WNBA’s “top 20 at 20” honored during Finals game

Sixteen of the WNBA's top 20 players of its first 20 years were honored in a halftime ceremony at Sunday's Finals Game 1. Photo courtesy of WNBA.
Sixteen of the WNBA’s top 20 players of its first 20 years were honored in a halftime ceremony at Sunday’s Finals Game 1. Photo courtesy of WNBA.

Earlier this season, the WNBA selected the top 20 players of the league’s first 20 years. At halftime of WNBA Finals Game 1 Sunday, 16 of those athletes were honored in a halftime ceremony.

Those who were not playing in the game answered questions prior to tipoff. Their answers follow.

Becky Hammon

How does it feel to be included in this prestigious group?

“I feel extremely blessed. I feel really fortunate to come into the league when I did. I played against Sue Bird, Maya Moore, and Diana Taurasi. I played against everybody. It’s exciting to be here and reconnect with all these women.”

What’s your favorite moment throughout your career?

“When we played Houston in the Finals and Teresa Weatherspoon hit that shot, it was a great moment for myself and the Liberty but also the WNBA. Another great moment was when I went to the Finals with the Stars in 2008. There’s also been a lot of great moments in the Olympics.”

What are your expectations for the WNBA Finals 2016?

“It’s going to be a great Finals. Both teams have very talented groups. It’s going to be interesting.”

Sue Bird

How does it feel to be included in such an elite group of players?

“It’s obviously a tremendous honor. You look around the room right now and see some of the players in here and some of the names – these women are some of the best basketball players to have ever played. They help start the league in a lot of ways. To know that I’m in that group is very much surreal. It’s just incredible.”

How many years do you have left in the tank?

“I don’t know. I joke that I’ll just play until the wheels fall off. It’s kind of my little mantra now. I think whether it’s mental or physical, something catches up, and you know when it’s time. So I’m just going to see how it plays out.”

Swin Cash

How does it feel to be included in such an elite group of players?

“It feels pretty good. To finish out your career and be in a position to look around the room with players that you once looked up to when you watched and also players you played with and against. Now, to finish out your career and be in this elite company has been pretty special.”

On retirement

“I’m navigating all those things right now. I’m navigating the urge that I have to plan and prepare for next season – the workouts, watching what you’re eating, all those different things. Just right now, focusing on what’s the next step and taking it slowly and enjoying the rest.”

Do you want to pursue a career broadcasting or do you want to keep your options open?

“I definitely have my options open. Obviously, we’ll continue to pursue television work, that’s the foundation that I’ve set for myself over the last decade or so, working in television. But I’m looking at other opportunities as well. Hopefully, in the next few months, you’ll see me around, and see me engaged in the WNBA and NBA.”

Tamika Catchings

How does it feel to be included in such an elite group of players?

“It’s awesome to be able to kind of look around the room and seeing somebody who I watched my first year, coming out of my freshman year in college when the W was just getting started. These were the players that I watched. They were my role models. Now, to be part of that group that other players are looking at and trying to emulate their game on mine, and they copy all the things that I do. It’s just a blessing. It’s a blessing to be part of a group that will forever go down in history. Hopefully, we’ll be going into year 25, year 30, year 35, year 40, and just continue to celebrate the league.”

On her final game and the moment she shared with Briann January on the court

“Ah, man. The memories. The good times and the bad times. But being able to finish with someone like [Briann January], and having eight years in with her – pretty much half of my career. She’s just a phenomenal person more than anything. You don’t think about the impact you have on somebody or somebody else has on you until you look back. In that moment, the game before was more emotional with the postgame party and all of that. Everybody is crying. Then you get to my final game, and just like that it’s over.”

Cynthia Cooper-Dyke

How does it feel to be included in this group of 20 players?

“It’s amazing. It’s always surprising to me how much talent is currently in the WNBA and was in the WNBA. I love the fact that we can almost reunite and kind of interact with each other. I’m truly honored because sometimes some of the older players – the pioneers – get left off certain lists. But I’m truly honored to be a part of this top 20.”

On the tate of the league now compared to when it started

“I think the first thing that goes through my mind is longevity. When you see the talent that’s currently in the WNBA, you know that the WNBA is going to be around for a while. Then, when you see the talent that was thee when I played, I’m just amazed. They look great and it’s so god to see everybody again. I just feel honored. When you’re growing up and you’re playing professional basketball. You never dream of being in the top 20 ever of the WNBA. You never dream of that. So, to be in the top 20 is truly something very special.” 

Lisa Leslie

How does it feel to be among the best players in league history?

“It’s really an honor. All of these women that I’ve played with and against, teammates in college or Team USA, it’s been an outstanding career and I’m really proud of what we’ve accomplished. I think in the last 20 years, the comradery that we’ve created, the legacy that we’ve left and the future, I’m hopeful for the young ladies on this grand stage, using their voice and their platforms to be role models as well.”

What does it mean to be a player that younger players aspire to become?

“I’m happy that there’s so many women who have video tapes that they can refer to, YouTube videos now where they can see us and figure out what parts of our game that they want to emulate and get better. We grew up in a near where we really didn’t have access to watch Cheryl Miller and Ann Meyers of the world and see what they were able to do, so I think this is great. I think the talent level can continue to improve but the one thing that you can’t get and pass on is work ethic. That’s something I feel like this group has had an amazing amount of work ethic and that’s the part that I think the young players forget to emulate. We worked and practiced so hard, whether it was a game or not, our habits really created our ability to excel and continue to get better everyday.”

Where does this accomplishment rank among your decorated career?

“I think it’s an honor. Being a part of the WNBA from the beginning it’s never really felt like my basketball career, as much as it was to protect the platform, to be a role model and do the best that I could to reach fans and grow the game, I think I’ve always had that in my mind more than what legacy I’m leaving. I’m humbled to be among great women and hopefully according to votes, you have to hope you can stay in.”

