Lauren Jackson, Sue Bird and The 10 Greatest WNBA Players Of All Time

Lance MorrisonCorrespondent IFebruary 2, 2011

Lauren Jackson, Sue Bird and The 10 Greatest WNBA Players Of All Time

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    From its origins at Smith College for girls where women played in dresses on a field with nine players and were not allowed to run more than five feet without passing or shooting, to Lisa Leslie dunking in a game, women's basketball has a rich history and tradition that we must embrace and pass along to future generations so that they may continue its legacy.

    National Girls and Women in Sports Day, February 2, 2011, is a nationwide celebration of girls and women in sports.

    It seems fitting that on this day we commemorate the origins of our sport, celebrate its history and traditions and recognize some of all time greats that helped to change a quaint "girl's" college tradition that was once socially unacceptable, into a viable profession played around the world.

Smith College for Girls

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    Senda Berenson published the rules for women's basketball in 1917
    Senda Berenson published the rules for women's basketball in 1917

    Basketball was first played by women in 1892 at Smith College for Girls in Northampton, Massachusetts. Physical education teacher Senda Berenson used basketball in her classes to promote physical fitness for ladies.

    In those days, it was believed that women were more selfish than men and were not capable of team work. Senda Berenson modified Dr. Naismith's rules in an effort to teach her students cooperation, rather than competition.

    In the 1890s, “excessive” exertion was thought to be unhealthy for women. Berenson changed the rules of basketball so nine women played in zones on a court or field. Berenson’s students were not allowed to leave their zone or run more than five feet before passing or shooting.

    The history of women's basketball is described in great detail at the Women's Basketball Museum.

The All-American Redheads

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    In the 1920s, 30s and 40s, professional sports teams who did not play in leagues traveled from town to town and state to state just to get a game against local teams, for which they charged admission. This practice was known as "barnstorming."

    The first women's professional basketball players were barnstormers. The most popular and longest lasting of the women's professional basketball barnstorming teams was "Oly" Olsen's All-American Redheads. They were named the Redheads to help promote the beauty salons Olson's wife owned across the South.

    The Redheads were formed in 1936 and barnstormed for 50 years until women's college and international basketball became so popular that there was no longer a market. The redheads were both entertainers along the lines of the Harlem Globetrotters, as well as serious basketball players like their WNBA counterparts of today.

    This vintage video makes it obvious that the redheads came to town to delight crowds with antics, but they were also real athletes who came to play.

The 10 Greatest Players In The History Of The WNBA

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    Dedication

    This list is dedicated to Cheryl Miller, Nancy Lieberman and other legends of the women's game who helped to build the WNBA but either never got to play, or were well past their prime in the short time they did.

    Legends of Women's Basketball, we salute you!

    Honorable Mention

    Candace Parker, Angel McCoughtry and Tina Charles received honorable mention for their contributions to the sport. These future greats have not played long enough to make this list yet, but the WNBA is in good hands.

    And now the 10 greatest players in the history of the WNBA.

Full Slide Honorable Mention For Ticha Penicheiro

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    PHOENIX - JULY 15:  Ticha Penicheiro #21 of the Sacramento Monarchs drives with the ball past Nicole Ohlde #30 of the Phoenix Mercury during the WNBA game at US Airways Center on July 15, 2009 in Phoenix, Arizona. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges
    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    When I spoke with Ticha Penicheiro, she seemed somewhat surprised to be on this list. She had seen the other names on the list and while she said nothing, I got the distinct feeling that maybe she felt like she didn't belong.

    Ticha Penicheiro is the WNBA's all-time leader in assists and steals. Greatness is not judged solely on statistics, but the fact that she has 783 more assists than Sue Bird, the second all-time leader is very difficult to overlook.

    You may say that Penicheiro played 111 more games than Bird and that's true. But Bird averages 5.6 assists for her career where Penicheiro averages 6.0. Penicheiro led the league in assists seven times including 2010 when she averaged 6.9 assists per game.

    Ticha Penicheiro is on this list because she's the greatest playmaker in the history of the WNBA.

    Ticha Penicheiro all-time rankings and honors

    2005 WNBA champion

    All-time leader in assists and steals 

    Three-time all WNBA selection

    One-time all defensive team selection

    Questions and Answers with Ticha Penicheiro

    1. What role do you believe the WNBA plays in the history of women's sports in the United States?

    Penicheiro: "The WNBA means a lot because it's real. Little girls can look up to us and say they want to be like us. Before the WNBA, America didn't have basketball players to look up to if they were girls. Now they can see us and dream of being like us."

