In this week’s #TBT, we speak with Rebecca Lobo, former New York Liberty center and current ESPN women’s basketball analyst, about her early involvement in the WNBA. Lobo was a charter member of the WNBA, which was established in 1997. She played for the Liberty, the now-defunct Houston Comets and the Connecticut Sun before retiring in 2003. The WNBA and ESPN have been affiliated since the league’s inaugural season.
Lobo will join play-by-play commentator Ryan Ruocco and reporter Holly Rowe on Sunday, June 14, in the second game of an ESPN2 WNBA doubleheader featuring the Minnesota Lynx and Phoenix Mercury. The earlier game pits the Chicago Sky at the Indiana Fever at 1 p.m., also on ESPN2.
What was it like being a part of the launch of the WNBA?
It was a dream come true. I’d spent my childhood wishing that professional women’s basketball existed in the U.S. and to be a part of the launch was invigorating and exciting. There were exhausting elements, too. Sheryl Swoopes, Lisa Leslie and I were the only players who initially signed with the league so we handled all of the media and promotional requests for months, but the whirlwind of it all was awesome.
What is your favorite memory from that first season?
I’ll never forget our home opener at MSG [Madison Square Garden]. There were over 15,000 people there and the fans were so loud that the players could not hear their names announced during introductions. We all looked at each other trying to figure out whose name was called so we’d know when to run out. It was a pregame frenzy like I’d never experienced.
How important was it to have ESPN televising the games?
ESPN’s support was huge for the WNBA. The ABL [American Basketball League] launched months before the WNBA but you couldn’t easily watch their games because they weren’t televised. ESPN’s presence (along with NBC and Lifetime) gave us legitimacy as a league. It was also important that the next generation of girls now had an opportunity to watch women’s basketball being played at the highest level. We are reaping the rewards of it now — as the current game is so much better than 18 years ago.
See the complete schedule of WNBA programming for the 2015 season.
Rachel Siegal contributed to this post.