This is the final part in a five-part series honoring the best 25 draft picks in Liberty history.
The celebration of the Liberty’s 25th anniversary continues. In the final installment of my five-part series, I continue to honor the top 25 picks in New York Liberty history with a breakdown of the top five picks.
What went into the rankings? Overall statistics, number of games, seasons with the Liberty, as well as any awards and playoff appearances. An athlete’s impact off the court with fans and their communities were also considered.
As a slight reminder, though likely considered some of best ever to play for the Liberty, the following players were not drafted by New York. Rather, these players were acquired either through a trade or via free agency:
#5 Sue Wicks: 1997 Draft [6th overall], six seasons with New York
Sue Wicks was drafted sixth overall in the 1997 draft out of Rutgers. After playing collegiately from 1984 to 1988, she played professionally in Italy, Spain, Israel, and Japan before the WNBA launched in 1997. Rebecca Lobo was assigned to the Liberty, and the team drafted Kym Hampton and Vickie Johnson in the Elite Draft. The plan when Wicks was drafted was to be the key post player off the bench.
Wicks saw limited time in her first season. Averaging just 11.9 minutes per game (MPG), Wicks brought in 3.6 points per game (PPG), 3.4 rebounds per game (RPG), and only 0.6 blocks per game. Even in their two playoff games, Wicks brought in just 2.0 PPG and 2.0 RPG.
In 1998, Wicks saw an increase in production. Now averaging 14.8 MPG, 4.3 PPG, and 2.8 RPG through all 30 games, Wicks was more of a sixth woman that season off the bench alongside Kisha Ford. New York, however, failed to reach the playoffs after reaching the Finals the year before.
In her third season with the Liberty, Wicks was put into a starting role following the injury of Rebecca Lobo at the beginning of the season. She saw career highs in PPG (6.8), RPG (7.0), BPG (1.3), and MPG (29.3). The Liberty again reached the Finals, falling to the Houston Comets in a best-of-three game series. Wicks, through the six playoff games, averaged 7.0 PPG and 6.8 RPG.
In 2000, despite a decline in her statistics, Wicks was named an All-Star. Due to the acquisition of Tari Phillips and the emergence of Tamika Whitmore, Wicks started in just 12 games on the season. Statistically, she averaged 4.9 PPG, 4.7 RPB, and 1.2 BPG. Still a key member off the bench, the Liberty reached the playoffs again, where through seven games, Wicks pulled in 3.3 PPG and 3.9 RPG.
2001 would see Wicks in a lesser role off the bench. The production of Tari Phillips as the team’s leading scorer required less of the now 34-year-old Wicks. Still, Wicks averaged 5.2 PPG, 4.6 RPG, and 1.0 BPG. The Liberty advanced to the Conference Finals that season to be eliminated by the Charlotte Sting, 2-1.
2002 would be Wicks’ final season. Through 30 games, Wicks’ numbers dropped to 14.3 MPG, 2.2 PPG, and 3.4 RPG. Still a vital member off the bench, the Liberty again reached the WNBA Finals. Through eight games, Wicks averaged 2.6 PPG and 1.5 RPG. Following 2002, Wicks announced her retirement. In six seasons with New York, she played in 182 games (10th all-time), brought in 788 rebounds (fifth all-time), 823 points, and 155 blocks (second all-time).
Following her retirement, Wicks was inducted into the Rutgers Basketball Hall of Fame in 1994 and the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in 2013. In 2005, she was named an assistant coach on the Rutgers’ women’s basketball team. In 2006, she was named an assistant with the Saint Francis College women’s basketball team. Most recently, Wicks opened up an oyster farm, Violet Cove, outside her home in East Moriches, New York.
#4 Shameka Christon: 2004 Draft [5th overall], six seasons with New York
Shameka Christon was drafted fifth overall in 2004 out of Arkansas. A dynamic scorer in college, Christon was drafted with the intention for New York to get younger and add much-needed scoring depth. In her rookie season, Christon averaged just 17.0 MPG, 5.8 PPG, and 2.1 RPG. Through her five playoff games, she went on to post similar numbers at 5.6 PPG and 1.8 RPG. The Liberty were eliminated in the Eastern Conference Finals via a sweep by the Connecticut Sun.
