Confetti was starting to fall from the ceiling. The championship trophy had been wheeled courtside. Houston Comets fans were on their feet screaming, believing they were seconds away from celebrating their third straight title.
That was the scene when the ball was inbounded to Teresa Weatherspoon with 2.4 seconds left in Game 2 of the 1999 WNBA Finals. With her Liberty team a point down, Weatherspoon took a few quick dribbles before heaving a desperation shot from midcourt.
“When it left my hand, I saw the trajectory and I was like, ‘Oh my, this thing has the opportunity to go in,’ ” Weatherspoon said in a phone call on Friday. “And it did. I remember the gym going to this complete silence. It was a great moment for us.”
It also was a great moment for women’s professional basketball. That basket has been replayed more than any other shot in WNBA history.
This year is the 20th anniversary of what now is referred to simply as “The Shot.” Perhaps it is only appropriate that it also marks the year that Weatherspoon could receive the ultimate recognition for her contributions to the game.
Two weeks ago at the NBA All-Star Game, Weatherspoon was announced among the 13 finalists for induction into the Naismith Hall of Fame this year. She is the only WNBA player to make the finalist list this season. If she makes the final cut, she will become the ninth former WNBA player to be enshrined in the hall, joining Tina Thompson, Katie Smith, Sheryl Swoopes, Lisa Leslie, Dawn Staley, Teresa Edwards, Lynette Woodard and Nancy Lieberman.
“It’s pretty exciting, I must say,” said Weatherspoon, who now works as the Liberty’s director of player and franchise development. “I’m just trying to keep my emotions in control, so to speak.”
That may be easier said than done. One reason Weatherspoon became a fan favorite at Madison Square Garden is that it was clear how important the game was to her. She wanted to win as much as anyone on the court, and she wanted to make her mark on the professional game despite the fact that she already was 30 when the WNBA played its inaugural season in 1997.
Weatherspoon led Louisiana Tech to a national title in 1988 and was awarded the Wade Trophy as the best female player in NCAA Division I. She was a gold medalist in the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, South Korea, and won a bronze medal at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, Spain.
She played eight years overseas and along with Tamecka Dixon became the first Americans to play in the Russian women’s league. That transition was challenging, given that many of her teammates were on the Russian national team that beat the U.S. team in the semifinals in Barcelona.
“It was a great experience, but let’s say we didn’t have it easy,” Weatherspoon said with a laugh. “Let’s just say we had to iron some things out.”
Weatherspoon said she loved playing overseas, but she also said nothing can beat the feeling of being able to play the game you love on your home soil.
“I think all of us knew that if we were given the opportunity to play in America, we could make this into something really special,” Weatherspoon said. “We had this understanding that this was something bigger than us, way bigger than us. We needed to keep it alive, help it grow for the little kids out there who were watching and dreaming.”
There were plenty of kids who dreamed about playing like Weatherspoon, who helped lead the Liberty to the WNBA Finals in four of the league’s first six years. She played eight seasons, was named an All-Star in five of them and twice was named the league’s defensive player of the year. She also was the first player to record 1,000 points and 1,000 assists in the WNBA.
She never got a championship ring with the Liberty, though. The team was 0-4 in the WNBA Finals, including losing to the Comets in Game 3 of the 1999 playoffs after Weatherspoon’s iconic Game 2 shot. Yet she counts herself as incredibly fortunate to be playing at the time she did, with the team she did.
“When I think of this game and how I started and now I’m being talked about to be in the Hall of Fame, it’s just a beautiful, beautiful feeling,” Weatherspoon said.
Almost as beautiful as watching a basketball sail 50 feet, bank off the glass and drop through the basket.