WNBA at 25: From the Basketball League's Origins to Its Groundbreaking Activism Today

Photos Courtesy: Tim Clayton/Corbis/Getty Images; Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images/WNBAE; Steven Freeman/NBAE/Getty Images; Logo Courtesy: WNBA

Checking out the WNBA All-Star Game tonight? This year's match is a bit different, and, hopefully, the most competitive All-Star match up in the league's history. Team U.S.A., composed of the WNBA's 2021 Olympic athletes, will face off against Team WNBA, All Stars who won't be headed to Tokyo, but who hold league and season records in their own rights. In just about a week, Team U.S.A. will seek its seventh straight Gold Medal at the Olympic Games, so the All-Star Game is more than just a fun time — it's a great test. Before you tune in to tonight's game, let's delve into the history of the WNBA — and what makes this season even more special.

The WNBA at 25

Founded on April 22, 1996, the Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA) was first conceptualized as a counterpart to the men's National Basketball Association (NBA). In fact, ahead of its inaugural season in 1997, the WNBA centered its marketing campaign around the phrase "We Got Next." The slogan had a literal meaning; that inaugural picked up just after the NBA's season wrapped, but it also indicated something more. "It's the three-word ticket to play in street-corner basketball," Alison Roberts wrote in The Sacramento Bee 25 years ago. "At long last, it's now the women's turn to say it — and to play it." 

Over two decades later, the WNBA has carved out its own reputation as a premier professional sports league replete with scores of talented players, from greats of the past, like Rebecca Lobo, Lisa Leslie and Sheryl Swoopes, to some of today's most decorated athletes, like Candace Parker, A'ja Wilson, Breanna Stewart and Sue Bird. One of league's more recent mottos was "Watch Me Work," a notion that extends beyond the boundaries of a basketball court and into the realm of league-wide social justice initiatives.

To mark the league's 25th year, we're taking a look back at the WNBA's origins, standout moments and exciting future ahead of this season's first weekend of games.