Lauren Jackson, Sue Bird and The 10 Greatest WNBA Tandems of All Time
The WNBA has evolved from its early beginnings as the "scrappy little woman's league," into a basketball association where highly skilled professionals execute their craft with pride and verve.
Unfortunately, there are many who saw A game in 1998 where there were more fouls than points and believe THAT is the modern day WNBA.
With the recent retirement of some of the ALL TIME GREATS that forged the league's place in sports, a new generation of players have taken on their mantle.
Girl's basketball is gaining momentum all around the world, and it has become time to identify the great ones and celebrate their accomplishments to show little girls across the world that if they work really hard, someday, they could be the next Lisa Leslie or Sheryl Swoopes.
Basketball is a game of roles and responsibilities. The "role" of "star" is no more important than the essential role of "grunt" who grabs boards, blocks shots and takes great pride in knocking you on your keister should you dare to venture into "their paint." Without either, there can be no winning.
The NBA started in 1946 and the WNBA in 1997. In all those years many people have tried to build teams in many different ways. It has been discovered through trial and error that a "tandem" of star players is required to build a team that will compete for a championship.
The following slides are my picks of the 10 greatest tandems in the history of the WNBA. If you think I forgot anyone or feel that the order is incorrect please leave a comment and let me know.
10. Angel McCoughtry And Iziane Castro Marques
Why is this young and relatively new pairing on a list of All-Time greats?
Because the Atlanta Dream were just eight points away from the 2010 WNBA championship in just the third year of this fledgling franchises existence. Angel McCoughtry and Iziane Castro-Marques are the reasons why.
Seattle's veteran core of champions eked out wins of 79-77 in game one, 87-84 in game two and 87-84 to sweep the series. In each game Seattle was able to build a lead, a cushion against the explosive scoring capability of McCoughtry and Castro-Marques.
The Storm would need every point to hold off the charge of the fresh young star and the peaking veteran in her prime.
McCoughtry and Castro-Marques were second and seventh in scoring in the regular season and second and tenth in scoring in the playoffs respectively. McCoughtry was also third in steals in both the regular season and on the playoffs meaning she was dominant on both ends of the floor.
This tandem exhibited a competitive fire and will to win that serves notice to the WNBA that this nightmarish Dream is not coming, it's here. With great young players and seasoned veterans like this tandem the WNBA is in good hands.
Next season they will be fueled by the sting of being swept in the WNBA Finals, while being competitively close enough to feel the every lasting glow of all time greatness that can only be attained by actually winning a championship.
There are teams that you just don't want to face in the playoffs. The 2011 Dream will be among them.
9. Teresa Witherspoon and Vickie Johnson
Teresa Witherspoon and Vickie Johnson were the backbone of the fine New York Liberty teams in the early years of the WNBA. Unfortunately, WNBA aficionados will always sum up the career of these pioneers of woman's basketball with the cliche, "always the bridesmaids and never the brides."
These two great players took the Liberty to the Finals in three of the first four years of the WNBAs existence, and lost every time. The temptation is to compare those Liberty teams with the Buffalo Bills of the 1990s who lost four consecutive Super Bowls.
It would be more accurate to compare Weatherspoon and Johnson to NBA all-time greats John Stockton and Karl "the Mailman" Malone. Neither one of these great tandems ever won a championship and both lost to another all time great tandem in each of their trips to the Finals.
Stockton and Malone lost to Jordan, Pippen and Rodman. The great trio who vanquished Witherspoon and Johnson to the ninth spot on this list will be revealed in subsequent slides.
Do you remember who won the first four WNBA titles and the names of their "Big Three?"
8. Yolanda Griffith and Ticha Penicheiro
The 2005 Sacramento Monarchs were a defensive team who lead the league in points against defense allowing just 61.6 per game. No one on the team put up big numbers or lead the league in anything.
What they did have was chemistry that was spawned and nurtured their championship tandem, all-time greats Yolanda Griffith and Ticha Penicheiro. While these two names can be found in nearly every category of the WNBA record book, neither of them had anything close to their finest season in their championship year.
