On this day in 2005 the Monarchs staked their claim as victors in basketball lore.
As one of the twelve inaugural WNBA teams, the Sacramento Monarchs are highly considered to be the last great frontier that the 916 ever witnessed. With the Hall of Fame enshrinement of Monarchs legend Yolanda Griffith earlier this month, it’s hard to believe that it’s been sixteen years since the team was 1. Existent and 2. The best in the league.
It was almost a decade after the WNBA had been established that the Monarchs would see playoff success. Prior to their Finals victory in 2005, the Monarchs had lost to the Seattle Storm in the Western Conference Finals of 2004. Cementing a road to redemption, Sacramento was looking to survive and advance again with a different outcome.
Advance they did. The 2005 regular season was breezy, reminiscent of the 2017 Golden State Warriors. Finishing the regular season with a 25-9 record sitting atop the Western Conference, the Monarchs were dusted with accolades before the post-season began. Second year player Nicole Powell was voted Most Improved Player, while John Whisenant won WNBA Coach of the Year.
The 2005 Sacramento Monarchs were stacked. Yolanda Griffith, Rebekkah Brunson, Kara Lawson and Ticha Penicheiro — all recognizable names sixteen years later in WNBA lore —were suited up for the purple and white. Then General Manager Jerry Reynolds had built a team that was ready for the moment and with the city behind him, an opportunity to win it all in the best possible way.
Arco Arena was electric, and the team was ready to pursue what they so desperately wanted the season prior.
Beginning the playoffs with Western Conference Semifinals, the Monarchs swept the Los Angeles Sparks 2-0 in what was a gritty, physical pair of games immersed in the “Beat LA” narrative. Sacramento and Los Angeles had met in the playoffs both in 2003 and 2004, with each team winning a series and moving onto the next round.
Following their victory over LA, Sacramento would play the Houston Comets and win in another 2-0 sweep. That first game in Houston was a thriller, with the Monarchs winning 73-69 in overtime behind the late-game heroics of second year player Nicole Powell, who hit a wild 3-pointer that sent the game beyond regulation and led to the Monarchs scoring six more points to seal the W.
The Finals began on Sept. 14 against the Connecticut Sun. The Sun had seen the WNBA Finals the year prior, losing to the Seattle Storm just after Sacramento did in the Western Conference Finals. The series went to four games, including another nail-biter that ended in what would be the Suns’ only victory. Overtime was forced and Connecticut was able to get one in the win column.
On Sept. 20, the Monarchs ended the series in Arco Arena, where a 62-59 win over the Sun cemented the the city’s first WNBA title. 1999 MVP Yolanda Griffith was awarded the Finals MVP award with averages of 17.3 points, 8.5 rebounds, 1.4 assist and 1.3 steals per game in the series.
Since then, the 2005 Monarchs team has gone on to do great things in and out of both men’s and women’s basketball. Kara Lawson won an Olympic Gold Medal this past year in Tokyo as the coach of the Team USA’s Women’s 3×3 Basketball team and is now the head coach of Women’s Basketball at Duke University. In 2019, Ticha Penicheiro served as an agent with over 30 clients, including the Chicago Sky’s sharpshooter Courtney Vandersloot and the Lynx’s Kayla McBride.
Yolanda Griffith has been an assistant coach for a number of college programs, including Dartmouth and most recently Boston College. She was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame on Sept. 11, 2021, and had this message for her championship team at the orange jacket ceremony:
“To the 2005 WNBA Monarchs championship, I knew that team was special. From Magic TP, DeMya, K. Law, Nicole, Rebekkah, Kristin, Chelsea, Maiga, along with the rest of my teammates; the coaching staff and everyone in the organization; this means the world to me to share this honor with you.”
Both Yolanda Griffith and Ticha Penicheiro were named to the W25 Best and Most Influential Players list this last month in celebration of the league’s 25 year anniversary.
The Mighty Monarchs will live on in the hearts of Sacramento fans forever. At a time where both the Kings and Monarchs were thriving, those years were basketball euphoria.