The newness is gone.
In one season, they pulled the whole WNBA together in a fashion that far exceeded what even the league's top officials had hoped.But it's old news now in 1998, the second WNBA season.
Instead of the 1997 slogan "We Got Next," people are wondering "What's Next?"
League president Val Ackerman calls it the "absence of the novelty factor" and did her best to preview what's next in a recent nationwide media teleconference.
She spoke of some fine tuning, changes and directions. She also indicated that this league - which has grown to 10 teams and 30-game schedules this season and will leap to 12 teams and more games next year as Orlando and Minnesota will almost certainly be added - is not counting on last year's laurels as it tries to keep the momentum going.
"We're very sensitive to that issue. We don't take anything for granted at this point," Ackerman said, adding that "we were very surprised by the results last year. It's made us work harder."
She says the league is aware its customers in this second season are no longer curiosity-ridden newcomers gawking at tall women - they are "intently interested in the product. To be successful long term," she said, "we have to keep attracting new fans."
One way the WNBA will do that is with its consumer products, which will soon include in-season trading cards from Pinnacle and "WNBA Barbie," due out in the fall. Although she doesn't have the new Barbie, Ackerman said it will have a movable arm that can shoot a ball into a provided basket.
"We think it will be a powerful way to reach girls," she said, adding a girls' apparel product line of jerseys, shorts, T-shirts and the like is coming, too. The WNBA has already stepped up its off-season program of basketball and fitness clinics and the like.
It also improved its acquisition of players. Last year, it was generally thought the rival ABL got most of the best players. This year, the WNBA got most of them - be they American collegians or imports like Utah's Malgorzata Dydek and Sacramento's Ticha Penicheiro, who were 1-2 in the free-agent draft and helped to double the number of international stars in the WNBA this season.
Ackerman says the WNBA was able to attract more good players this year because of having an inaugural season under its belt and having WNBA players to spread the word.
"No one really could imagine, no matter how hard we tried to explain it, just exactly what the league would be like, the fans we would attract and the amount of exposure we would generate."
The president was asked if the league foresees limits on international players or number of games. She said foreign-player migration might be self-limiting because the WNBA will not change from its summer season, which almost conflicts with the World Championships now and creates headaches in getting FIBA clearance and work visas. Ackerman adds the league will probably not go past a 40- game schedule that she guesses will take several years to reach.
The WNBA is also comfortable with its game format (two 20-minute halves that suit TV) and rules and won't change either, except it might lengthen the 3-point distance if 19-9 becomes too easy.
It has, however, already changed its playoff format. Last year, the teams with the two best records in each conference made single-elimination playoff appearances. In '98, the conference champs and the teams with the two next-best records, regardless of conference, will play two best-of-three semifinal series, with the championship also a best-of-three venture.