If you’ve been following the WNBA since it’s first season in 1997, Yolanda Griffith and Lauren Jackson may be two of the stars you remember from the league’s very early incarnations.
Griffith and Jackson both entered the W within the league’s first five seasons, spanning pro careers much longer than their WNBA tenure, because women were (and still are) vastly underpaid domestically, which leads them to find professionally playing opportunities outside of America. In a 2021 Hall of Fame class that will include Paul Pierce, Ben Wallace, Chris Webber, and Chris Bosh, among others, Griffith and Jackson will be two of three women entering officially legendary status, being forever enshrined for their contributions to the game. Now, let’s take you through why.
Griffith was inducted into the 2014 Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in her first year of eligibility because she was cold as hell.
The Chicago-native was drafted No. 2 overall in 1999 but had been a professional for six years prior following a college career that ended in Florida Atlantic, which was then a Division II school. Griffith averaged 28.2 points and 16.0 rebounds per game en route to winning Kodak Division II Player of the Year honors in 1992-93.
Upon entering the WNBA in 1999, she won MVP and Defensive Player of the Year honors that same season and made the first of what became seven All-Star bids over her next nine campaigns. At her statistical WNBA peak, which ran from 1999 to 2006, she posted 15.1 points, 8.5 rebounds, 1.8 steals, and 1.2 blocks per contest while shooting 51 percent from the floor. This run included five All-WNBA honors (two first team), two rebounding titles, and a 2005 Championship with the Sacramento Monarchs, in which she was named WNBA Finals MVP, leading a three games to one victory over the Connecticut Sun. Amid all this, Griffith won two gold medals with Team USA in 2000 and 2004, Russian League Player of the Year in 2005, was named one of the WNBA’s Top-15 Players of All-Time in their 15-year anniversary list in 2011, and Top 20@20 in 2016. Most recently, she was named to the W25, where the WNBA named their top-25 greatest and most influential players in history.
The Australian native Jackson followed Tina Thompson, Margo Dydek, Chamique Holdsclaw, and Ann Wauters as the fifth No. 1 overall pick in WNBA Draft history (not including Dena Head from the 1997 “Elite” Draft, which came before the collegiate draft). Jackson, like Griffith — with whom she shares a collection of parallels — reached seven All-Star appearances in a nine-year span upon entering the league. Jackson’s statistical peak ran from 2002-2010, and through those nine seasons, she averaged 20.0 points, 8.0 rebounds, and 1.9 blocks per game on 47 / 36 / 84 shooting splits.
Jackson followed Sheryl Swoopes as just the third three-time WNBA MVP award-winner with honors in 2003, 2007, and 2010. She won the scoring title as many times, and helped lead the Seattle Storm to two WNBA Titles in 2004 and 2010, the second of which earned her Finals MVP. She was also named to the All-WNBA First Team on seven occasions, every year from 2003-to-2010 except for 2008. She was an All-WNBA Defender five times, and like Griffth, was named to the WNBA’s Top-15, 20, and 25 players of all-time lists.
Internationally, she’s put together one of the great resumes over the last 20 years. With Australia, she led the national team to three silver medals and a bronze from 2000-to-2012. She also won five WNBL (Women’s National Basketball League in Australia) titles and four WNBL MVP Awards. The 2020 Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame inductee has her No. 15 retired by the Storm.
Since the WNBA launched, the league’s been underrepresented, even criticized for who they are and what they do represent, and being encouraged to close its doors by many never wanting to give them a chance. After years of players fighting for it, the league finally upped its pay scale early last year, increasing WNBA player salaries by 53 percent, among other highlights. The game itself is also in the midst of a national explosion with the aid of today’s WNBA representatives like A’Ja Wilson, Breanna Stewart, Jonquel Jones and Candace Parker, but also the stars of the college game coming up like Paige Bueckers, NaLyssa Smith, and Caitlin Clark. We get here because of the contributions like those from Griffith and Jackson before them, and even the many others before them. As the game grows, it’s important to look back and shoutout those who helped bring it here.