Her sophomore year saw her numbers nearly double. Crystal Robinson signed with the Washington Mystics in the offseason, which opened the door for Christon to get more playing time. Averages increased in her PPG (9.1) and RPG (2.7), and her shooting percentage rose to 41.1 percent. The Liberty fell to the Indiana Fever in the first round of the 2005 playoffs.
2006 was Christon’s breakout season. Vickie Johnson signed with the San Antonio Stars in the offseason, and Becky Hammon played in only 20 games on the season due to injury. Christon was given the task to lead this Liberty squad in a rebuilding year. Starting in all 34 games, her averages once again jumped, now up to 12.4 PPG, 2.7 RPG, and 1.3 assists per game (APG). The Liberty posted an 11-23 record and failed to make the playoffs.
In 2007, her averages and her shooting took a fall. With a career high in minutes per game (32.3), she saw one of her worst shooting seasons in the WNBA, dropping down to 36.0 percent and 32.8 percent from three-point range. At 11.2 PPG, Christon led the team in scoring, and the Liberty advanced back into the playoffs only to be eliminated in the first round by the Detroit Shock.
In 2008, Christon saw her shooting percentage rise back up. At 15.7 PPG and 3.0 RPG, her shooting jumped to 39.7 percent and a career-high from three-point range at 40.6 percent. The Liberty once again advanced to the playoffs, this time to the Eastern Conference Finals, where they fell to the Detroit Shock, 2-1. Through her six playoff games, Christon brought in 13.7 PPG and 4.3 RPG while shooting 44.4 percent from three.
2009, despite being an All-Star year, was Christon’s final season with the Liberty. She saw career highs in PPG (16.1) and RPG (4.9), but New York failed to advance to the playoffs. The Liberty finished with a 13-21 record. Prior to the 2010 WNBA Draft, Christon was traded as part of a three-team deal that sent her to the Chicago Sky. This trade also ended up sending Cappie Pondexter to the Liberty. Through 197 games (eighth all-time) and 5,382 minutes (seventh all-time), Christon brought in 2,295 points (sixth all-time), 679 rebounds, and 285 assists. She also ranked third all-time in three-pointers made (288) and attempted (825).
Christon played just 10 games in her only season with Chicago, following a knee injury early into the year. Her injury subsequently forced her to miss the entire 2011 season. In 2012, Christon signed a free agent deal with the San Antonio Stars, where she played the next three seasons. Her final season was in 2015, and she played in just 12 games with the Phoenix Mercury. Ongoing knee issues forced her to retire in 2016. Most recently, Christon owns her own company, Shameka Christon Enterprises, an organization that encompasses profit and nonprofit ventures.
#3 Essence Carson: 2008 Draft [7th overall], eight seasons with New York
Essence Carson was the eighth overall pick in the 2008 draft out of Rutgers. Following a transition year, Carson was immediately relied upon following Becky Hammon’s trade to San Antonio the previous year. In her rookie season, through 30 starts, Carson averaged 6.6 PPG and 2.2 RPG. In the following season, her numbers increased in almost every category, averaging 10.0 PPG, 2.1 RPG, and 1.4 APG while shooting 40.8 percent from the field.
Her 2010 season saw a drastic regression. The additions of Cappie Pondexter, Kalana Greene, and Nicole Powell saw Carson in a much smaller role that season. Despite playing in all 34 games, Carson averaged only 9.6 MPG and 3.7 PPG. Carson, however, upped her statistics during the Liberty’s playoff run. Through five games, she brought in 13.6 PPG on 53.6 percent shooting, in addition to 3.2 RPG. The Liberty were swept by the Atlanta Dream in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Her 2011 season brought Carson into more of a sixth woman type of role with the Liberty. Only starting in five games, Carson was named an All-Star that season. Her statistics jumped to 11.3 PPG and 2.8 RPG while shooting 43.7 percent from the field and 38.7 percent from three-point range. Advancing to the playoffs again, the Liberty lost to the Indiana Fever in the first round, 2-1. Carson averaged 9.0 PPG on just 35.7 percent shooting in their three games.
2012 saw Carson in the starter position for the majority of the season. Near similar numbers from the previous season, her RPG jumped the highest, now up to 3.4 per game. An early exit from the playoffs occurred again, this time a first-round sweep by the Connecticut Sun.
2013 was set to be another All-Star season for Carson. Through her first four games, she brought in 14.3 PPG, 5.5 RPG, and 1.8 APG (all career highs). On June 9, Carson suffered an anterior crucial ligament tear in her inner left knee and missed the rest of the season. Carson return to the Liberty in 2014, but wasn’t fully recovered from her injury. In only 26 games, she averaged career lows of 3.3 PPG on 35.4 percent shooting. The Liberty missed the playoffs in both seasons.