The only thing the Monarchs did particularly well from an offensive stand point was score more than 62 points.
What makes this tandem great is that their great career statistics and the fact that they lead their team to the Finals in two consecutive years, although they lost to Finals M.V.P. Deanna Nolan and the Shock in 2006.
7. Cheryl Ford and Swin Cash
In 2003, Swin Cash had one of the best years of her remarkable career. The perennial champion played the kind of all around floor game that typifies her steadfast leadership and launched the Shock on a run that took them to the Finals four times in six years with three championships.
In 2003, Cheryl Ford unleashed her basketball pedigree upon the WNBA by averaging a rare double-double with 10.8 PPG and 10.4 RPG in her Rookie of the Year season. In just her first year in professional basketball she managed to win a championship, something her father, Karl "the Mailman" Malone could not accomplish in 19 years of greatness in the NBA.
Ford and Cash won a second championship together and played in the 2007 Finals for a third before Cash, then beset by injuries, was traded to the Storm, where she got healthy and won yet another championship.
6. Deanna Nolan and Katie Smith
In 2008 Detroit had a "Big Three" including this great tandem and Cheryl Ford. Ford went down with an injury near the end of the regular season and the Shock's hopes of avenging their heartbreaking loss to the Mercury in the Finals the previous year seemed all but dashed.
Losing a player of Ford's caliber, with experience getting to and winning in the Finals would deflate many teams. Savvy veterans Deanna Nolan and Katie Smith didn't miss a beat, but actually getting to the Finals was the hard part.
They had to get through a tough Indiana team lead by WNBA great Tamika Catchings and a hungry New York team whose franchise had been to the dance, but always went home alone.
Deanna Nolan and Katie Smith knew how to get to the Finals, but more important, they knew how to lead others to the WNBA promised land. Nolan was MVP of the Finals 2006. In 2008 it was Smith's turn. The pair went on to sweep the Silver Star for their second championship in three straight trips to the Finals.
5. Diana Taurasi and Cappie Pondexter
Diana Taurasi and Cappie Pondexter were one of the most dynamic scoring duos in the history of the WNBA. Taurasi averages 20.3 PPG and Pondexter averages 19.2 for their brilliant careers.
The prolific pair also played a brand of hard-nosed, hustling defense that is often conspicuously absent from the games of great scorers.
In 2007, this tandem played both of the Detroit tandems, all four playing together, for all the marbles. It was as one would expect, a five game classic donnybrook to win the first of this tandems two championships. Pondexter was Finals MVP averaging 22 PPG and 5.6 APG.
In 2009, Taurasi had one of the greatest seasons in the history of the WNBA snagging both the regular season and the Finals MVP awards.
It is reported that Pondexter was unhappy in Phoenix and forced a trade to New York for power forward Candice Dupree. Perhaps Taurasi and Dupree will make this list someday?
4. Lisa Leslie and DeLisha Milton-Jones
When your tandem mate is the three-time MVP, two-time Defensive Player of the Year, 12-time all defensive team selection, statuesque, fashion model and face of the WNBA Lisa Leslie, the chances that your contributions will be underrated and under-appreciated are pretty good.
One of the things that was omitted on that list of accolades is back-to-back champion and three straight trips to the Finals. That's the one Leslie shares with DeLisha Milton-Jones her paint patrol partner for eight of Leslie's 12 years in the league. A case could be made that Leslie may not have achieved everything on her astonishing list of accomplishments without Milton-Jones.
For instance, while you may know that Leslie is the WNBAs all time leader in total rebounds, you may not know that Milton-Jones is 11th on that list. Because Milton-Jones was is a great rebounder, her opponent was always boxed out which left Leslie one-on-one to get position for a rebound.
Many great rebounders don't have that luxury.
Leslie is second all-time in blocked shots, Milton-Jones is 13th. When a player is defended by a great shot blocker and making moves to avoid her it often means easy blocks for a second shot blocker sneaking up from behind.
