The 1999 WNBA Draft was the most talented draft in the history of, not just women’s basketball, but all of professional sports.
Hyperbole? Not really.
While typical drafts draw from the top collegiate and international players in the world, the 1999 WNBA Draft had an additional talent source—the rival American Basketball League.
The ABL launched just prior to the WNBA in 1996, and played during the more traditional winter season. The leagues competed for players during those first two years, and some observers opined that the ABL actually had more talent.
The ABL completed two full seasons, before abruptly declaring Chapter 11 bankruptcy and suspending operations on December 22, 1998, one third of the way through the league’s third campaign.
Every player, save two, on the ABL’s eight teams became eligible for the 1999 WNBA Draft held on April 6. The two that weren’t—Katie Smith and Shannon “Pee Wee” Johnson—were allocated to the expansion Minnesota Lynx and Orlando Miracle respectively.
That still left the proverbial boatload of talent from which teams could choose in the draft. So much talent, that only one collegian was taken in the first 17 picks. That player was Chamique Holdsclaw, whom the Washington Mystics selected with the first overall pick in the draft.
The remaining 11 picks in the first round were all former ABL players, including the Utah Starzz pick at number four, Natalie Williams. Williams was a Utah native having attended Taylorsville High School just south of Sale Lake City. She was an All-American in volleyball and basketball at UCLA, who averaged 20.4 points per game in her basketball career while leading the Bruins to national volleyball championships in 1990 and 1991.
Williams went on to play two-plus seasons for the Portland Power of the ABL, where she was a two-time all-league performer and the 1998 ABL Most Valuable Player.
As a rookie in the WNBA, Williams averaged 18.0 points and 9.2 rebounds while making 51.9 percent of her field goal attempts. Her All-WNBA First Team performance that season was a big reason why the Starzz improved from eight wins in 1998 to 15 in 1999.
During her second season in Utah, Williams upped her averages to 18.7 points and 11.6 rebounds per game. She was again named to the All-WNBA First Team, and the Starzz posted their first winning season as a franchise with an 18-14 mark.
Williams just missed out on another season-long double-double in 2001, recording averages of 14.2 points and 9.9 rebounds, en route to her third straight All-WNBA First Team nod. The Starzz continued their improvement, going 19-13, and finishing in third place in the Western Conference to earn their first WNBA postseason berth. Utah fell to Sacramento in the conference semifinals.
The Starzz increased their win total the following season yet again, posting a 20-12 mark, and advancing to the Western Conference Finals, thanks to averages of 11.3 points and 8.2 rebounds from Williams.
The 2002 season would be the Starzz’ last in Utah, and Williams’ last with the franchise. On December 5, 2002, Spurs Sports & Entertainment purchased the team, relocating it to San Antonio, and changing the name to the Silver Stars.
Five months later, Williams was traded to the Indiana Fever in a multi-player deal. She played three years with the Fever, retiring after the 2005 season.
Williams concluded her seven-year WNBA career with averages of 13.1 points and 8.3 rebounds. She still ranks seventh in league history in rebounding.
In the second round of the draft, Utah selected veteran point guard Debbie Black. At 5’ 2.5” she was the shortest player in the WNBA, but the defensive intensity she brought to the court earned her the nickname “The Pest.”
A 1988 graduate of St. Joseph’s, Black played the first eight years of her professional career for the Tasmanian Islanders in the Women’s National Basketball League in Australia, winning national titles in 1991 and 1995.
She joined the ABL’s Colorado Xplosion for their inaugural season, and was named the 1997 ABL Defensive Player of the Year. She also became one of the very few people in professional basketball history to record a quadruple double, accumulating 10 points, 14 rebounds, 12 assists and 10 steals against the Atlanta Glory on December 8, 1996.
Black played one season with the Starzz, averaging 5.1 points, 3.5 rebounds, 5.0 assists, and 2.4 steals. She ranked second in the league in steals and fifth in assists.
Utah left Black unprotected in the 2000 WNBA Expansion Draft, and the Miami Sol selected her with their third pick.
She played three seasons for the Sol, earning the WNBA Defensive Player of the Year award in 2001 when she led the league in steals.
The Sol disbanded following the 2002 season, and the Connecticut Sun selected Black in the 2003 Dispersal Draft. She played two more years in the WNBA, before hanging up her hi-tops prior to the 2005 campaign.
Upon her retirement, Black ranked eighth in the WNBA in career steals, and tied for 10th in assists.
In the third round of the 1999 WNBA Draft, Utah selected two-time ABL All-Star and All-ABL performer Adrienne Goodson. She posted averages of 17.5 points and 7.9 rebounds in her two-plus years in the ABL, playing for the Richmond/Philadelphia Rage and the Chicago Condors.
Goodson played six of her seven years in the league with the Utah/San Antonio franchise, teaming with Natalie Williams to propel the Starzz up the conference standings. She averaged double figure in scoring in each of her first six seasons, and enjoyed her best year in 2000 when she averaged a career-high 17.2 points, grabbed 5.7 rebounds per game, and connected on 48.0 percent of her shots from the field.
In 2002, the former Old Dominion Lady Monarch was named to the WNBA All-Star Team.
The 6-0 Goodson moved with the franchise from Utah to San Antonio, but the improvements the team saw over the previous five years, did not continue. In 2003, the renamed Silver Stars went 12-22, and in 2004, they fell to 9-25.
In 2005, Goodson split time between the Houston Comets and Charlotte Sting, before retiring.
In her seven-year WNBA career, Goodson averaged 12.2 points and 5.1 rebounds per game.
There were still players available who could contribute to a winning franchise in the fourth round of the draft, as Utah selected Dalma Ivanyi with its final pick. A 1999 graduate of Florida International, Ivanyi spent her first two years in the WNBA with Utah, starting 16 games in her second season, and posting averages of 3.4 points, 2.0 rebounds and 2.3 assists.
She did not play in the league over the next three years, but in 2003, she saw action in four games for the Phoenix Mercury, and in 2005 and 2006, she played in 61 games for the San Antonio Silver Stars, starting 15.
Ivanyi played in 106 games during her five-year WNBA career, posting averages of 2.1 points, 1.5 rebounds and 18 assists.
Next Up: The 2000 WNBA Draft