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Best Female Basketball Players

Publish Date: 28.06.2024
Fact checked by: Emily Carter

Basketball is one of the most unique sports in that, unlike many other contests, there is a professional path for both men and women. Female athletes can play the game at all levels, which has helped the WNBA rapidly rise in popularity as of late.

There are a few reasons for that increase, but the biggest is the athletes. There are many iconic women basketball players, and they have brought a lot more eyes and excitement to their game. Even so, as with the NBA, a few stand out among the pack.

The league has a long history of strong players who redefined what was possible and pushed the boundaries of women’s sports. While there are many great current WNBA players, when looking at the best of all time it’s important to cover the organization as a whole.

Maya Moore

1. Maya Moore

Many professional athletes get to the top and stay there, especially ones as dominant as Maya Moore. The ex-forward played for the Minnesota Lynx for the entirety of her seven year career after being selected first overall back in 2011.

Coming into the league with high aspirations, she more than lived up to the hype. Not only did she put up impressive stats, but Moore is one of the only women athletes to win a WNBA Championship, an Olympic gold medal, a FIBA world gold cup, and an NCAA title.

She also won four rings in the WNBA and played in six all-star games, all while averaging 18.4 points, 5.9 rebounds, and 3.3 assists a game. That statline, mixed with her winning prowess, kept her at the top for a long time.

Despite that extended success, in 2019 Moore abruptly decided to step away from the game and focus on criminal justice reform. While it started as a side passion, she eventually retired and now serves as a role model for athletes that want to branch out during their later years.

2. Diana Taurasi

Another first overall pick, Diana Taurasi entered the WNBA after being selected by the Phoenix Mercury in 2004. While she started slow, the shifty point guard quickly found her stride only after a couple of years in the league.

She led the Mercury to a championship in 2007, and would lead them to two more in 2009 and 2014. Those three wins were then backed by 10 all-star games, two finals MVPs, and five scoring titles.

On top of that, Taurasi broke the record for most points scored in a single season. That alone puts her as one of the best scorers to ever play the game, and reveals how unstoppable she was on the offensive side of the ball.

Taurasi also makes this list because of her international career. She played for many teams overseas in several different countries, which helped further women’s basketball around the world. That made her a global ambassador who pushed the sport as a whole.

3. Tamika Catchings

Most top WNBA stars are known for their offensive prowess or shooting ability. Indiana Fever legend Tamika Catchings gained notoriety for how well she played on the other side of the ball.

The third overall pick was an incredible defensive force from when she first came into the league, and continued to be one throughout her entire career. She took home a record five Defensive Player of the Year Awards and made 10 All Defensive First Teams.

Beyond that, the athletic small forward won an NBA championship in 2012 while also taking home Finals MVP that same year. Those two accolades cemented her as one of the best in the game, and pushed her from just a defensive player to a true superstar.

4. Cynthia Cooper

When looking at who is the best female basketball player, it’s impossible to ignore Cynthia Cooper. A true pioneer, the guard makes this list due to her past dominance as a player and true dedication to the game. Unlike other stars, she came into the WNBA late at the age of 34.

That occurred because Cooper played during the WNBA’s inception. She spent most of her early years playing across several European leagues before coming to America in 1997 and dominating the early landscape of female basketball.

A pure scorer and seasoned veteran, Cooper led the Houston Comets to three championships and took home Finals MVP in each one. She also won back-to-back MVPs in 1997 and 1998, and quickly set the bar for other stars who came after her.

There have been many strong athletes in the WNBA, but none have been able to make their mark as quickly or as swiftly as Cooper. She had no weaknesses, was a strong leader, and won until her retirement.

5. Sheryl Swoopes

The Houston Comets dominated the early years of the WNBA largely due to Cynthia Cooper, but she did have help. That,mainly came in the form of Sheryl Swoopes, a strong guard who put up great statistics during the Comets’ four year championship run.

Swoopes quickly gained notoriety due to the fact that she had no weak points in her game. While many players are good at scoring or defense, it’s extremely rare for someone to be good at both. That goes double for those at a professional level.

Swoopes broke that mold in several ways. Not only did she score her way to three MVP awards, her strong defense and stellar basketball IQ led her to six all-star games and three Defensive Player of the Year Awards. Few players have ever been able to match that complete package.

6. Lisa Leslie

No women basketball player has ever reached a higher level of fame than Lisa Leslie. The towering center entered the WNBA during its inception, and she quickly made a name for herself due to her strong stats and unmatched athleticism.

Not only could she shoot, score, and play defense, but on July 30th, 2002 she became the first woman to dunk in a basketball game. That pushed her into the public eye and showed that there were still barriers to be broken within women’s sports.

Leslie had a dominant career and led the Los Angeles Sparks to back-to-back titles in 2001 and 2002 alongside the Lakers historic run. She took home three MVP awards as well. Such accolades are why she’s still considered to be one of the pillars for women’s sports.

7. Elena Delle Donne

Elena Delle Donne is one of the best female basketball players of all time simply due to her unmatched shooting. She exploded onto the scene in highschool when she set the record for most consecutive free throws made and won a state championship.

She continued that dominance into college and then the WNBA. Not only did her shooting and three shot take her to seven all-star games, it also earned two league MVPs (2015, 2019), four All-WNBA First Teams and a rookie of the year award.

On top of that, she is still the only women’s basketball player in the 50-40-90 club. That incredibly rare achievement refers to when someone shoots over 50 percent from the field, 90 percent from the free throw line, and 40 percent from three.

That mark by itself puts Donne into a league of her own. While her other achievements rounded out her career, nobody has ever had a season that consistent in league history.

8. Brittney Griner

Like Lisa Leslia, Brittney Griner is a WNBA player who earned an unmatched level of fame and entered the public eye. That’s because she came into the league with a level of speed, strength, and athleticism not often seen.

Though all female basketball players are skilled, well-rounded athletes, Griner differs a bit due to her size and strength. Standing at 6’9, 205 pounds, she’s a solid body down low and is able to play the post or defend the rim with ease. She became known for her dunks too.

Griner also has a lot of finesse and is able to pop out for different shots when the situation calls for it. That combination of strength and touch make her a multi-dimensional threat who also excels under the rim.

As such, it should come as no surprise that she’s made nine all-star teams, won two Defensive Player of the Year awards, and helped the Phoenix Mercury win an NBA championship back in 2014.

She also completely changed the way centers played in the WNBA. Her sheer dominance down low opened the door for other big centers with a strong basketball IQ to get more physical than they had in the past and use their bodies on both sides of the ball.

Conclusion

The WNBA hasn’t been around nearly as long as the NBA, but it still has quite the history of great players and dominant athletes. There have been many women who took over the league, set new records, and broke athletic barriers.

All of the above women stood out from the pack in one way or another. Some did it with scoring, some played incredible defense, and some just led their team to victory time and time again. Either way, their legacies are cemented for a reason.

Though they have big shoes to fill, a lot of current players are doing what they can to make their own mark. Dunks, long distance shots, and record-breaking streaks are becoming more common with each year and there’s no telling what will come next. The future of the WNBA is bright like never before.

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