These 10 have helped define the WNBA

Updated: June 12, 2006, 2:31 PM ET
By Nancy Lieberman | Special to

When the WNBA's All-Decade team -- the 10 best players in the league's 10-year history -- is announced during halftime of Tuesday's Sting-Mystics game (ESPN2, 7 p.m. ET), which players will hear their name called?

WNBA greats such as Cynthia Cooper and Sheryl Swoopes are easy picks, but with talented Tina Thompson and Janeth Arcain also an integral part of Houston's four straight championships, could the Comets land four players on the squad?

And when it comes to point guards, does Sue Bird already rank among the 10 all-time greatest players in the league?

We'll find out officially Tuesday night. In the meantime, here's my pick for the 10 best:

TAMIKA CATCHINGS (2002-present): Indiana's perennial All-Star has redefined the word "intensity" and how you play the game and at what speed you play the game. She is just relentless, both in every time she steps on the court and at getting better. She arrived in the WNBA with a great game, but worked on her handle and outside shooting to become one of the most complete players in the game. Opponents cringe when she comes to town.
CYNTHIA COOPER (1997-2003): Nobody was more clutch in pro basketball. She wasn't the most athletic, but she was the most efficient, and separated herself by how she played in big moments. With Jordan-like mentality and supreme confidence, Coop didn't care about being well-liked; rather, she cared about being the best and making her team win. For her career, the Comets star averaged 21 ppg and shot almost 46 percent from the field.
YOLANDA GRIFFITH (1999-present): I have never seen anybody attack a rebound like Yo does. But not only is the Monarchs star perhaps the game's best offensive rebounder, she also is a great finisher around the basket who runs the floor well. I've always called her "the accummulator" because of the way she racks up points, rebounds, steals and blocks.
LAUREN JACKSON (2001-present): The Australian star had a lot to prove when she arrived in the WNBA -- and has lived up to every expectation. She's extremely multi-talented, and the diversity of her game is her most impressive trait. And unlike most bigs who expand their game out, Jackson has expanded her game in and really benefited from Seattle coach Anne Donovan, who has redefined how Jackson plays on the block.
LISA LESLIE (1997-present): Long regarded as the best center in the world (though Jackson has certainly narrowed that gap), Leslie is the consummate pro with great focus and even greater desire, always pushing herself to be better. A defensive stalwart who's a master of blocking/altering her opponent's shots, she continues to expand her game, whether it's improving her 3-point shot or her ability to pass out of double teams.
TICHA PENICHEIRO (1998-present): In the league's early days, we truly needed players like Penicheiro, who played with flair and brought excitement to the floor. She not only makes people want to go to games to watch her passes, Penicheiro also makes the game fun for the players around her. The fact she is the league's all-time assists leader is impressive, but how she did it -- through creative and colorful passing -- is worth celebrating even more.
KATIE SMITH (1999-present): With a versatility that allows her to legitimately play anywhere from the one through the five positions, Smith is one of the game's most prolific scorers (last summer she became the first U.S. woman to score 5,000 points in pro basketball between her time in the WNBA and ABL). She has one of the best shots in the sport, and is big, strong, has a nice handle and is also a terrific passer. She has always elevated her game.
DAWN STALEY (1999-present): The ultimate extension of the coach on the the court, she's one of the game's greatest point guards. Staley's also a brilliant leader who has always been adored by her teammates, both because they respect her on the court and love her practical jokes and sense of humor as much as her fearlessness to get in their faces when needed. She's just a coach's dream.
SHERYL SWOOPES (1997-present): No matter the level (college, Olympics, pro) or year, Swoopes is one of the game's best. She has won at every stage of her career, and even at 34 last summer, was the easy MVP pick. She is always steady, with incredible separation speed and great range on her shot. A true individual talent, Swoopes also excels at making her teammates better.
TINA THOMPSON (1997-present): It might seem a disservice to label such a superstar a role player, but she was truly the glue between Swoopes and Cooper. Early on in her career, Thompson took a backseat to those two, all the while developing and refining her own game. She's an incredible shooter who's very methodical. She might not be the quickest player, but she's one of the smartest and very fundamentally sound with great countermoves.

Nancy Lieberman, an ESPN analyst and Hall of Famer, is a regular contributor to's women's basketball coverage. Contact her at

Nancy Lieberman

Basketball analyst / Writer
Nancy Lieberman, one of the most recognized individuals in women's basketball, is a men's and women's basketball analyst for ESPN. She works on ESPN and ESPN2's coverage of men's and women's college basketball, plus the WNBA and writes for