Tina Thompson

How does it feel to be honored among the best of the best in the WNBA?

“I think it’s great. For some of us it’s our third time being honored as a top player in the WNBA. It’s amazing, considering there have been so many great players that have passed through the league, to be separated from a group of women that have consistently been considered the best of the best and then to be looked at as the top tier of that group is awesome. I don’t think that there was an easy day in this league throughout my career, when I laced them up and came to work. To be a part of this group is pretty awesome!”

How do you feel to become one of the best players in the league that younger players look up to?

“From the beginning of my career, my attitude has always been to pay it forward. Just because there was people before me that did the same thing and set an example that was easy to follow. The work wasn’t that easy but just setting the example was. I’ve always tried to be a professional and take the girls under my wing and help and guide them as much as possible. I think it’s awesome to be with a select group of players that is recognized. Hopefully the road for the current and future players will be easier.”

How excited are you about the future of the league?

“Extremely excited. Talent across the board, I think the league is in a great place as far as talent and personality. I challenge the girls to continue to remind themselves that the work is not over. We’re 20 years in but I would say that it’s 20 years young and there’s a lot of work to be done. I hope they take ownership in a sense that it’s there league and the little things, the details still need to be done in order for the league to be successful. I would say do away with the entitlement but take ownership of it being our league and continue to do the dirty work.”

Katie Smith

What does being among such an elite group of players mean to you?

“It’s a huge honor to be with a group like this, to be able to reminisce with this group and not just the battles that we had on the court. It’s just an appreciation for what we did, how hard we worked and how consistent all of us were over our careers. It’s truly an honor to be able to be recognized among your peers and obviously the fans.”

Is this something you think of when you think of your legacy?

“Yea, every once and a while you think about it when you have something like this, like ‘Aw man. I must have did alright.’ You don’t necessarily think about it all the time because when you’re in it you’re just playing a game, you want to do your job and you want to do great. When you look back at some of the things you’ve accomplished, it’s kind of surreal. It makes you feel blessed to be able to have done what you done, to be able to have this league. So you think about the whole big picture of what you had and you try to take advantage of it as much as you can.”

Where does this honor rank among your many accolades?

“It’s up there, with the championships. It’s probably above the first-team All-WNBA awards because out of the 20 years the league has been around, you’ve made an impact on the game, individually and obviously a unit to keep the league going.”

Cappie Pondexter

What does it mean for you to be amongst such elite company, as an active player?

“It means a great deal because all the people that I’m surrounded by here are everyone that I grew up watching, when the WNBA first started. Just to be around all these players today feels surreal but I’m very appreciative at the same time. It’s a huge honor.”

What does it mean for you to have young players looking up to you as one of the elite players in league history?

“It just means that I have to continue to go hard for the rest of my career. I still have about five more years left before I decide to retire so I want to learn as much as I can from these amazing women and continue to help the young women excel to the highest level that they can possibly make in the WNBA. At the end of the day, it’s not about the top 20 but maybe the top 50 down the road. That’s where my mindset is.”

Where does this accomplishment rank among your decorated career?

“I would have to say it’s up there in my top 5. Nothing compares to championships and gold medals but just to be able to be honored as the WNBA’s Top 20, and I’m still presently playing, says a lot. Hopefully I can continue to get better and finish off my career in a great way.”

Sheryl Swoopes

How does it feel to be included in this prestigious group?

“It’s an honor. Somebody asked me if it’s gets old. I don’t know how it could. This is a great group of not just basketball players but women. It’s an honor to be in the Top 20. There has been some great talent that’s come through this league. For me to be in this group, it’s an honor.”

What do you think is most important for the WNBA to keep growing?

“I don’t think you can ever get to a point where we’re comfortable. We can’t not work as hard because we made it 20 years. I think we all have to continue to do our part to market the league and keep the word out. We’ve been successful for 20 years. I think it’s up to all of us to help the market league and keep it around for years to come.”

Ticha Penicheiro

How does it feel to be included in this prestigious group?

“Wow. Coming from a small country like Portugal, I had never thought about playing in the WNBA. To be here today amongst greatness coming from Portugal is really unbelievable. I did have great teammates and coaches. They made me look really good. I put a lot of hard work into the game with dedication, but it’s definitely a great honor to be here. It’s hard. Sometimes, I pinch myself. It’s surreal.”

What was your favorite moment in your WNBA career?

“Winning the championship at home in 2005 in front of our fans. It was a packed house with 17,000 fans. We were chasing a championship for a while. Doing it at home and in front of our fans, it was a great accomplishment.”

What are you expecting to see in the WNBA Finals?

“Competitive games. Minnesota and L.A. were definitely the best teams throughout the season. With the new format, we are to see the two best teams playing in the WNBA Finals. So, I think it will be very competitive.”

Teresa Weatherspoon

How does it feel to be included in this prestigious group?

“At this very moment, I’m sitting down soaking it all in. I’m not reading their names. I’m looking at them. I’m able to talk to them. I’m able to touch them. We’re not competing at this moment. Our competitive juices aren’t flowing. We’re talking about our memories. We’re also talking about how important this league was when we walked in here. Hopefully, everyone can look at us and see an empowering group of women. We wanted to reach greatness. Every day, it was about excellence when we walked out there. It was about change. It was about being different and standing up for what we believe. It’s powerful.”

What’s favorite lesson from your WNBA career?

“Everybody talks about winning, but do you want to go the process of winning? There are going to be some heartaches, pain and struggles. If you’re willing to go through that process, you’ll meet with winning. It was important for us define what this league meant to us and little girls to come. That was a responsibility that we all must be held accountable for as players.”

Transcripts provided by the WNBA