    2.Do you believe that you have a role in the history of women's sports in the United States?

    Penicheiro: "I grew up in a small town in Portugal and there was no professional women's basketball here. I don't know if you know this, but I'm playing in Portugal right now. I'm honored and overwhelmed because there is a kind of "Ticha fever" here and I'm not used to it. I believe I definitely have a role in the promotion of women's basketball in the United States, but I especially see it here in Portugal."

    3. Do you believe you will be inducted into the basketball Hall of Fame?

    Penicheiro: "I don't think about it. Of course if I was thought of that way I'd be honored. I've accomplished more than I ever thought I could in my basketball career.  The Hall of Fame is not something I'm working toward, and my career is complete without it."

    4. Who was your role model when you were growing up?

    Penicheiro: "Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan"

    5. What advice would you give to a little girl who said she wanted to be like you?

    Penicheiro: "Dream of it and work hard at it because dreams really do come true. If someone would've told me as a child that I would play professional basketball and meet so many wonderful people in so many different parts of the world, I would've laughed. You can see the WNBA, it's real and dreams really do come true."

10. Theresa Weatherspoon

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    19 Jun 1998:  Theresa Weatherspoon #11 of the New York Liberty dribbles the ball during a game against the Los Angeles Sparks at the Great Western Forum in Inglewood, California. The Sparks defeated the Liberty  78-75. Mandatory Credit: Ezra C. Shaw  /All
    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    Teresa Weatherspoon was one of the very first women basketball players to be a household name. Nine years prior to the inaugural season of the WNBA, Weatherspoon led Louisiana Tech to the NCAA Title and won a gold medal in the 1988 Olympics with Team USA.

    Weatherspoon was the driving force of the early New York Liberty teams who were in three of the first four WNBA finals, losing to the great Comets teams all three times.

    Weatherspoon was 32 years old in the inaugural season of the WNBA. She retired at 39, following the 2004 season. She's currently the head coach at her beloved alma mater Louisiana Tech. 

    They say a team takes on the personality of the coach. If that's true, Louisiana Tech must be known for intensity and leadership, hustle and savvy, playmaking and defense because that's who Teresa Weatherspoon is, and that's why she should always be remembered.

    Weatherspoon led the league in assists in 1997 and was second in 1998.

    The four-time WNBA All-Star was the prototypical Defensive Player of the Year. She never took a play off, she played hard and hustled every minute of every game. She could also be depended on for the big defensive play in the clutch. Weatherspoon was the Defensive Player of the Year for the first two years of the WNBA's existence.

    In the early days of the WNBA, there were a bunch of kids who never thought about playing professional basketball before they got a call asking if they would consider playing. Weatherspoon was one of savvy veterans who took advantage of young players that were not ready for anyone as skilled and intense as Weatherspoon was.

    All you have to do is hear her voice to know that passion and intensity is still there.

    One of the most memorable "Weatherspoon moments" came in the 1999 WNBA Finals when she hit a three-quarter court shot at the end of the game to tie the Liberty with the Comets in the WNBA Finals.

    Teresa Weatherspoon all-time rankings and honors

    Four trips to the finals

    Two-time Defensive Player of the Year

    Four all WNBA selections

    Third all time in assists per game (5.3)

    Fifth all-time in steals per game (1.8)

    Forth all-time in total assists

    12th all-time in total steals

    Questions and Answers with Teresa Weatherspoon.

    1. What role do you believe the WNBA plays in the history of women's sports in the United States?

    Weatherspoon: "Oh wow, it's very very big. When I finished playing collegiate basketball in 88 we didn't have that dream of looking forward to playing professionally in America. We had to go overseas, we had to make a tremendous sacrifice if we wanted to continue to play professional basketball."

    "We can go back to '96 when our United States women's basketball team played all over America before the Olympic games started. That's when everybody started to realize just how good women are in the sport. It just so happened with the goodness of David Stern (NBA commissioner) and the NBA decided to start the WNBA in '97. It was the best thing that could have happened to us and the young girls who dream of playing professional basketball in America."

    "When you have that sport it gives kids an opportunity to turn on the TV and see women playing basketball and they can really relate to the young woman, so it's a dream come true."

    2. Do you believe that you have a role in the history of women's sports in the United States?

    Weatherspoon: "I would hope so. I would hope that I left something positive as I played the game. You can only hope so. When you play the game you just play the game, then it's left up to everyone else."

    "But you would hope that when you played, you played with everything you had and you really appreciate what the game has brought to you and hopefully you brought something to the game."

