What makes a WNBA GOAT? We asked players how they define greatness in women's hoops (2024)

What makes a WNBA GOAT? We asked players how they define greatness in women's hoops (1)

What makes a WNBA GOAT? We asked players how they define greatness in women's hoops (2)

Meghan L. Hall

May 14, 2024 7:15 am ET

The Las Vegas Aces were 90 seconds away from their second straight WNBA title and looking for someone to deliver the dagger in Game 4 of the 2023 WNBA Finals against the New York Liberty.

Up four points on the road, the defending champs were fighting to build an insurmountable lead when Kelsey Plum tossed the ball to A’ja Wilson off a screen. The Aces’ superstar was now in a race against the shot clock from the top of the key, and in a move that will be remembered for generations, Wilson pivoted and launched a stone-cold fadeaway jumper to effectively clinch the championship.

The Aces’ last bucket of the game was pure brilliance. But as the celebration unfolded on the courtin Brooklyn, the moment led to a bigger question: Did Wilson, Finals MVP in hand, just become a GOAT — a greatest of all time? Orthe greatest of all time?

There is an abundance of ways to define greatness in women’s basketball, often with no correct, definitive answer.

On the college side, it’s why fans debate whether Caitlin Clark’s dominance at Iowa — without an NCAA title — still makes her the college GOAT or simply a transcendent superstar. The conversation has bubbled over into the 2024 WNBA season now that Clark is poised to make her debut Tuesday. Clark will soon play against other former college stars and some unequivocal WNBA icons — icons, Wilson says, who need to be recognized when having the GOAT or greatness conversation.

“I feel that we have to respect a lot of people who set the foundation for us to be who we are in the spaces that we’re in,” Wilson recently told For The Win. “I’m allowed to sit here in this story and have these conversations like this because of that foundation and because we’re standing on their shoulders. We have to be very, very respectful when we talk about people that came before us.”

To understand how perceptions of WNBA greatness differ, For The Win spoke with several players and experts about how they define greatness and why it can be so polarizing.

These answers have been condensed and edited for clarity.

How do you define greatness?

What makes a WNBA GOAT? We asked players how they define greatness in women's hoops (3)

(Wendell Cruz/USA TODAY Sports)

Candace Parker, retired: I think greatness is sticking to it and doing it for an extended period of time. I don’t think you can choose greatness in the short term. Greatness is something that you choose over and over and over again. And sometimes greatness is within each day — it’s getting up and doing a workout that you don’t want to. It’s the mindset that you have to continue to be great in the longevity that you choose within a sport, to continue to do something at an extremely high level.

Aliyah Boston, Indiana Fever: I define greatness as someone with a great work ethic and someone who is also a great teammate and a great leader — someone who just wants to learn.

Alysha Clark, Las Vegas Aces: For me, greatness is overcoming whatever obstacle is placed in front of you. That’s how I measure my own greatness and success. It’s like, OK, did I overcome this? Did I do better than I previously did in this area? Greatness is doing something that’s not common, that not everybody is able to do or has ever been able to do. When you have that measurement, I think it’s easier to pick out the greatest athletes because I don’t think there’s just one. I think there’s a plethora of people who exude greatness within the realm of sport.

What makes a WNBA GOAT? We asked players how they define greatness in women's hoops (4)

Natasha Cloud, Phoenix Mercury: When we talk about great players, the thing that kind of annoys me is that we only talk about offense. I feel like you have to be a well-rounded player and you have to add more than just your scoring ability. Did you make the people around you better? Did you also play defense? Were you able to impact the stat sheet across the board? Sometimes, we put way too much emphasis on just the scoring aspect. If you’re shooting 30 shots, getting 30 points and you’re also giving up 30 points on the defensive end, that’s not a good game for me. I think that’s [expletive]. That’s not a GOAT.

Ari Chambers, ESPN: I define greatness as pushing the boundaries, being innovative and filling a blank space. If you see something that’s missing ― like when Candace [Parker] saw the position-less basketball within the United States ― she brought that to the space. A’ja [Wilson] bringing Greek culture in a very loud way into the space. Angel [Reese’s] getting into the culture in general and being unapologetically herself because she’s able to do that. Women’s sports as an entity can’t just be overshadowed anymore, and [Reese] knows that she has nothing to lose by being her authentic self. She brought that into the space. There are so many examples of greatness by people filling in a desire, feeling ― a hunger for something that hasn’t been done before.

Do you believe that you have to win a championship to be considered one of the greats?

