Since the inception of the WNBA in 1997, 25 women were chosen with the #1 overall draft pick. We’ve compiled a complete list of the #1 pick in the WNBA Draft, including Chamique Holdsclaw, Sue Bird, Diana Taurasi, Candace Parker, Lauren Jackson, Tina Thompson, A’ja Wilson, Brittney Griner, and Sabrina Ionescu.
The WNBA started its inaugural season in 1997 with eight teams. The WNBA held two drafts that year, and teams selected players from two different talent pools.
The first pool of players, known as the WNBA Elite Draft, included former collegiate players who were playing overseas in other professional leagues in Europe, and Asia.
The second pool of players featured your typical collegiate draft from the NCAA ranks.
In the 1997 WNBA Elite Draft, Dena Head became the league’s first overall #1 pick by the Utah Starzz. She previously played for the Tennessee Lady Vols under legendary coach, Pat Summit.
During the 1997 regular collegiate draft, the Houston Comets selected USC star Tina Thompson with the number one pick in the inaugural WNBA draft.
Pioneers of Women’s Pro Basketball
In 1997, the WNBA’s eight teams all played in markets that already had NBA teams. The WNBA divided its league into East and West conferences.
The Western Conference included the Los Angeles Sparks, Sacramento Monarchs, Utah Starzz, and Phoenix Mercury.
The Eastern Conference included the New York Liberty, Houston Comets, Cleveland Rockers, and the Charlotte Sting.
LIST WNBA FIRST 5 #1 DRAFT PICKS
1997 (Elite) Dena Head (Utah Starzz)
1997 Tina Thompson (Houston Comets)
1998 Margo Dydek (Utah Starzz)
1999 Chamique Holdsclaw (Washington Mystics)
2000 Ann Wauters (Cleveland Rockers)
In 1998, two more franchises — the Detroit Shock and the Washington Mystics — were added to the WNBA. In 1999, the WNBA expanded to 12 teams with the addition of the Orlando Miracle and the Minnesota Lynx.
During the first four seasons, the Houston Comets dominated the WNBA with four consecutive championships. The Comets were led by Sheryl Swoopes, Cynthia Cooper, and former #1 pick Tina Thompson.
Sweet 16 and the Rise of the Connecticut Sun
By the start of the 2000 season, the WNBA expanded to 16 teams. The new additions included the Miami Sol, Portland Fire, Indiana Fever, and the Seattle Storm.
In 2003, the Orlando Miracle relocated and became the Connecticut Sun. UConn had become a national powerhouse for women’s basketball, so it made sense that Connecticut would get its first professional franchise since the Hartford Whalers left the NHL in 1997.
The Utah Starzz also relocated in 2003 and became the San Antonio Silver Stars.
WNBA #1 Draft Picks (List 2001-2010)
2001 Lauren Jackson (Seattle Storm)
2002 Sue Bird (Seattle Storm)
2003 LaToya Thomas (Cleveland Rockers)
2004 Diana Taurasi (Phoenix Mercury)
2005 Janel McCarville (Charlotte Sting)
2006 Seimone Augustus (Minnesota Lynx
2007 Lindsey Harding (Phoenix Mercury
2008 Candace Parker (Los Angeles Sparks)
2009 Angel McCoughtry (Atlanta Dream)
2010 Tina Charles (Connecticut Sun)
Several franchises folded in the early 2000s. By 2010, four of the original eight franchises ceased operations, and a fifth team relocated. Only three original franchises are still operating today, including the LA Sparks, the New York Liberty, and the Phoenix Mercury.
The Cleveland Rockers became the first of the original eight teams to fold after the 2003 season. The Charlotte Sting went under in 2006. The Houston Comets fizzled out by 2008, while the Sacramento Monarchs were overthrown by 2009.
The Miami Sol and Portland Fire lasted two seasons before they were shuttered.
By 2008, the WNBA had trimmed down to 12 teams. That included two new franchises with the Chicago Sky and the Atlanta Dream.
The 2010s: Maya, A’ja, Brittney, Breanna, Sabrina
Between 2003 and 2009, the league vacillated between 13 and 14 teams. By 2010, the WNBA consolidated to 12 teams — a number it has maintained that number for the past decade.
In 2010, the Detroit Shock migrated to Oklahoma and became the Tulsa Shock. By 2016, the franchise relocated a second time. When the franchise moved to Dallas, the team got rebranded as the Dallas Wings.
In 2013, the San Antonio Silver Stars dropped the “silver” from their name and the San Antonio Stars were born. After 14 years in San Antonio and five seasons in Utah, the franchise relocated once again with a new home in Sin City. The team was reborn as the Las Vegas Aces in 2018.
WNBA #1 Draft Picks (List 2011-2020)
2011 Maya Moore (Minnesota Lynx)
2012 Nneka Ogwumike (Los Angeles Sparks)
2013 Brittney Griner (Phoenix Mercury)
2014 Chiney Ogwumike (Connecticut Sun)
2015 Jewell Loyd (Seattle Storm)
2016 Breanna Stewart (Seattle Storm)
2017 Kelsey Plum (San Antonio Stars)
2018 A’ja Wilson (Las Vegas Aces)
2019 Jackie Young (Las Vegas Aces)
2020 Sabrina Ionescu (New York Liberty)
The Las Vegas Aces were the worst team in the league when the team moved from San Antonio to Vegas. The Aces secured the #1 pick in the WNBA Draft in consecutive years (or for a third-straight year if you count the San Antonio Stars in 2017). In 2018, the Aces selected A’ja Wilson from South Carolina. Last year, the Aces selected Jackie Young from Notre Dame with the #1 overall pick in the 2019 WNBA Draft.
In the 2010s, the Minnesota Lynx dominated the decade led by former #1 pick, Maya Moore out of UConn. The Lynx tied the Houston Comets with four WNBA titles. For some odd reason, the Lynx only won in odd-ending years with championships in 2011, 2013, 2015, and 2017. The Lynx also lost in the WNBA Finals twice during that dominating run, with runner-up finishes in 2012 and 2016.
Despite the coronavirus pandemic, the 2020 WNBA Draft occurred online and the New York Liberty selected Sabrina Ionescu with the #1 overall pick. It wasn’t much of a surprise considering that Sabrina Ionescu was the overwhelming favorite to become the top pick in the WNBA Draft.