2015 drew an end to Carson’s time with New York. Despite an uptick in her production, she never returned to her previous All-Star form prior to her injury. She finished the season averaging 6.1 PPG and 2.3 RPG on 38.0 percent shooting. Through 231 games (second all-time), Carson remains the longest tenured collegiate draft pick in Liberty history. Her accolades and franchise highs included:
Minutes played: 4,607 (eighth all-time)
Points scored: 1,790 (eighth)
Field goals made: 705 (eighth)
Field goals attempted: 1,746 (sixth)
Steals: 183 (eighth)
Following the 2015 season, Carson went on to sign with the Los Angeles Sparks, where she won a championship in 2016. Following three years in Los Angeles, she signed with the Phoenix Mercury in 2019. In 2020, she began the season with the Washington Mystics, where played 10 games before being waived on August 15. Two days later, Carson signed with the Connecticut Sun and finished out the 2020 season with the team.
Carson did not sign with any team for the 2021 season. She is also a hip-hop artist that goes by the name Pr3pE.
#2 Crystal Robinson: 1999 Draft [6th overall], seven seasons with New York
Crystal Robinson was drafted sixth overall in 1999 out of Southeastern Oklahoma State University. Prior to the WNBA, Robinson played in the ABL with the Colorado Xplosion for three years before the league folded. In her rookie season, C-Rob saw averages of 11.7 PPG, 2.8 RPG, and 1.4 SPG while shooting 43.9 percent from the field and 43.7 percent from three-point range. A key member off the Liberty’s bench, Robinson helped them reach the WNBA Finals after missing the playoffs entirely the previous season. Robinson averaged 14.3 PPG on 50.0 percent shooting throughout the playoffs.
2000 saw Robinson again as New York’s key player off their bench. Though she started 14 games, her numbers declined to 8.8 PPG and 2.5 RPG. Her key three-point shooting also dipped to 35.3 percent. Despite the drop in her numbers, the Liberty again advanced to the WNBA Finals. Through their seven games, Robinson averaged only 6.6 PPG and 2.9 RPG. The Liberty fell again to the Houston Comets in the Finals.
2001 saw Robinson inserted into the starting lineup full-time. Robinson saw career highs in her shooting (46.1 percent) and assists per game (2.6). The Liberty fell to the Charlotte Sting in the Eastern Conference Finals, where Robinson averaged 11.5 PPG on 50.0 percent shooting during their six playoff games.
Robinson posted similar numbers in 2002. At the age of 28, she saw career highs in minutes per game (33.4) and steals per game (1.5). Reaching the Finals again, Robinson averaged only 8.8 PPG on 35.4 percent shooting throughout the Liberty’s eight playoff games. This time, the Liberty fell to the Los Angeles Sparks in the WNBA Finals.
2003 and 2004 were Robinson’s best years in terms of overall production. She averaged 12.0 and 12.1 PPG respectively, while maintaining nearly 44 percent shooting. The Liberty failed to qualify for the playoffs in 2003, but reached the Eastern Conference Finals in 2004. Through the five playoff games, Robinson averaged 15.0 PPG on 50 percent shooting. The Liberty ended up being swept by the Connecticut Sun.
In her final season with New York, Robinson continued to start but saw career lows in several categories, averaging only 7.3 PPG and 0.7 SPG while shooting just 37.9 percent from the field and 31.8 percent from three-point range. Robinson ranked in the top 10 of several categories in Liberty franchise history:
Games played: 216 (sixth all-time)
Minutes played: 6,608 (third)
Points: 2,301 (fifth)
Field goals made: 810 (fourth)
Field goals attempts: 1,884 (fifth)
Three-point field goals made and attempted: 400 & 1,044 (first)
Assists: 440 (ninth)
Steals: 232 (sixth)
Robinson signed as a free agent with the Washington Mystics in 2006. In 2007, she played in only two games with the Mystics before announcing her retirement on June 1. Immediately following her retirement, she was announced as an assistant coach for Washington. In 2008, she was the head coach for the girl’s basketball team at McAlester High School in Oklahoma. From 2010 through 2012, Robinson coached at Murray State in Tishomingo, Oklahoma. In 2013, she was an assistant coach for one season at Utah State. The following year, she was named the assistant coach at Texas Christian University.
