Cynthia Cooper is arguably the best Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA) player of all time. Prefacing her greatness, her career was shortened due to her already being in her 30s by the time the WNBA was established. Despite this, she still won the first ever MVP, finals MVP, and championship in WNBA history. These accolades speak for themselves when talking about making history. Cooper also participated in the first WNBA All-Star Game (ASG), to solidify her place in top WNBA players of all time. All of her "firsts" warrant the comparison of Cooper to the likes of NBA legend and 11-time champion, Bill Russell, simply for the fact that they were some of the first to ever "do it" in their leagues.
Many people believe it was Cynthia Cooper who set the precedent for the WNBA and she showed it by being the first player in WNBA history to score 500, 1,000, 2,000 and 2,500 points in a career. In an interview where current WNBA players said who their best player of all time is, it was common for the players to claim Cooper "changed the game". This sounds a lot like NBA players Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, and Steph Curry, to name a few, who, like Cynthia Cooper, all "changed the game". Even being considered in the company of people who have changed the game is something special that automatically places players in GOAT conversations. Cooper was voted to be one of the top 15 WNBA players of all time in the 2011 ASG where it was a celebration of 15 years of the WNBA.
Winning Defensive Player of the Year four times is something that has not been in the WNBA. Tamika Catchings did it a whopping five times, something that has not been done in the NBA. An accomplishment like this makes Catchings's case for top WNBA players of all time very unique. This is just scratching the surface, though.
Among her colorful career, to go with her 5 DPOYs, MVP, Finals MVP, and ROY, she is also a 10-time All Star, 7-time All WNBA First Team, 10-time WNBA All Defensive First Team, and last, but not least, is the WNBA all-time steals leader. This is pure, all-around greatness. This is the type of resume that players like Kobe Bryant and LeBron James can boast. With these types of stats, Catchings has definitely earned a position in GOAT conversations.
It's one thing if a player in any sport is good in the regular season. That is a good representation of the production of the individual. Taking it a step further is if an athlete can continue their greatness into the playoffs with a good team around them and even making an impact to that team. Not only does Catchings have astounding regular season numbers, she leads the WNBA playoffs in all time scoring, rebounds, and steals. If anything has earned her this position on this list, it is this fact right here.
There are only two players in WNBA history that have recorded 3 MVP awards, and Lisa Leslie is one of them. Demonstrating dominance is something Lisa Leslie did consistently during her 12-year (1997-2009) career. Emphasizing consistency, Leslie grinded to being a top-five player in the league, All WNBA First Team, eight times. She got it done on the defensive end as well winning two Defensive Player of the Year Awards. She is a common icon to current bigs in the WNBA and set the standard for the future forwards and centers of the league. Tiffany Hayes and Stefanie Dolson, both current elite WNBA players, named Leslie as their GOAT.
Not only did she dominate the regular season, Leslie also excelled when faced with playoff pressure. Winning a finals as a role player is quite the accomplishment, but doing so as the best player on your team makes players go from good to great players. Lisa Leslie won two finals but also won Finals MVP for both respective finals. Performing under pressure is what has defined the greatest players of all time, and Lisa Leslie has been nothing short of that.
As a cherry on top to Leslie's stardom, she was the first person to dunk in a WNBA game. This is what widely popularized her and set her in stone as one of the greats. A feat like this is one that broke boundaries; especially during a time when womens' sports were not thought of very highly, the impact that this made to the league was tremendous.
Lauren Jackson is the only other player in WNBA history to have earned three Most Valuable Player Awards. Like Lisa Leslie, another legendary WNBA center, she was dominant in the league as a big, but something else that made her stand out is her shooting ability. Not every day does one come across a big that can shoot, especially in the time period we are talking about (2001-2012), before the wave of bigs learning how to shoot. So, this made her ability to stretch the floor unique, establishing her status as a franchise player on the Seattle Storm. Similar to Kevin Love or Lamarcus Aldridge in the NBA, her being a big, yet having a shooting ability was innovative to the league.
Packing on the accolades, Jackson definitely made her mark in the regular season, recording three WNBA scoring titles (2003, 2004, 2007). Not only did she show offensive prowess as well as defensive skill, winning DPOY in 2007, she showed out in the playoffs as well. In her two finals wins, she won Finals MVP in the second, 2010, and in that same year also won regular season MVP.
Consistency is something that Lauren Jackson clearly took very seriously, as well. She was selected for the All-WNBA First Team seven years, asserting her dominance as a top-five player in the league for many years.
Diana Taurasi is the only active player on this list, and she's here for a reason. She kicked off her career, setting the precedent for greatness early, by winning Rookie of the Year in 2004. Not too long after that she won the WNBA Finals in 2007. Then in 2009 she really joined elite all-time company by joining a club with a population of two. She won the regular-season MVP, the scoring title, the WNBA Finals, and the Finals MVP in one season. Cynthia Cooper is the only other person to ever do this.
Lacking no consistency, Taurasi was also selected for the All-WNBA First team ten times (2004, 2006-2011, 2013, 2014, 2018). For the years in which she did not make the First team, she was just shy achieving All-WNBA Second Team (2005, 2016, 2017).
When anybody is included in GOAT-level conversation, a question of their longevity is always arisen. Taurasi has made sure to make her mark on all-time numbers throughout her colorful career. Not only is Taurasi the all-time scoring leader of the WNBA, but she can also facilitate the rock to her teammates as well. Being able to score is great, but affecting and consequently benefitting the team around which one is put is something that is important in the criteria for being a great player. She shows this as only being #4 on all-time assists for the WNBA, showing individual dominance, but also prioritizing being unselfish.
Unfortunately, the greatness of Yolanda Griffith was cut slightly short as she, like Cynthia Cooper, did not have time on her side when the WNBA was established. Although she did play starting in 1993, it was not until 1999 when Griffith got drafted to the WNBA. Right out of the gate, Griffith put her greatness on display winning both MVP and DPOY in her first year in the league. This is an indication of pure dominance in the league that year as well as an accomplishment that only Michael Jordan and Hakeem Olajuwon in the NBA. Griffith is already with some very good all-time company.
She showed her individual dominance, which is not too uncommon today, especially how competition is much more intense. She also showed that she could play in a system, benefitting the team around her in 2005 when she won the WNBA Finals and Finals MVP.
In a game full of positions, it is a sign of greatness when somebody has mastered their position and is one with their role. Griffith showed nothing short of that as she was the WNBA rebounding champion in 1999 and 2001. Cleaning up the glass makes much more drastic of an impact that people realize, and it cannot go unnoticed when talking about greatness.