Throughout the years, we’ve seen incredible Black athletes in the sport of basketball. Here are 10 of our favorites highlighted in honor of February being Black History Month
Lisa Leslie is a former professional basketball player who now coaches the Triplets in the BIG3 basketball league. Before her retirement in 2009, Leslie played in the WNBA for the Los Angeles Sparks, winning two WNBA championships along the way. She was deemed a WNBA All-Star eight times in her career and was named MVP another four times. Leslie boasts four Olympic gold medals and two FIBA World Championship titles in addition to her WNBA feats. One of her most memorable accolades, however, may be that she was the first-ever player to dunk in a WNBA game.
Sheryl Swoopes was the first player to be signed to the WNBA and made the most of it. With four WNBA championships, three MVP titles, 6x WNBA All-Star selections, and 5x All-WNBA First Team, Swoopes had an extremely successful career. During her career, she also spent time with the United States National Team, winning three Olympic golds and two World Cups. Swoopes is the first women's basketball player to have a Nike shoe named after her: "Air Swoopes"
Dawn Staley, current South Carolina Gamecocks head coach, has an incomparable list of accolades as both a player and coach, making her one of the most prominent figures in women’s basketball. In her 14 seasons with the Gamecocks she has been a 2x Naismith Coach of the Year, won 2 national championships, 6 SEC tournament titles, and spent 44 weeks ranked No. 1 in the AP Poll. Staley was named to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame, and named to WNBA’s Top 15 as one of the most influential players in league history. She is a three-time Olympic gold medalist, Two-time USA Basketball Female Athlete of the Year, and coached Team USA to a gold medal in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Candace Parker was the 2008 WNBA Draft first pick. She was selected by the Los Angeles Sparks, who she played with until 2021 when she signed a deal with the Chicago Sky. She was a standout with the Sparks, earning the title of Most Valuable Player twice and making the All-WNBA First Team five times with the program. Parker won one WNBA Championship with the Sparks and then captured her second with the Sky in 2021. She is also a two-time Olympic gold medalist, winning with USA Basketball in the Beijing and London games. In 2021, Parker was named to a list of the 25 most influential WNBA players in the league’s 25 seasons, securing her status as an icon in women’s basketball.
2011-2018 (officially retired 2023)
Basketball legend Maya Moore's accomplishments on the court are only rivaled by her accomplishments off it. Moore is a four-time WNBA Champion and was the 2013 WNBA Finals MVP and the 2014 WNBA MVP. She is also a six-time WNBA All-Star. Outside of basketball, Moore is an advocate for criminal justice reform. She successfully lobbied for the release of wrongfully convicted man Jonathan Irons in 2020. Moore has also been a part of a campaign to encourage voting. In 2023, Moore officially retired from basketball to fully pursue her activism.
Brittney Griner is a name the media has seen a lot over the past year due to her false
imprisonment in Russia. Still, Griner is much more than the political pawn she was forced into being. After playing at Baylor University, Griner was the number one pick in the 2013 WNBA draft. She led Baylor to a championship in 2012 and was awarded many accolades that season including AP Player of the Year, Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four, and Best Female Athlete ESPY award. Griner is the only basketball player in the NCAA to score 2,000 points and block 500 shots. In her second season with the Phoenix Mercury, she helped the team to their third WNBA Championship in 2014. While basketball is an important aspect of Brittney Griner's life she is also an advocate for LGBTQ+ youth who face bullying. In 2020 Griner and teammate Brianna Turner protested the killing of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd.
Connecticut Sun player Alyssa Thomas is the definition of persistence. She is a three-time WNBA All-Star, the only WNBA player to record four triple-doubles in one season, and the first player to record a triple-double in WNBA Finals history. Thomas has achieved all of this with two torn labra. In addition to her immense presence on the court, Thomas also has a history of philanthropy, organizing fundraisers to buy coats for children in her hometown of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
Jewell Loyd was the first overall draft pick in the 2015 WNBA Draft by the Seattle Storm. That first year, Loyd was named WNBA Rookie of the Year. She has also picked up an All-WNBA First Team and Second Team honor, in 2021 and 2017 respectively. In her time with the Storm, Loyd has won two WNBA championships, capturing them in 2018 and 2020. Her other major accomplishments include winning gold at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and earning two FIBA World Cup gold medals with Team USA.
Drafted in 2016, Jonquel Jones went from WNBA Most Improved Player in 2017, to WNBA Sixth Woman of the Year in 2018 to eventually WNBA MVP in 2021 during her time with the Connecticut Sun. That's five years, plus she sat out during the 2020 season due to covid. She also is a 4x WNBA All-Star. Jones began her path to WNBA glory in the Bahamas, her home country, before moving to the United States to play high school and college basketball. Jones won WNBA MVP almost unanimously in 2021 after averaging 19.4 points and 11.2 rebounds. She became the first player to have ever won WNBA Most Improved Player, Sixth Woman of the Year, and MVP. Jones will kick off the 2023 season with a new team after requesting a trade this offseason and moving to the New York Liberty.
In her four seasons at South Carolina, Aliyah Boston has been named a 2x National Player of the Year, 3x Lisa Leslie Center of the Year, 3x SEC Defensive Player of the Year, Naismith Defensive Player of the Year, and Sec Player of the Year. In her junior year, Boston led the nation with 30 double-doubles, including an SEC-record 27-game streak. She holds the program record for triple-doubles in a career and is second in double-doubles and blocked shots.