In 2018, Robinson joined the Seattle Storm as an assistant coach, where she won a WNBA championship. The following year, she was hired as an assistant coach with the Dallas Wings, where she remained through the 2020 season. Robinson is currently not coaching but has released a book, Finding Myself. On August 25, she was the seventh member in Liberty history to be inducted into their Ring of Honor.
#1 Vickie Johnson: 1997 Elite Draft [12th overall], nine seasons with New York
Vickie Johnson was drafted 12th overall in the 1997 Elite Draft out of Louisiana Tech. Johnson, through her nine seasons with the Liberty, started in 281 out of 282 games that she played in. In her first season, Johnson averaged 9.6 PPG, 4.2 RPG, and 2.5 APG. Her rookie year was her worst in terms of shooting percentage at 40.4. Throughout her nine seasons, her shooting never fell below 40 percent, and she averaged 43.6 percent during her tenure.
Her 1998 season saw an increase in her overall production. Her PPG average jumped to 12.5, while her three-point shooting increased from 19 percent in 1997 to 37.5 percent. In 1999, Johnson was named an All-Star, the first year the WNBA had the game. She saw a career high in MPG at 33.8, and her averages in points (13.3), rebounds (4.4), assists (3.3), and steals (1.4) also saw an increase. Through their playoff run to the Finals, Johnson averaged 10.2 PPG, 3.5 RPG, and 3.0 APG in six games.
In 2000, VJ posted similar numbers from the previous year with her PPG dropping slightly to 12.3. In their third run to the WNBA Finals, Johnson averaged 10.3 PPG, 5.0 RPG, and 3.4 APG while shooting just 38 percent from the field. The Liberty once again fell to the Houston Comets.
Johnson was once again named an All-Star in 2001 despite a drop in her overall production. Through 32 games, she brought in just 11.0 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 2.7 APG, and 1.1 SPG. However, in her six games during the playoffs, VJ dropped 14.8 PPG, 4.5 RPG, and 4.7 APG while shooting 45.3 percent from the field.
2002 saw her post nearly similar numbers, and the Liberty again advanced to their fourth (and last) WNBA Finals. In her eight playoff games, Johnson saw averages of 12.3 PPG on 48 percent shooting while adding 3.8 RPG and 3.0 APG. In the 2003 season, Johnson averaged a career-high 13.4 PPG while shooting 45.8 percent from the field. In more of a transition season, Johnson led the team in scoring for just the second time in her career.
2004 saw Johnson with a career-low 9.4 PPG with New York. The Liberty had transitioned to Becky Hammon as the team’s focal point on offense. Teresa Weatherspoon signed with Los Angeles in the offseason, and a new era had begun in New York. The Liberty returned to the playoffs, where Johnson averaged just 8.2 PPG on 35.9 percent shooting. The Liberty fell to the Connecticut Sun in the Eastern Conference Finals.
2005 was her final season with the Liberty. In 34 games, she averaged 10.4 PPG, 3.5 RPG, and 2.7 APG. Despite the lesser role with the team, Johnson shot a career-high 47.4 percent from the field. The Liberty were swept by the Indiana Fever in the first round of the playoffs.
Johnson’s ranks in Liberty history are unmatched. Her tenure alone is currently unreachable. VJ ranks first in games played (282) and minutes played (8,950). Rebecca Allen is the closest active Liberty player at 131 games and 1,876 minutes played. On August 30, 2011, Johnson was one of the first five players inducted into the Liberty’s Ring of Honor.
Her other franchise accolades include:
Points scored: 3,248 (second all-time)
Field goals made: 1,245 (second)
Field goals attempted: 2,856 (second)
Three-point field goals made: 221 (seventh)
Assists: 787 (second)
Steals: 255 (third)
Following the 2005 season, Johnson signed as a free agent with the San Antonio Stars in 2006, where she played her final four years in the league. After her retirement in 2010, VJ joined the Stars as an assistant coach for six years and took over as their head coach for the 2017 season. After the Stars’ relocation to Las Vegas, the new ownership named previous Liberty head coach, Bill Laimbeer, as their coach. Johnson joined Laimbeer’s staff as an assistant, where she stayed through 2020. In 2021, Johnson was announced as the new head coach of the Dallas Wings. As of September 11, Johnson’s Wings had qualified for the playoffs.