WNBA Top 10 Moments of 2022: Returns, retirements, records
The WNBA had a great year in 2022. Record-breaking viewership, dominating performances, and great basketball came together to create one of the most exciting seasons yet.
The 2022 WNBA season was full of great moments, and as the calendar year draws to a close, there’s no better time to reflect on those moments. There were a lot of exciting moments on the court, but the WNBA had bigger, underlying moments that made the season truly special.
Let’s take a look at those moments.
1. Brittney Griner’s Return Home
Although it didn’t happen during the WNBA season, Brittney Griner’s exit was by far the best WNBA moment of the year. The players and the league were instrumental in the process, which took an agonizing 294 days. Each team in the league stamped their initials and numbers on their field, and players wore jerseys bearing their name and number during the All-Star Game. A campaign has been launched to raise awareness of his wrongful detention.
Griner was eventually released on December 8 in exchange for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout. Upon his return to the United States, Griner announced his intention to return to the league in 2023.
2. Sylvia Fowles and Sue Bird’s Farewell Tour
The WNBA said goodbye to several legends this year, including two of its biggest faces: Sylvia Fowles and Sue Bird. Fowles, arguably the greatest center in league history, retired after 15 years, two championships, two Finals MVPs, eight All-Star appearances, four Defensive Player of the Year awards and an award. MVP. Fowles retired as the league’s all-time leading rebounder and posted the highest field goal percentage of all time. Somehow, fans had to push for Fowles to get the respect she deserved from the league. Once she did, she had one of the most unique farewell tours the sport has ever seen.
She capped it all off with a dunk in the All-Star Game, showing she still has it even at 36.
Bird also retired one of the game’s biggest winners and arguably the best sidekick in league history. His resume spans 20 years and includes four championships, 13 All-Star appearances and a record five gold medals. Bird is retiring as the WNBA’s all-time leader with over 600 assists. She also played the most matches with 580.
3. A’ja Wilson’s dominance
2022 was the year of 22. A’ja Wilson was everywhere. She became the first female athlete to sign a Ruffles endorsement deal that came with her own signature flavor. Nike released its colorways of the Cosmic Unity 2 model, a shoe specially molded for the feet of female athletes.
It’s crazy to think I thought it would be just in my shoe that Nike sent me but to see it in the shoe being sold… it’s really something special https://t.co/82cfsNSMzJ
— A’ja Wilson (@_ajawilson22) August 26, 2022
Oh yeah, and A’ja had a pretty good year on the pitch too. Wilson became the seventh player in WNBA history to win multiple MVPs, and the fifth to win both MVP and DPOY awards in the same season. His Las Vegas Aces also won the Commissioner’s Cup, then capped it all off with the franchise’s first victory in the Finals.
4. Chelsea Gray playoffs
Speaking of the Aces, Chelsea Gray made one of the greatest runs in basketball history during the 2022 season. Gray won the Commissioners Cup MVP, but was snubbed from the All-Star Game . The snub seemed to ignite a fuse under her that still hasn’t gone out.
🏀🏆 CUMHURBAŞKANLIĞI ⛹️♀️🔥
Bir tarafta DEWANNA BONNER + JONQUEL JONES yoktu. Diğer tarafta BREANNA STEWARD and SATOU SABALLY nefes kesen finali ÇBK Mersin kazandı (78 – 84).
CHELSEA GRAY (19s, 4rb, 9as)
HOLINGVORTH (16s, 12rb)
TIFFANY HAYES (13s, 5rb, 3as) pic.twitter.com/GhLSdrykt1
— JustWomensBasketball (@JWsBasketball) December 28, 2022
Gray became absolutely unstoppable during the playoffs. In the Aces’ 10 playoff games, Gray averaged 21.7 points and seven assists. She posted a ridiculous 72.7 true shot percentage on 14.4 mostly self-created shot attempts per game. For reference, the league average was around 54%. The highlight reel looks like something out of NBA2K:
The numbers look even more incredible compared to literally everyone in basketball history.
In the end, Gray finished the playoffs shooting 54.5 percent on 5.7 3-pointers per game and 65.5 percent on two. She shot a jaw-dropping 69% (!) from two from deep, which are often considered the worst shots in modern basketball. Gray won the Finals MVP and won his second championship.
5. Diamond DeShields opens
In May, Diamond DeShields revealed that she underwent surgery in 2020 to remove a tumor on her spine. The story came as a complete surprise to the masses.