    3. Who was your role model when you were growing up?

    Weatherspoon: "Without a doubt it's my family. I'm the baby of six. To watch my mother and my father do the things they did to just help us all to survive and become the men and women we are in this Weatherspoon family, It's definitely my family and my sisters and brothers."

    4. You grew up in an era before there was a WNBA, what were your goals when you were little girl and what drove you to be a great basketball player?

    Weatherspoon: "I just wanted to graduate from high school. I wanted to do something positive and then from there I got a great opportunity to play here at Louisiana Tech. From there you start to really visualize things and understand a little bit more about what your life can bring if you so desire to continue to play the game or whatever you want to do academically."

    "I was very into my academics in high school and collegiately, but that basketball just gave me an opportunity to view the world. Everything was just very very big that time."

9. Cynthia Cooper

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    26 Aug 2000:  Cynthia Cooper #14 of the Houston Comets makes a layup during the game against the New York Liberty at the Compaq Center in Houston, Texas. The Comets defeated the Liberty 79-73.   NOTE TO USER: It is expressly understood that the only right
    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    In a time when the WNBA was barely walking, Cynthia Cooper was sprinting full speed towards greatness.

    In the initial years of the WNBA, women were not preparing for careers in pro sports. Tina Thompson, Cooper's teammate for five years and four championships, said “I got a phone call from the WNBA while I was still in my senior year at USC, I thought it was a joke.”

    While many future WNBA stars were planning to move on to other things rather than play professional basketball in Europe, Cynthia Cooper had already been ballin’ over in Europe for 11 years.

    When Cynthia Cooper came to the WNBA she was one of very few polished, seasoned veteran, professional go-to scorers in the league. Needless to say she was dominant.

    Cynthia Cooper played in the WNBA for four years and was the leading scorer for the Houston Comets, who won four consecutive WNBA championships.

    Cooper retired just four games into the 2003 season. Since then, women are preparing to be professional basketball players. Little girls around the country are working towards the goal of being in the WNBA. The skill level in the WNBA and in women's basketball in general has increased tenfold, and Cynthia Cooper is still the WNBA's all-time leader in points per game with 21.0.

    Cynthia Cooper is the only WNBA player to be inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. With the recent retirement of some of the WNBA's all-time greats it's hard to imagine she'll be alone in "thought Hall" for long.

    Cynthia Cooper’s all-time rankings and honors

    Four WNBA championships

    Two-time league MVP

    Four-time Finals MVP

    1997, '98, and '99 WNBA points leader

    First all-time in points per game ( 21.0)

    Questions and Answers with Cynthia Cooper


    1. What role do you believe the WNBA plays in the history of women's sports in the United States?

    Cooper: "It's in America. I played in Europe for 11 years before the WNBA. There's a big difference between playing overseas and playing at home in front of your friends and family."

    "There's no better media machine to promote women's basketball in America than the NBA."

    2. Do you believe that you have a role in the history of women's sports in the United States?

    Cooper: "I believe my role is to promote women's basketball. I did that when I played and I still do that now. I'm a coach at UNC-Wilmington and the fire for women's basketball still burns hot."

    "I also wanted to make my mom proud, my mom is my girl."

    3. Who was your role model when you were growing up?

    Cooper: "I'll give you three, Norm Nixon. Lynette Woodard, I thought she was a complete basketball player and I wanted to be like her, and my mom."

    4. You grew up in an era before there was a WNBA, what were your goals when you were little girl and what drove you to be a great basketball player?

    Cooper: "I wanted to be the best at whatever I did."

    5. What advice would you give to a little girl who said she wanted to be like you? 

    Cooper: "Don't be afraid of hard work. Today, with computers, cell phones, video games and cable TV there is so many other things to do. If you want to be a great basketball player you've got to put in the work.

8. Yolanda Griffith

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    SACRAMENTO, CA - SEPTEMBER 18:   Yolanda Griffith #33 of the Sacramento Monarchs battles with Taj McWilliams-Fran #11 and Margo Dydek #12 of the Connecticut Sun during Game 3 of the WNBA finals on September 18, 2005 at the ARCO Arena in Sacramento, Califo
    David Paul Morris/Getty Images

    Anyone playing basketball versus Yolanda Griffith should expect to spend a good deal of time sprawled out on the floor with “Yo” either standing over them, or sprawled out next to them.

    Griffith was a wonderful combination of shooting touch, brute strength, hustle and gritty determination. She was a “grunt” with skills and absolutely no respect for her own body, or that of her opponent.

    Yolanda Griffith had a very rare skill set. She did the dirty work that every team needs done if they want to win. She was an enforcer who provided toughness, blocked shots and rebounds. Griffith was also a reliable “go-to” scorer in the post who could hit from up to 15 feet consistently.

