The basketball community lost one of its giants last year. David Stern passed away on January 2nd, 2020 after being hospitalized for weeks due to a brain hemorrhage. He will be sorely missed and his impact on the game both locally and abroad will be felt for many, many years to come. As much as Stern is credited for his advancement of the NBA, he is also one of the most important figures in the advancement of women’s basketball as well.
David Stern was behind perhaps the most important event in women’s basketball history, the formation of the WNBA. This was extremely significant for many reasons. First being that the women’s game was vastly more popular overseas than in the states. But American women were the best players. Stern along with people like Val Ackerman allowed these ladies to showcase their abilities on familiar soil. This really changed the game for lady hoopers here in the US. Before the inception of the league, if a woman wanted to have any type of post-college basketball career they had to be prepared to pack up and head across the water. Stern not only gave these ladies the opportunity to play the game they love at home but he also allowed their families and loved ones the chance to see them play at the highest level.
Stern expounded on the framework laid by the ABL (American Basketball League). The ABL was a good league with high quality basketball. There were just some structural and financial issues that prevented them from taking off. The WNBA had the infrastructure and monetary backing of the NBA. Also, the ABL ran its season during the winter months. The W filled the void of hoops dead space fans faced every summer. Stern’s vision along with the considerable resources at his disposal allowed him to create the ultimate platform for women’s basketball to have a lasting presence domestically.
Stern’s innovation and resourcefulness helped guide the NBA through arguably the most turbulent time in its history. And in 1997, he made history again when the New York Liberty and the Los Angeles Sparks played in the first ever WNBA game. With this, young ladies were now able to live out their hardwood dreams here in America. Since then the WNBA has continued to make history. They are the first women’s pro sports league to remain in operation for ten consecutive seasons, the first to be invited to the White House and the first to sign a collective bargaining agreement.
Though there are still many hurdles to overcome to achieve full gender equality in sports, all the women who’ve had the chance to take the court for a WNBA franchise and the ones who will in the future are thankful for Stern taking the initial step in putting women’s basketball on the grandest stage this country has ever seen. It’s only right for the game’s best players to be able to compete at home.
Stern gave women’s basketball its greatest gift ever and 24 years later, the WNBA is in a great place. The league is at a very important crossroads in its history and this is the perfect opportunity to make the dream come full circle so these ladies can have the platform they need and deserve.