The tumor was a grape-sized lumbar spinal schwannoma. Leaving the tumor could have resulted in paralysis. Removing it was just as risky.
Doctors were able to remove the tumor, but the damage left DeShields with “tremors and involuntary spasms throughout her body.” She was unsure of her future in basketball.
A year and nine months later, DeShields and the Chicago Sky won the WNBA title.
Now DeShields plays for the Phoenix Mercury, and she played one of her best seasons as a pro in 2022. Her story was undoubtedly one of the most powerful moments of 2022.
6. The 2022 WNBA Draft Class
The 2022 WNBA Draft was one of the most high-profile in recent memory. Headlining stars Rhyne Howard, NaLyssa Smith and Shakira Austin, the draft was seen as transformational for many teams.
Fast forward to now, and it’s easy to see why.
Howard won Rookie of the Year for a revamped Atlanta Dream. She averaged 16 points, 4.5 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game, along with 1.6 steals and just under a block. Howard also made the All-Star Game, an impressive feat for a rookie.
Smith was a bright spot for a Fever team that continues to grow. She averaged 13.5 points, 8 rebounds and 1.4 assists. Smith’s athleticism and physique translated very well, and she showed more touch than some expected her to have in first year. She looks like Indiana’s next star.
Austin shone in Washington despite sharing minutes with Elizabeth Williams. Her unique blend of skills made her television a staple when she was in the field. Defensively, Austin showed she was ready for the WNBA from day one. She averaged 8.7 points, 6.5 rebounds and just under one assist per game.
Many teams also found lower quality players in the draft. Emily Engstler has carved out a role with the Fever as a scrappy striker. Veronica Burton showed enormous potential in Dallas. Naz Hillmon has landed a few starts for the Dream.
By the time all is said and done, the 2022 draft could end up being one of the deepest drafts in league history. It already looks like a great start for the next generation of stars.
7. Becky Hammon wins COY
The Aces have won a LOT of awards this season.
Becky Hammon made history with hers.
Hammon became only the third former player to win the award and became the first to win in her debut season. She also became the first to win while coaching a franchise she played for.
The Aces went 26-10, which was the second-highest winning percentage by a rookie coach and the highest in franchise history. Hammon also led them to a league-leading 90.4 points per game, which was the third most in WNBA history. 77.5 of those runs were scored by starters, which is also a WNBA record.
8. AD’s return to basketball
In 2019, AD (then known as Asia Durr) was the second overall pick in the WNBA Draft. After playing 18 games that year, things were looking up. Everything changed in 2020 when they contracted COVID.
AD ended up missing two full seasons due to complications from the long COVID.
In April 2022, AD made his return to basketball, joining the Liberty for training camp. 10 games into the season, the Liberty traded them to the Atlanta Dream, where they thrived like a spark off the bench.
The exchange was an incredible looping moment. AD hails from Atlanta and starred in a commercial for the Dream when the team first arrived in the city.
In August, AD released a mini-documentary on Togethxr’s YouTube channel detailing their return to basketball.
9. Alyssa Thomas’ final triple-double
After losing the first two games of the Finals, the Connecticut Sun looked a little desperate.
Their leader, however, does not know the definition of hopeless.
Alyssa Thomas gave her team a dominating Game 3 win at home against the Aces and recorded the first triple-double in WNBA Finals history.
Thomas’ 16 points, 15 rebounds and 11 assists led the Sun to a whopping 105-76 win over the Aces.
In Game 4, Thomas recorded ANOTHER triple-double, posting 11 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds. Despite his performance, the Sun lost and the Aces won their first title. The triple-double was Thomas’ fourth of the season and of her career, which put her in sole possession of the most of all time.
10. Skylar Diggins-Smith’s Pregnancy
Skylar Diggins-Smith has been in the spotlight all season. His Phoenix Mercury team was full of drama from start to finish. Brittney Griner’s detention lingered on the team. Tina Charles forced her exit after 18 games. Diggins-Smith and Diana Taurasi had a passionate time on the bench.
Shortly after, Diggins-Smith walked away for undisclosed personal reasons. A few months later, Skylar clarified what those personal reasons were, announcing her pregnancy via Instagram.
The announcement set the W world on fire. Fans were thrilled to see Skylar online again (she’s been away from social media for a while) and congratulated her on baby number two. It was a happy ending to a chaotic year for a fan favorite.