    Griffith's shot release was at the highest point her arms could reach over an already towering frame. Her high release point and tendency to fall away when she took a shot meant that she might make it or she might miss, but the efforts of a single defender were of little consequence.

    In 1999, Yolanda Griffith posted one of the most remarkable seasons in history of the WNBA. Griffith scored 18.8 points per game and grabbed 11.3 rebounds per game with 4.9 of the offensive variety. “Yo” displayed her dominance on both ends of the floor by averaging  2.5 steals per game and 1.9 blocks per game.

    In Griffith’s rookie season she was named MVP and Defensive Player of the Year. How someone can be MVP and Defensive Player of the Year in their rookie season and not also be Rookie of the Year is a mystery to many.

    Chamique Holdsclaw posted a truly fine season to win the 1999 Rookie of the Year. Yolanda Griffith's season was legendary and she should have been the Rookie of the Year as well.

    Yolanda Griffith all-time rankings and statistics

    2005 WNBA champion

    1999 MVP

    1999 Defensive Player of the Year

    14th all time in total points (4,238)

    Fourth all time in total rebounds (2,444)

    Eighth all time in blocks (323)

    Fifth all-time in steals (529)

    Question and Answers with Yolanda Griffith

    1. What role do you believe the WNBA plays in the history of women's sports in the United States?
    Griffith: "I think that the WNBA brought women’s basketball a spotlight that it had never seen before. The WNBA brought the women’s professional game to the nation and into America's homes.  For young girls, I think this was a major step in letting them know that there was an opportunity for them to have a career in basketball."

    2.  Do you believe that you have a role in the history of women's sports in the United States?
    Griffith: "I really don’t know what my ‘legacy’ will be.  But I think that my background shows that even if you don’t go to one of the top schools, if you dedicated yourself, you can be successful at the highest level. And that goes for any sport or career path."

    3.  Do you believe you will be inducted into the basketball Hall of Fame?
    Griffith: "I would be honored and humbled to be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame.  I have dedicated most of my life to become better and better at the game of basketball, but I have no sense of entitlement of an induction or nomination.  I think that I have competed at a high level and have always played with all the heart, drive and passion I have.  And if the powers that be see it fit to give me that recognition, it will definitely be a great moment in my life."

    4. Who is your role model when you were growing up?
    "My mom.  She taught me to stand tall, respect others, and work hard.  I carry these lessons with me everyday."

    5. You grew up in an era before there was a WNBA, what were your goals when you were little girl and what drove you to be a great basketball player?
    Griffith: "Well, at the time I was ready to play basketball professionally, there weren’t any opportunities to play in the U.S. My only option was to play overseas.  My goal, as a little girl, was to be the best basketball player: girl or boy.  I knew that with basketball I could get an education and that was very important to me.  As far as my drive to be a great basketball player, it came from being a mother and knowing I had to provide for my family.  When you’re a mom, everyday you wake up knowing you have to be your best."

    6. What advice would you give to a little girl who said she wanted to be like you?
    Griffith: "I would tell her to work hard; then don't be me, be better than me."

7. Diana Taurasi

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    PHOENIX - SEPTEMBER 05:  Diana Taurasi #3 of the Phoenix Mercury puts up a three point shot over Sue Bird #10 of the Seattle Storm in Game Two of the Western Conference Finals during the 2010 WNBA Playoffs at US Airways Center on September 5, 2010 in Phoe
    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Whether or not allegations of drug use in Turkey are true or false has no bearing on the on-court prowess of this prolific scorer and hard-nosed defender.

    In 2009, the two-time WNBA champion had one of the greatest seasons in the history of the WNBA, snagging both the regular season and Finals MVP awards.

    The fact that Taurasi can score is common knowledge. Taurasi is second all-time in points per game. What's not as widely known is that she's 15th in assists, making her a deadly combination of one of the greatest scorers and playmakers in women's basketball history.

    Another fact that might slip the notice of the casual WNBA fan is that Taurasi is 16th all time in blocked shots from the guard position. While not known as a particularly great on the ball defender, Taurasi plays help defense as well as anyone in the league.

