You have to know the words to play the game, whether it's "fold" or "uncle" or "volley for serve."

Or "we got next." It's the three-word ticket to play in street-corner basketball. At long last, it's now the women's turn to say it - and to play it.Hang around a busy pickup court, and you'll understand the term soon enough. For those who don't know their asphalt from an arena, it means, "Please, may we play the next game when you are through?" But who has time to deal with all those words?

"T'We got next' is a male thing, a pickup line for the next game," says Mary Murphy, head coach of the Sacramento Monarchs of the Women's National Basketball Association.

Now, the expression has moved from the street game to the marketing arena as the slam-dunk slogan for the WNBA, the NBA's new sister league.

"It says 'We're here." ' I love the slogan. It's getting the word out," Murphy says. The slogan started showing up in print ads and on TV a few months ago.

"We got next" is the perfect setup.

The slogan has literalism going for it: Now that the NBA is finished, the WNBA's inaugural season starts Saturday and runs through Aug. 30.

The slogan also has symbolism going for it - with a larger message of "it's our turn at last" for the very notion of women's professional basketball. For players who have been playing for pay everywhere but the United States - in Italy and Turkey and elsewhere - it's a sweet reminder that it's finally their turn to play with a home-court advantage.

Coach Murphy admits that when she first played pickup games in New York City, she used to let her more street-wise and physically imposing friend (who had 6 inches on Murphy, who's 5-feet-8 inches tall) place the claim to the court.

"She was from New Jersey, and she was 6-foot-2. I let her handle it. She was the one who'd say 'We got next,' " Murphy says, with a laugh.

The volunteer interpreter for Mikiko Hagiwara of the Sacramento Monarchs speaks fluent English and Japanese, but she doesn't speak basketball well enough to begin to try and translate "we got next." Hagiwara just smiles but doesn't respond to the expression, although when she hears the words "street basketball," her face lights up with recognition and she repeats it enthusiastically.

Plenty of native English speakers don't get it. Yvette Angel, a guard, says she had to translate the term for her boss when it first hit TV in ads a few months ago. She was working in Orange County as a sales rep for college textbooks, where such phrases just aren't parsed, explicated or otherwise deconstructed.

Like many slogans, this one will be easily disassembled for the purposes of parody. "We got nixed" comes to mind if the league fails.

Don't feel bad if you didn't get "we got next" right away. Peter Land, director of marketing communications for WNBA, says by phone from New York that there were even a few people in his office who didn't get it at first.

But hard-core basketball fans will know - and Land says those are the people the WNBA is shooting for.

"I think the creative thing was to come up with a campaign that was a little bit fun and a lot basketball, and like any campaign something people would remember," Land says.

The person who actually came up with the winning three syllables is Amie Murstein, a 29-year-old advertising copy writer in Manhattan. She and Brian Hughes, an art director, were one of several writer-artist pairs who took on the challenge when their firm, Fallon McElligott Berlin, took on the job of coming up with a WNBA campaign last fall.

"You don't always get a chance to create an image for something. You often come in to an established brand image," Murstein said.

"Basically, we were given the assignment that this new league was about to be introduced, and that the league was all about basketball, not about gender," she says.

Murstein has never said "we got next" at the court herself. Her sports are mountain biking, golf and softball. But she had heard the expression plenty of times, watching pickup games in Manhattan.

Some of the slogans Murstein and her partner talked about included, "A new era" and "The games will begin." The problem: "Those aren't inherently about basketball," Murstein says. "We got next" is.

The non-standard English was discussed but dismissed, Murstein says: "'We got next' just sounded right, and that's how you say it no matter who you are."

After about a month of brainstorming, the advertising agency presented several possible campaigns to WNBA executives in early December.

"This was the last campaign that we presented, and they immediately loved it. They said, 'You saved the best for last,' " says Izzy DeBellis, the ad agency's creative director. "They saw the power of the line quicker than we did."

Monarchs forward Bridgette Gordon saw the power of the line right away, too.

"'We got next' is letting them know it's your turn," says Gordon. At 6 feet and 172 pounds - and a size 12 shoe - you're inclined to believe she means it.

"It's exciting. I've never had people be so excited about women's basketball," she says.