Milton Jones is No. 6 on the all time steals list, Leslie is number 10. A player might dribble one way to avoid one shot blocking thief, and have the ball poked away by another.
Between the two of them, you didn't want to shoot because they'd block your shot. If you did get a shot off, you better not miss because they were going to get the rebound and dribbling or passing was not good either because they'd steal the ball.
Simply put, the best defensive tandem the WNBA ever saw.
Oh yes, they could score too. Leslie is second, and Milton-Jones is 11th on the all time scoring list respectively. Teams couldn't double team Leslie with Milton-Jones around.
Please understand, Leslie is the best player ever and as you read this they are preparing her bust in the Hall of Fame, but she did have help, a lot of help.
3. Lauren Jackson and Sue Bird
Like many of the tandems on this list, Lauren Jackson and Sue Bird have won multiple championships, garnered many awards and accolades and their names are seen regularly in the WNBA record book.
The reason this tandem is ranked so highly on the list is because of how they won the championship in 2010.
The Seattle Storm finished the regular season tied with the 2000 Sparks and the 2001 Sparks for the most regular season wins in WNBA history with 28; they were undefeated at home and they swept the playoffs to win their second WNBA championship.
Sue Bird makes everyone she plays with better as great play makers often do. Lauren Jackson can catch and shoot for three, finish on the break, drive and finish strong at the rim and score in the post.
Add nine years of playing together and you have the formula for the second all time assist leader and a three-time MVP.
The interesting thing is that when the Storm has to have a basket to win, Storm head coach Brian Agler calls Sue Bird's number and she delivers in the clutch. Bird hit the winning shot twice in the 2010 playoffs.
They are the classic combination of point guard and finisher, finesse on the perimeter and power in the post, a pinpoint passer and a dead eye shot, steady consistent, scoring and performance in the clutch.
They are this high on the list, because they are the most perfect pairing in the game today.
2. The WNBA "Big Three" Sheryl Swoopes, Cynthia Cooper and Tina Thompson
Nowadays, the term "Big Three" is used to refer to LeBron James and Chris Bosh joining Dwyane Wade in Miami to form the "Heatles."
A more accurate comparison to the combination of WNBA all time GREATS Sheryl Swoopes, Cynthia Cooper and Tina Thompson would be their obvious juxtaposition to Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman, with two notable exceptions:
First, Swoopes, Cooper and Thompson won four championships together, while Jordan, Pippen and Rodman won just three as a trio.
Second, unlike Dennis Rodman, all-time WNBA points leader, forward Tina Thompson's tendency to wear lipstick and woman's clothing stems from the notion that Thompson is actually, and in fact, a woman.
This "Big Three" won the first four championships in WNBA history, they are pioneers of professional woman's basketball in the United States and their indelible legacy is forever emblazoned upon the record book of the league they helped to build.
1. Sue Bird and Swin Cash
A salient argument could be made that Sue Bird and Swin Cash are the greatest championship tandem in the history of American sports.
Together, Bird and Cash have won two NCAA Division 1 Championships, an Olympic Gold Medal, a WNBA Championship and a FIBA World Championship. This feat transcends the single sport of woman's basketball.
What if the NBAs second all-time assist leader and the 20th all time rebounding leader did what WNBAs second all-time assist leader Sue Bird and 20th all time rebounding leader Swin Cash have done?
There would be ESPN 30 for 30 television specials, a spread in Sports Illustrated and their college, NBA and Team USA jerseys would be enshrined in the Hall of Fame awaiting the first ballot induction of the tandem themselves.
Of Course Paul Silas, the NBAs 20th all time rebounding leader, retired when Jason Kidd, was 7, but you get my meaning.
Bird and Cash won every significant championship either in or for the United States, they're still not done and nobody talks about this monumental accomplishment.
Together, Bird and Cash "hit for the basketball cycle" and they wear the quadruple crown. Together they've accomplished what no other championship tandem in the history of American sports has done and together is precisely how they should be inducted into the basketball Hall of Fame.