    Diana Taurasi's all-time rankings and honors

    Two-time WNBA champion

    2004 Rookie of the Year

    Finals MVP

    WNBA MVP

    Second all-time in points per game

    Sixth all-time in points

    5th all-time in assists

    Questions and Answers with Diana Taurasi

    Ms. Taurasi was not available for comment


6. Sue Bird

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    PHOENIX - SEPTEMBER 05:  Sue Bird #10 of the Seattle Storm puts up a shot against the Phoenix Mercury in Game Two of the Western Conference Finals during the 2010 WNBA Playoffs at US Airways Center on September 5, 2010 in Phoenix, Arizona.  NOTE TO USER:
    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Statistics often fail to tell the story where point guards are concerned. Sure, Sue Bird is second all-time in assists and in the top 25 in steals, points and points per game. However, Bird’s greatness is far beyond quantifiable.

    Bird may never be the MVP, but she's been instrumental in making Lauren Jackson a three time MVP. She may not be the star of stars at the Olympics or the World Championships, but they keep asking her to come back to Team USA because she puts the star of stars in position to be so.

    Bird doesn't have a list of accolades half a page long like Lauren Jackson, but one has to wonder if Jackson's list would be that long without Bird at her side for nine years.

    It's difficult to quantify the quality that enables someone to make others better. Fortunately, for stat geeks like me, there is one way to count what Sue Bird does. The prevalent number is seven: two NCAA Division I championships, two WNBA championships, two Olympic Gold Medal and one FIBA World Championship.

    Sue Bird’s all-time rankings and honors

    Second all-time in total assists and assists per game

    Two-time WNBA champion

    20th in total points

    15th in total steals

    Six-time all WNBA selection

    Selected to the All-Decade team

    Questions and Answers with Sue Bird

    Ms. Bird is currently playing in Europe and was unavailable for comment.

5. Tina Thompson

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    13 Jul 2001:  Tina Thompson #7 of the Houston Comets shooting a free throw during the WNBA game against the Seattle Storm at Key Arena in Seattle, Washington. The Comets defeated the Storm 58-55.  NOTE TO USER: It is expressly understood that the only rig
    Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    The list of statistics and honors that Tina Thompson has compiled is all I would require to make a case that she is in fact the fifth greatest WNBA player of all time. However, the reason Thompson is so high on this list is not all because of her statistics, but rather the manner in which she attained them. 

    Consistency and versatility, born of work ethic and passion for the game are the hallmarks of Thompson's brilliant career.

    The most impressive of her statistics is that in 2010, her 14th year as a charter member of the WNBA, Tina Thompson scored 16.6 points per game, .4 more points than her career average. She also yanked down 6.2 rebounds per game which is only .4 rebounds per game less than her career average.

    In addition, Thompson posted her exact career average in assists and blocked shots while posting just .1 less than her career average in steals per game in 2010. There are very few athletes in any sport who continue to play at a high level in their 14th year as a professional. Tina Thompson did and there is a strong possibility she'll be back for 15th year.

    Thompson says that the secret behind her longevity and consistent efficacy is versatility.

    The thought of a three point shooter generally brings to mind the image of a player posing at the three point line to display her follow-through as she watches to see the results of her handiwork. These are not images generally associated with the dirty work that must be done to be the all-time great rebounder. Thompson is one of the best ever in both of these disparate categories.

    Thompson is one of the few basketball players of either gender who is a proficient scorer in both the low post, catching the ball with her back to the basket, and from three point range. Thompson thinks that it's this versatility that enabled her to last long enough to be an all-time great

    Tina Thompson’s all-time rankings and statistics

    No.1 all-time in total points (6,413)

    Third all time in total rebounds (2,616)

    Third all time in three point field goals made (604)

    Fifth all-time in free throws made (1,279)

    Selected to the all WNBA team eight times

    Select to the WNBA all decade team in 2005

    Questions and Answers with Tina Thompson

    1. Do you believe that you have a role in the history of women's sports in the United States?

    Thompson: "That's a hard question because I don't think that way and I never asked myself the question. I'm 35 years old and nearing the end of my career and I'm getting lots of questions about my legacy. I don't think about how something I do will affect my legacy."

    "I just know that if I work as hard as I can and give my best effort that I'll have no regrets. I don't make all my shots, but no one can ever question my effort."

    "I've never been a player that wanted to see my stats after the game. I don't play to be an All-Star or to be MVP because when you do it takes the game out of context and you lose perspective."

    If you're playing to get enough points to get you into the All-Star game you’re playing for statistics not playing to win."

    2. Do you believe you will be inducted into the basketball Hall of Fame?

    Thompson: "If you're playing to get enough points to get you into the All-Star game you’re not playing to win. No one remembers who’s second. You can’t be first unless your whole team is first. If you win the honors will come.

    I suppose it would be nice to be in the Hall of Fame, I just never thought about.

