AP Was There: NBA approves plans to launch WNBA

February 23, 2022 GMT
FILE - Members of the WNBA teams model the uniforms they will wear in the upcoming season May 21, 1997, in New York. The NBA recognized the popularity of the women's game with the league's Board of Governors approving plans to start a new pro basketball league in the summer of 1997. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews, File)
FILE - Members of the WNBA teams model the uniforms they will wear in the upcoming season May 21, 1997, in New York. The NBA recognized the popularity of the women's game with the league's Board of Governors approving plans to start a new pro basketball league in the summer of 1997. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews, File)
FILE - Members of the WNBA teams model the uniforms they will wear in the upcoming season May 21, 1997, in New York. The NBA recognized the popularity of the women's game with the league's Board of Governors approving plans to start a new pro basketball league in the summer of 1997. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews, File)
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FILE - Members of the WNBA teams model the uniforms they will wear in the upcoming season May 21, 1997, in New York. The NBA recognized the popularity of the women's game with the league's Board of Governors approving plans to start a new pro basketball league in the summer of 1997. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews, File)
1 of 5
FILE - Members of the WNBA teams model the uniforms they will wear in the upcoming season May 21, 1997, in New York. The NBA recognized the popularity of the women's game with the league's Board of Governors approving plans to start a new pro basketball league in the summer of 1997. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews, File)

The NBA recognized the popularity of the women’s game in 1996 as its Board of Governors approved plans to start a new pro basketball league the following summer. The board approved the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) to begin play in June 1997 with the slogan of “We Got Next.” It started with plans for eight teams to play a 25- to 30-game schedule over 10 weeks in NBA cities. The Associated Press is republishing verbatim the story of the NBA Board of Governor’s decision on April 24, 1996:

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By HAL BOCK

AP Sports Writer

NEW YORK — The NBA, recognizing the popularity of the women’s game, intends to start a new pro basketball league for them in the summer of 1997.

“We are working on the concept,” commissioner David Stern said after the NBA Board of Governors approved the idea. “It’s all tentative. It’s a working model, subject to lots of changes.”

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Stern promised details about television arrangements, the number of teams and the cities in which they will operate by July 1.

“We are excited about the prospects of using the assets of the NBA and its teams to give life to a concept which is ready to bloom,” Stern said.

The league expects to play from mid-June to mid-August and Val Ackerman, NBA director of business affairs and liaison with the U.S. women’s national team, said she anticipates eight teams playing a 25-30 game schedule over 10 weeks in NBA cities.

Stern sees no conflict with the American Basketball League, a women’s circuit which plans to play in the winter.

“I don’t think it will be a conflict,” Stern said. “Players can pursue whatever opportunities they wish in the off-season, whether in Europe or in other pro leagues.

“Summertime is best for success from our perspective. We think the summer gives access to the best talent in the world. Play in other leagues would be allowed and encouraged. Like they say in the ad: ‘It’s about time.’ We are excited about the concept.”

In Europe, Ackerman said, good players earn from $1,500 a month to as much as $200,000 to $300,000 per year. “The average is about $70,000 and the best players get six figures,” she said.

Stern said the NBA concept is to launch the league as a single enterprise. Players would sign contracts with the league and be dispersed to teams on the basis of territorial-competitive considerations as well as through a draft. He emphasized that all of this was tentative.

“Today was just to get board approval,” he said. “We will be working in places around the calendar to make sure this succeeds. Our best assets are our cities, our buildings and our staffs and they will be made available. We will hopefully show the world’s best women in the world’s best arenas. I can’t imagine better circumstances.”

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Stern said the board was enthusiastic about the concept. “There was a strong statement of interest that this is a good idea, a right idea,” he said. ”This is another opportunity to grow the sport of basketball.”

And, Stern said, he expects the NBA’s women’s league to be a success.

“We don’t enjoy failing,” he said. “We’ve raised the stakes and we’ll make it happen. That’s the way we are. It’s time and we’re going to do it.”

In other business Wednesday, the league approved sale of the Philadelphia 76ers from Harold Katz to Comcast, a cable television company, and decided three tiebreaks for the college draft.

Minnesota won a tiebreak with Dallas for one extra chance in 1,000 to move up in the lottery. Detroit won its tiebreak with Atlanta for the No. 18 and 19 positions and Cleveland won its tiebreak with New York for the No. 20 and 21 positions.

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AP Corporate Archives contributed to this report.

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