For 20 weeks, to commemorate the WNBA’s 20th season (the MSR having covered each season), the MSR sports section will feature a column or article on the W in our “20 in 20” series. This week: the next 20 years.
History was made earlier this year when for the first time a Black individual pro sports league leader was succeeded by another Black individual when Lisa Borders took over for Laurel Richie this past spring. Borders delivered her first “state of the league address” in Minneapolis a couple of weeks ago. The WNBA president traditionally does this about an hour before the start of the championship finals.
“I’ve had the privilege now of serving as president for just over six months,” said Madame President to the media contingent, including the MSR. “I want to give a tip of the hat to my predecessors. There were three, and each of them brought unique talents to this job. They laid some incredible foundation for me and for those of us who have the privilege of leading and working in the league today.”
“The game is stronger than it’s ever been,” declared Borders. “Our players have done amazingly well with the format that we put in place this year, and the business is incredibly healthy.”
Borders elaborated on this during an MSR sit-down interview.
“We are 20 years old,” she proudly pointed out. “That is remarkable, but that’s really young.”
A point Borders stressed to the media was unveiling the league’s “integrated approach of marketing our product early in the season along with our big brother, the NBA, where you’ve got a captive audience of basketball fans” during NBA telecasts. This is something many of us have pushed for for years — promoting the W more in the off-season as their “big brother” and the NFL endlessly promote themselves.
“We want to be sustained,” said Madame President.
“I’ve really been impressed with the job Lisa has done this year,” said ESPN’s LaChina Robinson to the MSR on the first-year league president.
Borders referred to “data points…the gradual and productive changes” both on and off the court. “We finished our regular season with the highest per-game scoring average in history at 81.9, the highest per-game number of field goals made at 29.8. The 44.1 field goal percentage was the highest in history, as well as our free throw percentage at 79.8, and assists at 17.6.”
A new playoff format, with first- and second-round elimination games, brought first-ever excitement to the league, which still fights for major league acceptance among mainstream sports fans and media. “Each of our teams was eligible and available to play in these playoffs, but what we did was say, it doesn’t matter what conference you’re in, we’re going to take the top eight teams and put them into the playoff schedule,” boasted Borders on the end result: the league’s top two teams, Minnesota and Los Angeles, playing for the W crown.
“We’re excited about all of that from a product standpoint,” stated Borders.
“We can’t not work as hard [just] because we made it to 20 years,” said Sheryl Swoopes, a member of the WNBA 20@20 team. “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,” concluded the hall of famer. “I think it’s up to all of us to help market the league and keep it around for years to come.”
“I think the league is in a great place as far as talent and personality,” added Tina Thompson, Swoopes’ teammate both with Houston and the 20@20 team. “I challenge the girls to continue to remind themselves that the work is not over. I hope they take ownership in a sense that it’s their league and the little things, the details, still need to be done in order for the league to be successful.”
“[It’s great “to do good things and great things one season, [but] we want to repeat them every year,” concluded Borders.
Read more on the WNBA on MSR News Online.
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to email@example.com.
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.