    3. Who was your role model when you were growing up?

    Thompson: "My parents and my brother. I told my mother a little white lie. I told her that I wanted to play basketball so I could be with my brother and his friends."

    "My brother was very critical of my game and used to irritate me when I was a kid. Now that I'm an adult I appreciate it. I had games where I had 30 points and 20 rebounds and my brother would say yes "but you missed two free throws and they were free."

    "At the community center where I grew up, only the good players got to play inside the gym. Outside was concrete, with hard rims and chain nets."

    "I was always the tallest girl, but I wasn't as big and strong as the boys so I learned to shoot from the outside so I wouldn't be overpowered. After I was good enough to play inside, my brother said, 'what are you going to do when people start guarding you out there. You won't move because you can't dribble.' So I learned how to dribble."

    Being versatile is part of why I've had longevity in the game.

    5. You grew up in an era before there was a WNBA, what were your goals when you were little girl and what drove you to be a great basketball player?

    Thompson: "When I was growing up I wanted to be a lawyer and a judge. I played basketball because I competed with my older brother at everything. I never aspired to be a professional basketball player."

    "When I was in seventh grade I found out I could get a scholarship to pay for my education. I wanted to go to Harvard but my family couldn't afford that and Harvard didn't have a girls basketball program. I had the choice between USC and Stanford and I chose USC."

    6. What are your plans after you retire?

    Thompson: "I'd like to be a color analyst (TV commentator) but I'm definitely going back to school to pursue a law degree."

    7. What advice would you give to a little girl who said she wanted to be like you?

    Thompson:  "Aspire to be better than me, work hard and never stop learning. Once you stop learning you’ve lost."

4. Lauren Jackson

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    PHOENIX - SEPTEMBER 05:  Lauren Jackson #!5 of the Seattle Storm puts up a shot over Kara Braxton #45 of the Phoenix Mercury in Game Two of the Western Conference Finals during the 2010 WNBA Playoffs at US Airways Center on September 5, 2010 in Phoenix, A
    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Lauren Jackson is one of the toughest covers in the history of the WNBA.

    One of the main reasons that she's so hard to guard is because in some ways she's just your classic power forward.

    The perfect image of the position is the power forward and the referee standing over a defensive player sitting on the floor with a bloody nose. The referee is pointing at the player who’s bleeding on the floor indicating that it's her foul. This is a classic Lauren Jackson moment

    A player who is not prepared to spend time on her keister should not guard Lauren Jackson because she's going to knock you down in the course of going about her business. Guarding Lauren Jackson requires a player to be big and strong. There are a lot of WNBA players that fit that description. The problem is that you also have to be fast. as well.

    A player who's not big and strong will be summarily abused in the post. But a player who's not fast will not be able to chase Jackson out to the three point line where the 6'5" power forward shoots 35 percent for her career.

    Of course, when players are running out to the three point line to contest her deadly jumpshot, there's a pretty good chance that she'll give them the pump fake, put the ball on the floor, run by them and take them to the hole.

    In 2007 Lauren Jackson was the scoring champion, the MVP of the league and the Defensive Player of the Year. Not only is Jackson a scoring threat from all over the court, but she's a fierce shot blocker as well.

    That means players don't want to guard Jackson and they don't want Jackson to guard them.

    Lauren Jackson's all-time rankings and honors

    Two-time WNBA champion

    Three-time WNBA MVP

    2007 Defensive Player of the Year

    Fifth all-time in points per game

    Fourth all-time in total points

    Fourth all-time in rebounds per game

    Fifth all-time in total rebounds

    Eight time all WNBA selection

    Five time all defensive team selection

    Selected to the All-Decade team

    Questions and Answers with Lauren Jackson

    Ms. Jackson was unavailable for comment

3. Sheryl Swoopes

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    2 Sep 1999: Sheryl Swoopes #22 of the Houston Comets dribbles the ball during game one of the WNBA Finals against the New York Liberty at Madison Square Garden in New York,New York. The Comets defeated the Liberty 62-49.   Mandatory Credit: Ezra O. Shaw
    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    There is a phrase or two that could be used to describe or define the career of most great players.

    The phrases four-champion, or three-time MVP, might tell you all you need to know. One might read three-time Defensive Player of the Year or seven-time all WNBA selection and think they had a handle on what this great player meant to the WNBA. But what do you do when all those phrases apply?

    It is unfortunate that WNBA greats don't get the kind of notoriety that would afford one to simply say she was Sheryl Swoopes, without a male frame of reference to define her legacy to the WNBA layman.

    However, for those of you who are not well-versed in the lore of the WNBA, at one point in her career, Sheryl Swoopes was widely referred to as the female Michael Jordan and she was the first woman with a shoe named after her.

