June 21- The First Ever WNBA Game
1997- On this day in Sports History, the first ever WNBA game was played between the Los Angeles Sparks and the New York Liberty. It was played in front of 14,284 people in Los Angeles at the Great Western Forum, which was also home to the Los Angeles Lakers. The game began with a ceremonial jump ball thrown by the new league’s President, Val Ackerman. 59 seconds into the game, Penny Toler, a Sparks guard, scored the first basket in WNBA history The New York Liberty won the game 67-57. Rebecca Lobo led the Liberty with 16 points. Lisa Leslie led the Sparks with 16 points and 14 rebounds while Toler added 15 points in the loss.
The new league was formed in April of 1996 and planned on its first game in June of 1997. With the backing of the NBA and three television contracts, they built a plan to be the first women’s professional basketball league to succeed in America. They were helped with a strong showing of female athletes in the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. The United States women’s basketball team took the gold medal after defeating Brazil 111-87 in front of 32,000 fans in Atlanta. This strong showing helped build up interest for the inaugural WNBA season.
The WNBA used the two teams in the biggest markets to play their first ever game. The Los Angeles Sparks and New York Liberty were two of the eight teams that made up the league. The other six teams were the Charlotte Sting, Cleveland Rockers, Houston Comets, New York Liberty, Phoenix Mercury, Sacramento Monarchs, and the Utah Starzz.
The 1997 inaugural WNBA season featured a 28 game regular season. The Los Angeles Sparks finished the regular season at 14-14 and failed to make the playoffs. The New York Liberty finished the regular season at 17-11. They went on to defeat the Phoenix Mercury in the semifinals to make the first ever WNBA Championship. The Houston Comets defeated the Liberty 65-51 to become the 1997 WNBA Champions.
Following the first ever WNBA game on this day in 1997, the league continues to grow in popularity and has succeeded in creating a longstanding professional women’s basketball league.
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“History of the WNBA.” WNBA.com - Official Site of the WNBA, WNBA, 3 May 2016
“New York Liberty at Los Angeles Sparks, June 21, 1997.” Basketball Reference