Nolan’s W25 Exclusion: Repercussion of Relocation?


When the WNBA announced its W25 list on September 5, it was met with a variety of reactions. Many felt the list was good, but had a few glaring omissions. Dawn Staley, Rebekkah Brunson, and Teresa Weatherspoon were among the list of snubs. The biggest snub, though? Deanna “Tweety” Nolan.

Nolan isn’t a name that many newer or more casual fans may be familiar with, but she had an impressive resume and the skill to back it up. Her career (and all-time standing) was forever altered by the relocation of the Detroit Shock – a move that could be solely responsible for her missing out on the W25 list.

Before addressing that part, though, let’s start with the basics.

Who Is Deanna Nolan?

Deanna Nolan is a former WNBA player who got her start in her hometown of Flint, Michigan. In high school, Nolan led her team to consecutive state championships in 1994 and 1995, and won Michigan’s Miss Basketball in 1995. She then went to the University of Georgia, where she was a part of some the Lady Bulldogs’ most successful teams.

In 2001, Nolan was selected sixth overall by her home team, the Detroit Shock. She spent her entire WNBA career with the team.

A Decorated Career…

In Detroit, Nolan helped the Shock become one of the best teams in the league, while becoming one of the best players in the league. The team was incredibly successful and had one of the most passionate fanbases in the league. After the hiring of Detroit legend Bill Laimbeer, the team ascended to the highest of heights. In 2003, the Shock became the first American pro team to go from the worst record in the league to champions. Nolan would also make her first All-Star appearance, starting a streak of five consecutive selections.

In her first career postseason, Nolan averaged 15.5 points, 3.6 rebounds, and 2.6 assists per game. She scored 10+ points in seven of the eight games Detroit played, including 17 in the final game against the Sparks.

Over the next two seasons, the Shock took a slight step back, but Nolan continued to improve. She increased her averages across the board, despite a slight decline in efficiency. Nolan picked up her first all-WNBA first team selection in 2005.

In 2006, the Shock made their way back to the Finals. Nolan increased her production in these playoffs, scoring 20+ points in five of the 10 games. She averaged 17.8 points, 4.1 rebounds, and 3.9 assists. Nolan led the Shock in scoring, and took home Finals MVP after a hard-fought series against the Sacramento Monarchs.

Nolan really found her stride in 2007 and 2008, averaging 16.3 and 15.8 points, respectively. Her shooting was also the best of her career at 46 percent both seasons. She picked up a first team All-Defense nod in 2007, and averaged a career-high 4.4 assists in 2008.

The Shock would make appearances in the Finals again both seasons, taking home the 2008 title. Nolan once again led the team in postseason scoring with 17.6 points per game. Detroit swept the league’s best team, San Antonio, in three games, despite Nolan’s struggles in the Finals.

Overall, Nolan made five All-Star appearances, picked up five All-WNBA team nods, and was named to five WNBA All-Defensive teams. She averaged 13.6 points, 3.8 rebounds, 3.2 assists, and 1.3 steals per game for her career. In 2016, she was named to the WNBA’s Top 20@20.

…Cut Short by Relocation

In 2009, the Shock took a step back after Laimbeer’s sudden resignation three games into the season. Former Pistons great Rick Mahorn stepped in, and the Shock scratched their way to a seventh consecutive playoff appearance. They defeated the Atlanta Dream in the first round, and faced the Indiana Fever in the conference finals. The Fever won the series in three games, ending the Shock’s string of Finals appearances.

Shortly after, it was announced that the Shock would be relocating to Tulsa. With that came a large roster overhaul, including Nolan’s retirement from the WNBA. Nolan was only 30 years old at the time, and was coming off a very strong season. She was at the peak of her prime, and stepped away from the league that she had experienced so much success in.

Unfortunately, this is something the WNBA has encountered multiple times in its 25 years. Between disbandments to relocations, large portions of W history are now missing. The impact of these decisions was felt during W25 discussions this week, and perhaps no one’s case was affected more than Nolan’s.

Nolan wasn’t interested in the potential rebuild in Tulsa. She also didn’t want to play in another US city. In a 2015 interview with MLive, Nolan said:

I didn’t return to the Shock because of the relocation, and I didn’t want to start over. I’ve played with the Shock my entire career and thought it would end there. I didn’t want to play nowhere else.

While Nolan continued playing in Russia until 2018, the abrupt ending to her WNBA career leaves room for many what-ifs.

What if…?

The one what-if that is on every fan’s mind as of late is simple: what if Nolan doesn’t leave, or the Shock doesn’t relocate?

Does Nolan make the W25 with a few more seasons of play, presumably at the high level she was at?

While those questions are impossible to answer, the recent discussions around the W25 have brought them back to the forefront of the WNBA world, and for good reason.

Nolan had as productive of a career as a player can have in nine seasons. While she may not have the individual awards some other greats have, she was arguably the best player on a dynasty team. On top of that, she had a level of flair and excitement that made her a fan favorite, and those same fans are the ones debating her place in WNBA history this week.

About Richmond Bailey Caldwell

Die-hard Grizzlies fan since 2009. Aspiring basketball writer and coach. University of Georgia sport management alum. Perennial first team all-defense selection.

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