What makes a WNBA GOAT? We asked players how they define greatness in women's hoops (5)

(Sarah Stier/Getty Images)

A’ja Wilson, Las Vegas Aces: One hundred percent. But does it take away from your greatness? Not necessarily. In my eyes, when you’re talking about legendary and when you’re talking about having your name on that list, I would love to say that I was a champion. I was a winner. I put banners up. I have rings on my fingers. It’s not only because it’s bragging rights, but that’s what I worked so hard to get at.

Lyndsay D’Arcangelo, freelance writer: Not necessarily because we’ve seen it on the men’s side of things and in other women’s sports as well. There are great players who just were never able to get that championship ring. But let’s say they’ve done incredible things, in other ways and in other categories, on the court. Consistency matters more to me because if you’re a Rebecca Lobo or a Teresa Edwards, who was great year after year and established a legacy — they never won a title at the professional level.

What makes a WNBA GOAT? We asked players how they define greatness in women's hoops (6)

Ari Chambers, ESPN: Championships are a reflection of the team’s success, and to be great, you have to make your teammates great around you. I think that when it pertains to the greatest of something, you have to consider championships. It would be completely negligent to not include that in a legacy.

Mark Schindler, WNBA.com: Yes and no. I think greatness is broad. It depends on who and what is around you. It depends on who or what you’re up against. I think, in general, though, you have to be at least competing for championships to be considered great. There are a few players I could point to who never competed in a Final Four or W title [series] that I’d consider great. But, it’s all feeding into that aspect to sustained impact at the highest level. If you’re not in those spots at some point over a period of time, it’s a lot harder to meet the criteria.

If you could build a Mount Rushmore of WNBA greats, who are the four players you would have?

What makes a WNBA GOAT? We asked players how they define greatness in women's hoops (7)

(Brad Rempel/USA TODAY Sports)

Aliyah Boston, Indiana Fever: Candace Parker and Sue Bird. I would also put Sheryl Swoopes, and you know who else I’m going to put? Coach Dawn Staley.

Caitlin Clark, Indiana Fever: That’s so hard. It’s not fair because you can have such a long list. I’ll go with Maya Moore and Lisa Leslie. I probably have to go Cynthia Cooper. I’m going to put Sue Bird in there. Sue and Diana [Taurasi] at the last spot because those are two people that I got to watch a lot growing up.

Natasha Cloud, Phoenix Mercury: You have to put Sheryl Swoopes. I don’t think enough people give Candace Parker her flowers. She really changed the game from a force standpoint — you have to be able to extend, create space, and handle the ball. You also have to be able to play two ways. You have to talk about A’ja Wilson. I know that she’s new school, but I don’t know who checking her from the old school either. She’s really like that. I had the blessing of playing with Elena Delle Donne for so many years, and I don’t think people give her flowers, either. Elena Delle Donne had 50-40-90, the first player ever to do it with an MVP and a championship in the same year, playing on three herniated discs.

Angel Reese, Chicago Sky: Lisa Leslie, Sheryl Swoopes, Maya Moore, and I’m putting Seimone [Augustus] and Sylvia Fowles on there. Period.

Khristina Williams, Girls Talk Sports: I’m going to put Sheryl Swoopes… Maya Moore, of course. Candace Parker, of course. … I don’t know, there are so many. In the future though, of course, A’ja Wilson will be there, honorable mention. Yeah, honorable mention to A’ja Wilson. but Candace, man, what they did at Tennessee — and again, I bring back Shannon Bobbitt because I literally saw her in my neighborhood growing up, and she went to Tennessee and played with Candace and then she went on to the L.A. Sparks and had a WNBA career. But I used to love Tennessee growing up. That was the school that I cheered for even though I’m from New York.

Ari Chambers, ESPN: Candace Parker is my GOAT. Sheryl Swoopes. She came in and really made this flash with her involvement with the Houston Comets. Maya Moore’s gotta be in there. For my fourth one, I’m torn between Tamika Catchings and Rebekkah Brunson. If we’re talking about greatness, and if I’m staying true to the championships, Rebekkah Brunson has five. You have to consider Rebecca Brunson. But Tamika Catchings doesn’t get talked about enough with how impactful she was to the game. She exudes greatness. Candace. Maya. Sheryl. Catch.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misquoted Khristina Williams. The story has been updated, and we regret the error.

Who are some current college players that not enough people are talking about?

