has a record five Olympic Gold medals and has been a record four-time recipient of the USA Basketball Female Athlete of the Year – an annual award issued by USA Basketball that honors the top American female basketball performer during the year's international competition.
From one 🐐 to another. pic.twitter.com/2yvE5sF2RP— Phoenix Mercury (@PhoenixMercury) July 23, 2022
No. 1 – Tamika Catchings
Tamika Catchings was a nightmare to opposing teams and quite possibly the best two-way player in WNBA history. She led the league in steals eight times while averaging over 12 ppg all 15-years of her career. Catchings is the only player in the WNBA or NBA to win the Defensive Player of the Year Award five times. In part to her defensive excellence, she was named the league MVP and a Finals MVP in 2012 (Indiana’s only championship). The 6-foot-1 small forward is the WNBA’s all-time steals leader by more than 300 steals, third all-time in points and sits firmly at fifth on the all-time rebounds list.
Catchings played her whole 15-year career with the Indian Fever, missing the playoffs twice. Every year she practically carried her teams to the playoffs, because for most of her career she wasn’t surrounded by many other stars. Even so, Catchings didn’t just make it to the playoffs, she would carry her team deep into the tourney. She is still the WNBA’s all-time leader in playoff - points, steals and rebounds. In 2005 she became the fastest to score 2,000 career points and was also the fastest to 1,000 rebounds, 400 assists, and 300 steals. To top it off for all the advanced-stats geeks, Catchings comes in at No. 1 with the all-time highest career win shares of 93.66 (20 points ahead of second place Lauren Jackson – GOAT status).
The best all-around women’s basketball player ever is Catchings and she helped shaped what players of this generation needed to be to become the best. Candace Parker and Maya Moore both have the talent to be on top of this list in a few years, but for now the GOAT and queen of the WNBA is Tamika Catchings.