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Before there were the A’ja Wilsons and the Breanna Stewarts of the WNBA, there was Adrienne Goodson. “Goody,” as she is popularly known, was a fiery 6-foot forward whose career spanned 14 years, beginning overseas before she returned to the U.S. in 1996 for the American Basketball League’s inaugural season.
In 1999, the Bayonne, N.J. native made the jump to the recently formed WNBA and was drafted by the Utah Starzz. In her first WNBA season, Goody had an immediate impact. She finished 10th in the league in scoring while averaging 33 minutes per game. In 2002, she was named to a WNBA All-Star Game. When the Utah Starzz relocated to San Antonio ahead of the 2003 season, Goody re-signed with the newly minted San Antonio Stars, now the Las Vegas Aces.
Here, Goodson tells the story of the ABL’s inception and her decision to enter the WNBA, the Aces setting an example by honoring their alumni and what’s next for the franchise, in her own words for Just Women’s Sports.
I’m in Jersey right now, but I’ve been traveling a lot this summer between North Carolina, Virginia and also Vegas. My trip to Vegas on Memorial Day Weekend was pretty out of the blue. It was four o’clock in the morning, and when I got this email from the president of the Las Vegas Aces (which shows how much Nikki Fargas is grinding!), and it said, “We want to honor you,” real talk, I thought, “Man, what do the Aces want with me?”
I had to re-read the email, and I still can’t believe it. It was mindblowing. The Aces were actually reaching out to former players with an invitation to a Las Vegas alumni celebration. As any diehard fan knows, the history of our team stretches far and wide. I decided to respond and heard back immediately. Before I knew it, I was flying out to Vegas to celebrate the WNBA’s 25th consecutive season at an Aces game on May 30.
As a former player, it can be hard sometimes when the league doesn’t show former players much love. But then came Mark Davis. The owner of the Las Vegas Aces franchise and the NFL’s Las Vegas Raiders, Mark understands the importance of acknowledging former players for their worth. The things he is doing for us are phenomenal, and I hope other teams follow suit in the years to come.
Before our trip to Vegas, Mark told me, “I’m bringing you guys out here, and I’m going to feature and showcase you all.” We watched two Aces games, we ate meals together, and everybody was able to tell their own story. I remember sitting with everyone and, let me tell you, there was not a dry eye in the room. From the players to the administration, those four days were an unforgettable experience.
It is our absolute pleasure to honor our #AcesAlumni at each home game this season. 🧡— Las Vegas Aces (@LVAces) May 31, 2021
It is so important to give those who paved the way for 25 years of the @WNBA their flowers @agoody15_wnba 💐#ALLIN ♦️♠️ // #CountIt pic.twitter.com/rEsIY5lWlC
This month, the Aces also honored WNBA All-Star and NBA coach Becky Hammon with a halftime jersey retirement ceremony. Although Becky never played in Las Vegas, the Aces have not forgotten what she did for the franchise in San Antonio. I was proud to see them pay tribute by retiring Becky’s No. 25. While her jersey is the first to hang in the rafters, there will soon be many more.
Players like Becky Hammon are not just pioneers of the Aces franchise — we are also pioneers of the WNBA. We paved the way for many of these young players to continue to excel. When I think back to entering the WNBA and being drafted by the Utah Starzz, it’s hard to forget the role the American Basketball League played in this story.
The ABL was really what brought me back home. When I graduated from Old Dominion in 1988, there was no professional women’s league in the United States. Playing overseas was our only option. So I packed my bags and I embarked on a professional career in Brazil. Soon enough, I was playing basketball in Rio de Janeiro, learning Portuguese, and sipping on coconuts every morning with my teammates. To leave that setting was difficult because I was in one of the most beautiful places I had ever seen in the world.
In Brazil, I met Val Whiting. She was part of the Stanford crew, and since the American Basketball League was headquartered in San Jose, Val had the lock on all the information. I remember her saying, “Hey, listen, this league is getting ready to start, and you’ll get the opportunity to go back home if you want to play.” I thought, “Wow, I guess I’m going to stay home this year.”
I can’t say enough great things about the American Basketball League. I really feel like “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” when I think of those years. And I feel the same way about Brazil — I left my heart there, too! Those two places were just absolutely phenomenal and opened the door for myself and so many other players. I don’t think the ABL ever gets enough glory.
Shortly after the ABL was formed, the NBA began creating the WNBA. During those years, what I remember most is the crazy media attention surrounding the WNBA. The WNBA commercials! There were so many dang commercials. And that was really because something new had arrived in women’s basketball: competition.
I was hesitant to leave the ABL because it was a very family-oriented league. The passion of our fan base was something I’ve never experienced before. But when the league folded in 1998, I decided it was time to move over to the WNBA.
I felt like Utah was a special place because, first of all, when I found out I was going there, I dropped to my knees and I started screaming something along the lines of: “Lord, you got jokes! Are you kidding me? Salt Lake? What’s even in Utah?”
After I went through that moment, Fred Williams called me and said, “Listen, I don’t know how the hell you dropped to the third round.” And to be honest, I was furious, too. I had heard from many different teams before the draft so I thought I might be going fifth or sixth overall. But then there’s always the politics that goes on behind the scenes. I really got hit with it. I feel like I was one of those players that always had to “kick in the door.”
With that being said, I get out to Utah and I decide that I’m just going to get to work. I became top three on the team in scoring that year, third in rebounding and second in assists, and I continued to consistently finish in the league’s top 10 in scoring. But more importantly, we all grinded up there. For three hard years, we accomplished more than anyone thought we could. We took that team to a new level and we brought the fans with us.
Looking back on our legacy, it can feel bittersweet at times. But from Natalie Williams to Margo Dydek, Debbie Black, Korie Hlede and myself, we laid the foundation for that team. That was our blood, sweat and tears.
I know we prayed so much in Utah and in San Antonio for our team, and you know what? God never let us fold! And maybe it was for all of this, so that we could build something so special with the Las Vegas Aces. So that nothing could ever tear us down.
Adrienne Goodson (“Goody”) is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports. She played 14 years of professional basketball, including seven in the WNBA. A three-time All-Star in the pros and an NCAA champion, she was inducted into the Old Dominion Hall of Fame in 1999. She is the host of the podcast “A WNBA State of Mind with Adrienne Goodson.” Follow her on Twitter @agoody15_wnba.
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