The first dynasty in the WNBA started with its inaugural season in 1997, when the Houston Comets made it clear they were the best in the league.
Led by Cynthia Cooper-Dyke, the late Kim Perrot (who passed away halfway through their third title reign in 1999), three-time MVP Sheryl Swoopes, Tina Thompson and head coach Van Chancellor, the Comets became the first-ever professional sports franchise since the 1959-1966 Boston Celtics to win four straight league championships. At the time of their last championship in 2000, it seemed like the record of four titles would remain for a long time.
Fast forward to 2017. The Comets folded after the 2008 season, and the last player from those Comets teams retired after the 2013 season (Thompson). And thanks to a gutsy performance on Sunday by future Hall-of-Famer Diana Taurasi, it is almost guaranteed that one of three teams in this year’s WNBA playoffs will tie that hallowed mark set by the Comets.
The “Chase for Four” starts today with the Minnesota Lynx, Los Angeles Sparks, Phoenix Mercury and Washington Mystics squaring off in the semifinals. While the Mystics, inspired by a comeback victory over the New York Liberty, hope to quash Minnesota’s chances for a fourth title in seven years, the Mercury and Sparks will be playing to see whose journey for the fourth ring falls short.
Here, we’re going to analyze all four teams during their championship seasons, and explain why they each have a claim as the best team in WNBA history. It’s only right to start off with the only four-peat champions in league history.
HOUSTON COMETS (1997, 1998, 1999, 2000)
One couldn’t blame you if you don’t know about the original dynasty of the WNBA, the 1997-2000 Houston Comets. It’s hard to remember a team when they are no longer in existence.
But the soul of those Comets teams will forever live on through the eyes of the people who lived it. With the big three of Cooper-Dyke, Swoopes and Thompson, the fiery personality of Perrot, and the precise coaching of Chancellor, the Comets were honestly the first super-team in the WNBA. To give you an idea of just how dominant those Comets teams were, let’s look at their record during their reign at the top:
1997: 28-10 (2-0 in the playoffs)
1998: 27-3 (best win percentage in league history - 90%; 4-1 in the playoffs)
1999: 26-6 (4-2 in the playoffs)
2000: 27-5 (6-0 in the playoffs)
Of all the teams who have won multiple championships (the aforementioned Comets, Lynx, Mercury, Sparks, Dallas Wings and Seattle Storm), only the Comets can claim to have two seasons where they went undefeated when it matters the most. Granted, the first-ever WNBA playoffs were two single-elimination games, but it still takes a lot to win under such intense pressure. From these Comets teams, Chancellor, Cooper-Dyke and Swoopes are in the Naismith Hall of Fame, Perrot’s jersey was the first to be retired by the WNBA, and Thompson was the league’s all-time leading scorer until earlier this season.
MINNESOTA LYNX (2011, 2013, 2015)
For a team that failed to even sniff the playoffs in 10 of its first 12 seasons in the league, the Minnesota Lynx have become the standard bearers of excellence since the 2011 season.
With a fantasy core of Lindsay Whalen, Maya Moore, Seimone Augustus and Sylvia Fowles (while not there for 2011 and 2013, she was instrumental in their 2015 title run), the Lynx have gone from conference doormats to the next potential dynasty. Since 2011, the Lynx have gone a ridiculous 182-56 (.764) in the regular season...and it doesn’t stop there.
They are also the only team other the 1997-2000 Comets to have four or more seasons as the best team in the league (Minnesota has done it six of the last seven years), and have a playoff record of 21-4 (including a perfect 7-0 in 2013 when they outscored their opponents by 108 points) in their championship years.
LOS ANGELES SPARKS (2001, 2002, 2016)
Despite being one of the original eight teams in the league and sporting such great talent as Lisa Leslie, it took the Los Angeles Sparks five seasons to win their first WNBA championship. When they captured their first title back in 2001, it signified a change of the guard, as Houston was no longer the top dog.
To the Sparks’ credit, they are the last team to win back-to-back championships. And last year’s title reign (their first in 14 years) was definitely the stuff of legend. However, despite their three titles, 2001 was possibly the only year where you can say that they were head and shoulders above the rest of the league.
In 2001, the Sparks pulled off a still-standing record of 18 straight wins (June 26-August 11), finishing with a record of 28-4, with Lisa Leslie (WNBA MVP, Finals MVP) and Latasha Byears (Peak Performer) sweeping the top awards. 2002 saw them only finish a game ahead of the Comets for best record, but went undefeated in the playoffs.
Last season, the Sparks went 6-3 despite getting a bye through the first two rounds of the playoffs, and barely squeaked by in Game 5 of the Finals, winning on a play that the WNBA would later say they failed to make the correct call. If not for the missed call, the Lynx would not only be the most recent back-to-back champions, but would be going for their record FIFTH championship this season.
PHOENIX MERCURY (2007, 2009, 2014)
When speaking of the Phoenix Mercury’s three championships, one player usually comes to mind: the “White Mamba,” Diana Taurasi.
And it’s not her fault. Taurasi was the constant in all three title reigns, and is the only player left on the team who was there for each victory. But to say she was the only reason they won would be a disservice to the rest of the key contributors.
In 2007, the core of Taurasi, Cappie Pondexter and Penny Taylor (Taurasi’s now wife and Phoenix’s director of player development) led the Mercury to a 23-11 record (7-2 in the playoffs). After slipping to last in the West in 2008, they rebounded with their second title in 2009 before going five years between that and their most recent title.
Of these three titles, the 2014 was the most impressive. The 2014 season saw the Mercury set the league record for most wins in a season (29-5), and went 7-1 in the playoffs, embarrassing the Chicago Sky in their three-game sweep of the Finals (outscored the Sky by 55 in their wins).
As the semifinals begin, let’s take a moment to appreciate the greatness of these teams. Because at the end of the season, one of them will most likely make history.
Who do you think is the greatest team of all time?
This poll is closed
1998 Houston Comets
2001 Los Angeles Sparks
2013 Minnesota Lynx
2014 Phoenix Mercury