Never have so many deep sighs been uttered in response to a single question: who is your all-time WNBA Mount Rushmore.
“Oooh, just four?” Sue Bird asked. “All right. Oh man.”
“Oh no,” DeWanna Bonner said, as her teammate, Diana Taurasi, raced over to her and put her in a mock headlock. “Not me! Gosh, this is tough.”
But both Bird and Bonner pulled it together and participated in this highly unscientific survey across the league of players and coaches to determine who should be enshrined on a mountain representing the very best the WNBA has ever produced.
Some ground rules here: the entire exercise was intentionally vague. It wasn't not framed as "best" or "most memorable" or anything beyond “Your WNBA Mount Rushmore, go.” So this is an entirely subjective exercise.
And yet: the vehemence was strong! Everyone was quite ready to pound the table for their quartet.
Allie Quigley, now two-time defending champion in the WNBA's three-point contest, had a reason for each of her four selections.
“Cynthia Cooper (I wore her shoes growing up), Diana Taurasi (she’s the GOAT in every aspect), Courtney Vandersloot (best PG and teammate) and Maya Moore (all she does is win),” Quigley wrote in an email.
Cooper took home the most votes, getting named on all but three ballots, and hers is an easy case to make. She was already 34 when the WNBA began in 1997, yet managed to put up two of the ten best player efficiency rating seasons in league history en route to winning the 1997 and 1998 MVP honors, and helped lead her Houston Comets to the first four WNBA championships.
“She's a player who knew how to make the right basketball play at a level that's as good as I've ever seen,” Seattle Storm coach Dan Hughes said of Cooper.
Her teammates on those teams, Sheryl Swoopes and Tina Thompson, also received support on multiple ballots, with Swoopes getting four votes, and Thompson three. So much support for those early Comets makes sense—not only did they win four straight titles, their record in the playoffs over that span was 16-2.
Thompson was named on Diana Taurasi's ballot, along with Sue Bird, Lisa Leslie and Katie Smith. Taurasi did not name herself, but eight other voters did, making her the second member of our Mount Rushmore members. Sometime around the end of this season or early next season, Taurasi will pass Tamika Catchings for the all-time mark in WNBA offensive win shares. She is the league's all-time leader in points scored, three-pointers made, fourth in assists, and even top 20 in rebounds and blocked shots. She led the Mercury to titles in 2009 and 2014, and shows signs of doing it again, posting her best campaign in years so far in 2018.
“She doesn't rest on what she's done in the past,” her coach, Sandy Brondello, said of Taurasi. “And just that competitive spirit, you wish you had 12 of those because it's pretty special what she does. She's amazing.”
Joining Taurasi on Mount Rushmore is her longtime friend, fellow UConn alum and destroyer of all age curves Sue Bird, who reached her 11th All-Star Game last weekend in Minnesota.
Bird is the league's career leader in assists, led her Seattle Storm to championships in 2004 and 2010, and is as effective as ever at age 37 for a Seattle team that leads the WNBA playoff race at the moment, and is a popular pick to once again win it all.
Brondello calls her “the best point guard to ever play the game,” and no one this side of Ticha Penicheiro can really argue. She received five votes.
The final member of the quarter on WNBA Mount Rushmore is Lisa Leslie, who celebrated an anniversary on August 1. 16 years ago, Leslie did this:
And to be clear, there's also a statistical case to be made for Leslie's greatness: eight-time All Star, three-time MVP, two-time Defensive Player of the Year, and two-time WNBA champion in 2001 and 2002. But a big part of Leslie's inclusion here, from many players who never played with or against her, is the iconic figure she cut: size, athleticism, and versatility all in a single player who was dominant to the end (her final season PER of 23.0 was seventh in the league).
Rounding out the voting was Hall of Famer Rebecca Lobo, who texted “Hmmm : Swoopes, Lisa, Diana, Maya (but hard to leave off Coop and Sue…).”
Some final thoughts: I don't think there's any way to keep Maya Moore off this Mount Rushmore, not now, certainly not by the time she nears the end of her career. Not with four championships already, not with what she brings to every team she plays on. Moore is quietly on pace to be the consensus best player in the history of the league…
…which would lead her past Tamika Catchings, who to my mind is an inexcusable omission from this Mount Rushmore as well. Remember how Taurasi is about to pass Catchings for most offensive win shares? Right, well, that's one side of the ball. Catchings is also the league's all-time leader in defensive win shares, with 36.52, and only Lisa Leslie has even eclipsed 30. Her total is 93.65—next highest is Lauren Jackson with 73.07. Put another way, by this measure, Catchings isn't just the greatest player in league history, she's more than 20 percent better than anyone else.
She won a title in 2012, reached the finals in 2009 and 2015, and her team made the playoffs virtually every season. She did this without bonafide second stars virtually her entire career. But she did it in Indiana, and I guess that doesn't count or something?
Here are the vote breakdowns, and the participants. I'm going to go watch some old Tamika Catchings game film.
Cynthia Cooper 9
Diana Taurasi 8
Lisa Leslie 7
Sue Bird 5
Sheryl Swoopes 5
Tina Thompson 3
Lauren Jackson 2
Maya Moore 3
Courtney Vandersloot 1
Katie Smith 1
Dawn Staley 1