What makes a WNBA GOAT? We asked players how they define greatness in women's hoops (8)

(Photo by Peter Aiken/Getty Images)

Ari Chambers, ESPN: Aziaha James. I’m a big Aziaha James girlie. There’s a reason why NC State was in the Final Four between her and Saniya Rivers. Ta’Niya Latson. She’s a good one too. She had a stellar freshman year, and she’s just getting better. I am excited about her finding her footing. I’m looking forward to seeing how Laila Phelia’s transfer to Texas will play out for her because I don’t think she’s been able to reach her fullest potential at Michigan.

Mark Schindler, WNBA.com: I would highlight Serena Sundell. She’s such a high-level player and someone who does a lot of the little things that don’t always jump off the screen, particularly as a passer. She’s got a legit shot to be a first-round pick in the 2025 W Draft.

I’d also say Duke as a whole. Kara Lawson is building something special in Durham, and the run they made this year could be a very cool springboard for this group to a bigger level on the national stage as they return the majority of a very young and talented squad, while adding one heck of a recruiting class.

Are there some WNBA or college greats whose legacies you feel like are being forgotten in the conversation?

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Apr 7, 2024; Cleveland, OH, USA; South Carolina Gameco*cks head coach Dawn Staley celebrates with the trophy after defeating the Iowa Hawkeyes in the finals of the Final Four of the womens 2024 NCAA Tournament at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Brianna Turner, Chicago Sky: Janiah Barker is a really good player with Texas A&M. I got to see a little bit of her game early against South Carolina on March 8. I’m a fan of hers. I’m going to shout out every single player in Notre Dame. I have to give my alumni some support. I know Hannah Hidalgo has been getting a lot of love. That’s really exciting to see.

Candace Parker, retired: I would love to highlight Aaliyah Edwards. I think she’s going to be phenomenal at the next level. The WNBA is made for her. I can’t wait to see her excel. I also feel like Cameron Brink is going to really do well with the amount of space in the WNBA and with having three seconds in the lane defensively. Her length and versatility will help. I think those two are going to be the ones that will be special at the next level.

Lyndsay D’Arcangelo, freelance writer: I would say South Carolina as a whole. They did something incredibly amazing and went undefeated. There were nonstop articles, coverage and discussion about UConn’s dominance when they did it. Then South Carolina does it, and it’s a blip on the radar. Why is that? Why is it that a team that has been this dominant and wasn’t even expected to do what they did at the start of the season isn’t getting more attention? I think that the media at large gets locked into the trending topic, and that trending topic happened to be Caitlin Clark.

🏆38-0 🏆#NationalChampionship x 🎥 ABC / @Gameco*ckWBB pic.twitter.com/gtnXZtzs7b

— NCAA March Madness (@MarchMadnessWBB) April 7, 2024

Ari Chambers, ESPN: I think Cappie Pondexter needs to be talked about both on and off the court a lot more. [She’s] the reason why we can explore things. I think there’s been a lot of Breanna Stewart erasure ― of her college legacy lately, and that’s confusing to me. I don’t think we talk about what Breanna Stewart was able to do for Connecticut as much as we should when we discuss the legacies of collegiate players in particular. I think Candice Dupree and her efforts to be in and stay close to the game. We need to look at more too.

Mark Schindler, WNBA.com: Yolanda Griffith. She won a championship, anchored a very solid franchise for over half a decade and was routinely an All-W caliber talent who played well on both sides. Tamika Catchings is absolutely a player who doesn’t get enough love or shine outside of diehard circles. She was already special in her time, but when speaking on two-way players, the actual impact on winning and how she shows up in advanced stats and impact metrics is undeniable.

I think I would add Katie Smith as well. She’s a player who didn’t get to play in the W right away, and her play style would be even more understood today. Katie was an incredible shooter and off-ball mover. Probably the closest [comparison] I would’ve had for Caitlin Clark is Katie Smith when she originally played in Minnesota. She could really create as a passer and was super competitive.

Khristina Williams, Girls Talk Sports: When people talk about the GOATs, Cheryl Miller literally paved the way. I mean, come on! In a historical context, a lot of the women’s basketball history gets lost because of the lack of coverage and archives. Candice Dupree is another name. When she left the W, everyone forgot about her. But she was one of the most consistent players, a champion who didn’t get a ride off into the sunset or even an acknowledgment from the league when she retired. When I think about it more, Seimone Augustus didn’t get her just as well. I think that’s kind of messed up.

What makes a WNBA GOAT? We asked players how they define greatness in women's hoops (2024)

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