    Swoopes could score, rebound and make plays for her teammates. However, the career of Sheryl Swoopes was defined by her defensive prowess. Not only was Swoopes her team's first or second offensive option, but she was also charged with guarding the best player on the opposing team.

    Even after time and injuries slowed the production of this one time offensive juggernaut, Swoopes was still known, feared and respected as one of the greatest defenders in WNBA history.

    Sheryl Swoopes all-time rankings and honors

    Four-time champion

    Three-time MVP

    Three-time Defensive Player of the Year

    Seven-time all WNBA team selection

    Ninth all-time in total points

    Third all-time in total steals

    Questions and Answers with Sheryl Swoopes

    1. What role do you believe the WNBA plays in the history of women's sports in the United States?
    Swoopes: "The WNBA made it possible for little girls to hope that they could be professional athletes. Nobody believed that the WNBA would last even a couple of years. If they keep growing and keep getting stronger, the WNBA could be the best thing that ever happened to women's sports in the America."
     

    2. Do you believe that you have a role in the history of women's sports in the United States?
    Swoopes: "With all I have won, all my accolades and accomplishments in basketball, the most important thing to me was to be able to have my family, have my son, and go back and play at a high level. I wanted to show women that they didn't have to sacrifice, that they could have their families and have their careers. People saw that I was pregnant and said she'll never come back. I wanted to show them that I could come back and play at a high level and win championships and MVPs. Out of everything I've done in the game of basketball that's what's most important to me."
       

    3. Do you believe you will be inducted into the basketball Hall of Fame?
    Swoopes: "People told me I would but I don't know. But that would be the ultimate. That would be the end of my career and then I could move onto something else."

    4. Who is your role model when you were growing up?
    Swoopes: "Honestly it wasn't the Nancy Lieberman's and the Cheryl Miller's, I didn't know about them. I used to turn on my TV and watch Michael Jordan and say, 'Someday I want to play like that.'"
     

    5. You grew up in an era before there was a WNBA, what were your goals when you were little girl and what drove you to be a great basketball player?
    Swoopes:  "I played with my brothers. When they were out in the driveway, I was in the driveway, when they went down to the playground I went down to the playground. When my brother got a scholarship I wanted an education too."
     

    6. What advice would you give to a little girl who said she wanted to be like you?
    Swoopes:
    "The answer I would've given  five or 10 years ago is different than the answer I give now, because I've grown. I'm very disappointed in some of the young players I see today. They got all the talent, more talent than they need to have and their satisfied. I tell my son don't play basketball because I played. Do what you want to do because you want to do it, but anything you do you have to put in the effort. Anything that's worth having is worth fighting for."

    "I would tell a little girl who wanted to be like me that there are things you can take from Sheryl  Swoopes but you have to be you and have to believe that you can do it."

    What do you believe in?

2. Tamika Catchings

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    INDIANAPOLIS - OCTOBER 07:  Tamika Catchings #24 of the Indiana Fever grabs a rebound during the WNBA Finals game 4 against the Phoenix Mercury at Conseco Fieldhouse on October 7, 2009 in Indianapolis, Indiana.   NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges
    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    An argument could be made that Tamika Catchings is the greatest player of all-time because she ranks in the top 10 all time in no less than 15 major statistical categories, and she's not done yet.

    Catchings is a prolific scorer in the post, off the dribble and from three point range. She is in the top 10 all-time in total points, total rebounds total assists and three point field goals made.

    Add all that to a record four Defensive Player of the Year awards and there's your argument. Only a championship stands between her and first ballot induction into the Naismith Hall of Fame.

    This is not an aging superstar past her prime who's on this list to commemorate past greatness. In 2010, Catchings was fifth in the league in points per game, tenth in the league in rebounds per game, she led the league in steals and she was Defensive Player of the Year.

    It is not possible to get the true picture of Tamika Catchings in a discussion that solely includes basketball. Basketball is not big enough to define this brilliant and generous soul who gives back to the community for whom she stars, and the league that affords her the notoriety that enables her to give back to that community.

    Tamika Catchings is the president and founder of Catch the Stars Foundation. Catch the Stars Foundation’s mission is to motivate at risk youth in the metropolitan Indianapolis area to achieve their dreams and goals by providing positive academic and sports related programs. These programs encourage fundamentals including reading, study skills, sportsmanship as well as leading healthier lives through mentoring, basketball camps and fitness clinics.

    Catchings is also the president of the WNBA players Association. Catchings is the player most responsible for negotiating the WNBA's collective bargaining agreement which is in effect until 2013.

