Commentary

What a season we should be in for

Originally Published: June 2, 2009
By Mechelle Voepel | Special to ESPN.com

Lisa LeslieD. Clarke Evans/Getty ImagesSparks center Lisa Leslie, who turns 37 in July, has said this will be her final WNBA season.
Lisa, Yo and VJ are farewell touring. LJ is back where she feels she belongs. Claw gives it another try. For these sagas and more, tune in for a "very special" WNBA season.

Sure, there are reasons you could be blue. Aren't there always? The league lost Houston last year. There are rumblings about Indiana's needing a big attendance boost (or else) this season. Roster cuts down to 11 are painful. The economy is doing its havoc dance with everything and everybody.

But even taking all that in, this really is a special season for the league. We're talking big, big picture here. It's a season for the historical record. It's the last hurrah for some of the greats of the game, such as Lisa Leslie and Yolanda Griffith -- one more chance for the young, rising stars to play side-by-side with them or against them.

It's the final season to see three iconic American players still in action at the same time: Los Angeles' Leslie, Atlanta's Chamique Holdsclaw and Phoenix's Diana Taurasi.

[+] EnlargeChamique Holdsclaw
Scott Cunningham/NBAE/Getty ImagesChamique Holdsclaw has averaged 17.7 points and 8.3 rebounds over her WNBA career.

Holdsclaw and Taurasi each won three NCAA tournament titles for their respective schools, those "little" outposts in Knoxville, Tenn., and Storrs, Conn. Both were so individually talented and charismatic that they were instrumental in popularizing the college game in the years when the Tennessee-UConn rivalry was in constant ascension.

Leslie didn't win a college national championship, but she has won everything else, including four Olympic gold medals.

Taurasi, who turns 27 on June 11 and is still in her peak years, has two Olympic golds and a WNBA title. She continues to be one of the most dependable and popular stars in the women's game. Holdsclaw, who is 31, always, always, always has been productive in the WNBA -- with career averages of 17.7 points and 8.3 rebounds -- but has no titles and has left teams on two occasions.

Signed as a free agent with Atlanta, Holdsclaw recently said on her Twitter page that she was kind of tired of answering the same questions about her return. Right now, I'm not asking her any. Basketball followers already know her story well, and I'm willing to bet her play will do the talking to show her commitment to the Dream.

Back in the South, not too far from where she became so comfortable and beloved in college, Holdsclaw -- if she's healthy and happy -- again could be one of the top forces in the league.

That's what Leslie -- who'll turn 37 in July -- has been since the inception of the WNBA in 1997, and her announced retirement after the end of this season will leave a gap no one player will fill.

Worshipped by some, semiloathed (sort of comically) by others and watched by everybody, Leslie just might go out with another WNBA championship. Especially if the one really big star in the league's constellation who is currently sidelined -- Candace Parker -- returns fairly quickly and successfully from giving birth in May.

If Leslie has been the "spokesmodel" of the WNBA, fellow future retirees Griffith and Vickie Johnson are more the dependable character actors. Griffith put up star numbers in the best seasons of her career and helped Sacramento win the 2005 WNBA title, but she pretty much just did her thing whether many folks noticed or not.

[+] EnlargeYolanda Griffith
Ron Hoskins/Getty ImagesYolanda Griffith played nine seasons in Sacramento, winning a title in 2005. After one season in Seattle, she is now with Indiana.

"Lisa started out being the face of the WNBA; she handles that stuff so well," said Detroit's practically ageless Katie Smith. "Yo is more … underground. She's personable, though, friendly. She's done it all."

Smith, who this season will attempt to help Detroit win its second title in a row and fourth overall, has been on the Olympic team with Leslie and Griffith. And Smith finished her college career the same year as Johnson, in 1996. VJ is still adored by a lot of Liberty fans, as well as by those of her current team, the Silver Stars.

She and the Liberty were never quite able to bring a WNBA title to New York, but she'll try to do it for San Antonio in her final season.

If VJ is hoping for a first title, LJ is thinking, "How many more might I get?" Lauren Jackson, who led the Storm to the 2004 WNBA championship, tested the market beyond Seattle, particularly in Phoenix, in the offseason. But she ultimately opted to stay put in the place she says feels most like home after her native Australia.

Players from all over the WNBA kept an eye on Jackson's decision-making process because, as San Antonio guard Becky Hammon said, "Lauren affects our whole league; she's just that kind of impact player."

Jackson, who turned 28 in May, said of staying in Seattle, "Basketball is basketball anywhere; you do it because you love it. But it makes it so much better when you're in a situation that you really enjoy."

If Jackson had opted for Phoenix, she'd be sporting the company name LifeLock prominently on her jersey this season -- similar to how it is with teams overseas. The WNBA and the Mercury announced Monday that LifeLock is sponsoring the franchise with a three-year deal. Advertising on uniforms is now, globally, a fairly standard practice and brings in needed revenue.

What the whole WNBA can advertise this season, though, is a stellar collection of the best. As long as none of the impending retirees changes her mind (Sheryl Swoopes' future in the league apparently is still undetermined), we will never pass this way again with this same cast of characters.

It's quite worth making time to tune in to this particularly star-studded season.

Mechelle Voepel, a regular contributor to ESPN.com, can be reached at mvoepel123@yahoo.com. Read her blog at http://voepel.wordpress.com.

Mechelle Voepel joined ESPN.com in 1996 and covers women's college hoops, the WNBA, the LPGA, and additional collegiate sports for espnW.