Welcome to the world of basketball, where superstars reign supreme and everyone is just looking to build the next dream team.
Professional basketball is made up of four quarters lasting 12 minutes each. Five players on each team are on the court at the same time. The point of the game is to shoot a basketball in a hoop to get the most baskets (and the most points). A basket counts as either two or three points, depending on how far the shooter was from the basket they hit the shot. Courtside seats gives fans unprecedented access to the players, so basketball brings out celebrity sightings like no other sport. Just check out the dynamic combo of Chris Rock, Amy Schumer, Tracy Morgan and Leslie Jones . Can we get in on that or what?
How is it organized?
The highest level of the sport is the National Basketball Association aka NBA and the Women's National Basketball Association aka the WNBA. Let's start with the NBA. The league is divided into two conferences (East and West), and each of those conferences are further divided into . There are 30 teams in the league, including 29 in the U.S. and one in Canada.
The best of the best
The reigning champions are the Toronto Raptors. In June 2019, they became the first time a team outside of the United States to win a NBA championship. How'd it happen? Well, a blockbuster deal in the summer of 2018 sent longtime Toronto favorite DeMar DeRozan to the San Antonio Spurs in exchange for superstar Kawhi Leonard. The rest, as they say, is history. Kawhi led the underdog Raps all the way to a championship with the help of supporting cast Kyle Lowry (a seven-season Toronto veteran), breakout star Pascal Siakam and three-point shooter Danny Green. Their championship came over the NBA powerhouse Golden State Warriors, who had previously won in 2015, ‘17 and ‘18.
But then…Kawhi switched gears and turned down a Toronto contract to play for the LA Clippers in sunny California where he grew up. He was joined by Paul George and the duo will be a force to be reckoned with. Meanwhile, LeBron James also built a of his own in the same city with Anthony Davis and Danny Green on the LA Lakers. And then there’s 2019 NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo (pronounced YAWN-IS ANT-TET-TA-KOOM-PO), whose Milwaukee Bucks will also be in the mix.
Play like a girl (it’s better that way)
The WNBA is one of the best professional sports leagues for women in North America as these basketball bosses actually get airtime on top sports networks. Keep your eye on:
- WNBA legend Candace Parker (Los Angeles Sparks)
- 2018 league MVP Breanna Stewart (Seattle Storm) who missed last season with an Achilles injury
- Reigning WNBA MVP Elena Delle Donne (pronounced EL-ENA DELL-A DON) who led her Washington Mystics to the championship last season. What a star.
- 2020 No. 1 draft pick Sabrina Ionescu of the New York Liberty
Wow! Can I get more info on the WNBA?
Absolutely! The WNBA season runs from May until late September or early October, with each of the 12 teams playing 34 regular-season games. The league has actually been around since 1997, though only three teams remain from inception: the New York Liberty, Los Angeles Sparks and Phoenix Mercury. Go deeper on how the league is organized .
These women still have a long way to go before reaching parity with their professional male counterparts, but it probably helped that the WNBA Final saw Connecticut Sun take the Mystics to a thrilling Game 5, winner-take-all showdown that garnered national attention and a sellout stadium in Washington.
And in 2020, we finally saw the WNBA bet on itself by signing a groundbreaking new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) that will significantly benefit the players. Among other things, players receive an increase in salary that improves the average compensation from $79k to $130k (!!!) with the league’s top players set to earn $500k — more than three times the previous maximum. Cardi B would be so proud.
- It also includes added bonuses for top players, guaranteed fully paid maternity leave, better travel conditions and mental health resources. And maybe the most notable addition: access to offseason job opportunities with the league to limit the number of women playing in leagues overseas to make ends meet, which has become a nagging necessity for WNBA players. Can we get a hell yeah?!
There’s obviously still a long way to go before there’s parity with the men’s professional leagues. That being said, this is a BFD — the WNBA listened to its players and took their input into account more than ever before. It’s refreshing to see a league partner with its players and bet on its women to move closer to closing the inequality gaps that still exist in women’s sports.
Don't get The GIST’s free twice-weekly newsletter yet? Let's make it email official.