    Tamika Catchings all-time rankings and honors

    2002 Rookie of the Year

    Four Defensive Player of the Year

    Eight-time all WNBA selection

    Six-time all defensive team selection

    Selected to the all Decade team

    Eighth all-time in total points

    Eighth all-time in total rebounds

    10th all-time in assists

    Second all-time in steals

    14th all-time in blocked shots

    Questions and Answers with Tamika Catchings

    1. What role do you believe the WNBA plays in the history of women's sports in the United States?

    Catchings: “I know that the success of the WNBA will be huge to the success of women’s sports from here on out. Where we stand right now, we are the longest running women’s professional league ever. That says a lot! We have overcome barriers thus far and continue to face challenges every year but we are committed to the success of this league.”

    2. Do you believe that you have a role in the history of women's sports in the United States?

    Catchings: “I definitely feel like I am a trailblazer for women’s sports. While I play in the WNBA, what we do will be duplicated for other women’s leagues in the future. All of the pioneers that came before me, Lynette Woodard, Cheryl Miller, Nancy Lieberman, Ann Meyers, Teresa Edwards, and on and on, have set this platform for us to be where we are today. They lit the torch and it has been passed on from generation to generation and I hope that one day if I have daughters they will be able to pursue a professional career in what ever sport they choose.”

    3. Do you believe you will be inducted into the basketball Hall of Fame?

    Catchings: “Funny thing is that I have never really thought about me being in the basketball hall of fame. That’s not because that’s not a goal of mine, but all of my aspirations have been on the court winning championships and continuing to play a game I LOVE to play!”

    4. Who was your role model when you were growing up?

    Catchings: “My role models growing up were my parents. Through my ups and downs they always pushed me to be better and better in every area. The values that they taught us early on are the ones that I still live by.”

    5.You grew up in an era before there was a WNBA, what were your goals when you were little girl and what drove you to be a great basketball player?

    Catchings: “I was in 7th grade when I made my goal to be a professional basketball player. I was going to be in the NBA like my dad was, and my mom and dad believed in me as much as I did. So with that goal in mind, that’s what I reached for every moment that I was on that court through my practices, games and individual skill sessions. I knew that I had to be the best for them to give me a shot!”

    6. What advice would you give to a little girl who said she wanted to be like you?

    Catchings: “My advice to a little girl who said they wanted to be like me would be, be BETTER than me!!! Set your goals and every day go out there on a mission. I knew that what I wanted to achieve would be hard work but I was ready for it. Whatever you put your mind to, you can do! And remember, if it were easy, everyone would be doing it.”

1. Lisa Leslie

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    LOS ANGELES, CA - JULY 14:  Becky Hammon #25 of the San Antonio Silver Stars puts up a shot against Lisa Leslie #9 of the Los Angeles Sparks during the game on July 14, 2008 at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, California.  The Sparks beat the Silver Sta
    Jeff Gross/Getty Images

    Lisa Leslie is number one on this list for many reasons, not the least of which is being widely considered the face of the WNBA throughout her storied career.

    The WNBA's all-time leader in rebounds has accomplished every goal a player can have in the WNBA. Leslie retired following a 2009 season in which she led her team to the Western Conference Finals by averaging 15.4 points per game, 6.6 rebounds per game, 2.1 assists per game and 1.4 blocks per game.

    Those are superstar numbers for a player in her prime and Leslie retired after posting those numbers. Leslie is a color commentator for the NBA channel and she looks like Team USA could still suit her up in 2012 to start for and captain the team to win what would be a fifth Olympic gold medal for Leslie.

    In addition to her WNBA exploits, the back-to-back WNBA champion had a stellar international career with Team USA. Leslie won four consecutive Olympic gold medals and is Team USA's all-time leader in points and rebounds.

    These credentials distinguish Leslie as one of the greatest legends, of either gender, in any sport. 

    On December 1, 2010, the three-time WNBA MVP was named Sportswoman of the Year at the 27th Annual March of Dimes Sports Luncheon.

    Her next great honor should be her first ballot induction to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.

    Lisa Leslie's all-time rankings and honors

    Two-time WNBA champion

    Three-time WNBA MVP

    Two-time Defensive Player of the Year

    Second all-time in total points

    First all-time in total rebounds

    18th all-time in total assists from the center position

    Second all-time in blocks

    10th all-time in steals

    First all-time in field goals made

    See all of Lisa Leslie's accomplishments

    Questions and Answers with Lisa Leslie

    Ms. Leslie was unavailable for comment

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