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Each week of the WNBA season, we'll go "All In" on five topics that are worth a closer look and preview what is upcoming. This week, we dive into the three WNBA inductees in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
There is no one more synonymous with Australian basketball than Lauren Jackson.
Her influence on the WNBA will last for generations. Her resume is as impressive as they come. Her trophy case is overflowing with well-deserved accolades.
But it almost never happened.
Jackson recently told Steve Smith of ESPN.com that after her rookie season with the Seattle Storm as the No. 1 pick in the 2001 WNBA draft, she went home to Australia for an offseason surgery and wasn’t sure if she would return to the United States and the WNBA.
“I had surgery when I came back [to Australia] and I remember thinking, ‘I’m never going back to America,’” she said. “It was just too hard, I was in too much pain. And then also 9/11 happened. I was very naive about the world, a little bit ignorant, and I was just a little country kid who lived in this bubble and the world was big and scary.”
Thankfully, that feeling didn’t last long and Jackson returned to team up with the Storm’s second straight No. 1 draft selection, Sue Bird, to win two WNBA championships in 2004 and 2010.
Along the way, Jackson won MVP three times, and earned Finals MVP, Defensive Player of the Year, eight All-WNBA selections, five All-Defensive Team picks and seven All-Star nods. She also led the Australian women’s basketball team to three silver medals and one bronze at the Olympics.
Those accomplishments could have continued to pile up if it hadn’t been for myriad injuries that derailed her career at age 31. However, her career has continued to be celebrated throughout professional basketball.
She was recently named to the WNBA’s “The W25” list of the top-25 players in the league’s 25-year history after also earning the nod for the All-Decade, Top 15@15 and Top 20@20 teams.
Jackson will become the first Australian inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
Yolanda Griffith paved the way for today's WNBA
Yolanda Griffith is already a Hall of Famer. A first-ballot HOFer at that.
Her inclusion in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame this weekend is just a final box to check in her illustrious career.
Griffith was inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in 2014 in her first opportunity and is part of the Florida Atlantic University Hall of Fame Class of 2006.
With the WNBA in its infancy, Griffith was among the first wave of players who set the table for the future of women’s basketball in the U.S.
She played in the short-lived American Basketball League (ABL) before the WNBA came calling. The struggling Sacramento Monarchs selected Griffith with the No. 2 pick in the 1999 draft. She instantly made an impact.
Griffith earned MVP, Defensive Player of the Year and Newcomer of the Year in her first season in the league. The Monarchs went 19-13 and made the playoffs that season. It was a remarkable turnaround after the team went 10-18 and 8-22 in its first two seasons.
From there, Griffith and the Monarchs continued to build.
Over her nine seasons in Sacramento, the Monarchs made the playoffs all but once. They finally broke through and won the 2005 WNBA title where Griffith was named the Finals MVP. The Monarchs reached the Finals again in 2006.
For a city that hasn’t seen much basketball success, her impact on the now-defunct franchise is especially important. Her tenacity in sticking with basketball also showed that there was a path for the fledgling league.
Griffith was a seven-time All-Star and made five All-WNBA and two All-Defensive teams in her WNBA career. She also played professionally overseas and was an All-Star in each of those leagues, according to the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame. She won two Olympic gold medals with the U.S. women’s basketball team.
Like Jackson, Griffith is part of “The W25” list along with the All-Decade, Top 15@15 and Top 20@20 teams.
While it may be long overdue, Griffith is well-deserving of this induction.
Without Val Ackerman, there wouldn't be a WNBA
Another WNBA figure being inducted this weekend is the WNBA’s first president, Val Ackerman, who was an integral part of the formation of the league.
Ackerman served as the league president from 1996-2005. She then became the first woman to be president of USA Basketball, serving from 2005-08. She currently serves as the Big East Conference commissioner.
Ackerman oversaw the WNBA’s inception then expansion to 16 teams. Her greatest legacy, though, is proving to sponsors and fans that the WNBA was worth investing in. Without her leadership in those early seasons, the WNBA would not be celebrating its 25th anniversary this year.
She knew that building a professional league would not happen overnight.
“We know it will take more than one or two years,” Ackerman told The New York Times in 1997 before the league tipped off. “This is a long-term investment. We are very focused on the quality of the product. From the front office to the coaches to the player, we want to make this first class.”
Her commitment to building something that would last started with securing deals with big-time sponsors and getting games telecast on ESPN and other networks. Even though there were bumps along the way, such as the too fast expansion plans, the league found solid footing under Ackerman’s tenure.
She is also a member of the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame Class of 2011.
Playoff races still up for grabs
With just more than a week until the regular season ends, playoff seeds and two spots are still very much up for grabs.
The Connecticut Sun, who haven’t lost since before the Olympic break, locked in a double-bye and a top-two seed with a wire-to-wire win over the Los Angeles Sparks on Thursday. After that, there are still scenarios for each team that has clinched to move up or down.
The final two postseason berths are also still up for grabs. And, technically, no team has been eliminated from contention yet.
The Las Vegas Aces, our preseason favorite to win the 2021 title, are currently the No. 2 seed, but have hit some road bumps lately.
Liz Cambage, who tested positive for COVID-19 even though she is fully vaccinated, has been out with no set return date. Dearica Hamby returned Wednesday after missing three games with an ankle injury.
The Seattle Storm also could be dealing with a significant injury issue after Breanna Stewart left Tuesday’s game with a foot injury. The severity is unknown. The Storm, Minnesota Lynx and Phoenix Mercury are all vying for the second double-bye.
What you might have missed
The Atlanta Dream named Morgan Shaw Parker as president and COO. Shaw Parker was VP and chief marketing officer at Arthur M. Blank Sports & Entertainment prior to joining the Dream.
Two-time MVP Elena Delle Donne suffered a setback in her return after back surgery, and her season could be in jeopardy.
What to watch this weekend
Liberty at Wings, Saturday at 8 p.m. ET on NBA TV — With the final two playoff berths up for grabs, a win here would propel one team closer to the postseason.
Sun at Mercury, Saturday at 10 p.m. ET on NBA TV — Both teams are unstoppable right now with the Sun on an 11-game win streak and the Mercury riding 10 straight wins. This is as close to a playoff preview as you can get.
Mystics at Sky, Sunday at 3 p.m. ET on ABC — The Sky have already clinched a playoff spot, but the Mystics need some help, especially if Elena Delle Donne is done for the season.
Storm at Sparks, Sunday at 9 p.m. ET on NBA TV — This is the first game since Breanna Stewart injured her foot, and the Sparks are still in contention for a playoff berth.