Bill Baptist/NBAE/Getty ImagesIn 1997, Sheryl Swoopes was the first player to sign a contract in the new WNBA.ESPN is marking the 40th anniversary of Title IX by unveiling the top 40 female athletes of the past 40 years.
Sheryl Swoopes' legendary career began in high school, when she led Brownfield (Texas) to its first girls' basketball state title.
From there, the No. 16 woman in ESPN's countdown went on to win an NCAA championship at Texas Tech, three Olympic gold medals, four WNBA titles with the Houston Comets and three MVP awards.
"In my mind, the thing that always separated her was how she could elevate her game when the pressure was highest," says Marsha Sharp, who coached Swoopes at Texas Tech. "The spotlight spurs her to a different level."
Read the full story from espnW here.
Earlier in this series:
No. 40: Diver Fu Mingxia
No. 39: Jockey Julie Krone
No. 38: Gymnast Mary Lou Retton
No. 37: Hockey player Cammi Granato
No. 36: Soccer player Kristine Lilly
No. 35: Basketball player Diana Taurasi
No 34: Volleyball player Flo Hyman
No. 33: Soccer player Abby Wambach
No. 32: Swimmer Mary T. Meagher
No. 31: Marathoner Joan Benoit
No. 30: Sprinter Gail Devers
No. 29: Basketball player Nancy Lieberman
No. 28: Marathoner Grete Waitz
No. 27: Soccer player Michelle Akers
No. 26: Basketball player Chamique Holdsclaw
No. 25: Swimmer Dara Torres
No. 24: Golfer Nancy Lopez
No. 23: Swimmer Tracy Caulkins
No. 22: Soccer player Marta Vieira da Silva
No. 21: Tennis player Venus Williams
No. 20: Figure skater Michelle Kwan
No. 19: Skier Lindsey Vonn
No. 18: Softball player Lisa Fernandez
No. 17: Basketball player Ann Meyers Drysdale