The Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) is a women’s professional basketball league in the United States. A league corresponding to the NBA, the WNBA is the longest running team women’s league in U.S. history. It was founded in 1996 with the first full season taking place in 1997. The first two players to be officially signed into the league were Sheryl Swoopes and Rebecca Lobo on October 23, 1996. Upon conception, the WNBA consisted of 8 teams but has since grown to 14. A single season lasts 34 games from May to August with a break near the middle for the All-Star Game, and the playoffs taking place from late August to September.
The WNBA is split into to two conferences: the Eastern Conference and the Western Conference. Teams play the majority of their games against inter-conference foes (22) but also compete 12 times with teams from the other conference. As was mentioned earlier, the league takes a break from regular season play for an All-Star game. Taking place in July, the All-Star game is actually only one part of an entire weekend-long event. The best players from each conference compete against each other in the All-Star Game, with the players being voted onto their respective teams by the fans.
Following each regular season is the postseason or playoffs. Teams participating in the playoffs are the top four with the best record from each conference. There are two rounds played before the Finals. In the first round of each conference the team with the best record plays the fourth place team and the second place team plays the third place team. The playoffs then progress to the conference finals with the winners of each one playing each other in the WNBA Finals. The first two rounds are best-of-three series and the Finals is a best-of-five series.
The rules governing the WNBA are very similar to those used in the NBA with only a few exceptions. The WNBA utilizes a shorter three-point arc, a smaller ball, and 10-minute quarters instead of 12. Many of the current rules were put in place in 2006, shifting the WNBA from a college basketball style to a style more similar to the NBA.
Many WNBA teams have NBA counterparts that are based in the same city and play in the same venue. The Connecticut Sun is the only team without an NBA counterpart, while the Chicago Sky is the only team to play in a venue different from that of their NBA counterpart.
The WNBA is divided into two conferences. As of 2007, six teams comprise the Eastern Conference and seven teams comprise the Western Conference. Each team plays a 34 game regular reason schedule. The four teams with the winningest records for the seasons participate in the WNBA playoffs during September.