Every fan roots for their team to win the championship this year, but the ultimate goal is to be the greatest franchise of all time. At Swish Appeal we decided to rank all the WNBA teams that have ever existed in order of greatness.
For franchises that have moved to between two or three different cities, I counted them as two or three different teams. You may want to see these franchises ranked as one, but I considered them separately because their fan bases are different — in some cases very different (Detroit Shock/Dallas Wings and Orlando Miracle/Connecticut Sun).
This is our article on teams 23 through 12 (the teams with zero championships). To break the tie between the teams, I came up with a tiebreaker point system:
- Lost Finals — 50 points
- Lost semis — 35 points
- Lost final 6 — 25 points
- Lost final 8 — 15 points
- Missed playoffs — Winning percentage x 10
I applied this system to every season of the team’s existence and then divided by the number of seasons to get an average success number.
You could do great in the regular season, but lose early in the playoffs and be hurt by this system. You could also just barely miss the playoffs with a good record and be behind a team that made the playoffs with a worse record. This system rewards the glory of making the playoffs and of making the Finals with big point boosts at those stages. The point totals I awarded for each stage of the playoffs are arbitrary, but these standings should give us a pretty accurate sense of which WNBA teams have achieved the most glory/greatness.
Here are teams 23 through 12:
23) Portland Fire
Tiebreaker point average: 3.85666667
The Fire, who existed from 2000 to 2002, are the only WNBA team to never make the playoffs. Even with the Tulsa Shock making the playoffs once and getting those 15 points, Portland nearly finished 22nd. They finished with a winning percentage above .300 all three years went a solid 16-16 in their final season.
22) Tulsa Shock
Tiebreaker point average: 4.51
Tulsa owns the worst season in WNBA history: a winning percentage of .088 in 2011, which just edges the New York Liberty’s .091 winning percentage not too long ago in the 2020 wubble. Tulsa also struggled in its first season (2010) with a winning percentage of .176. Things got better in the team’s final season before moving to Dallas (2015). It went 18-16 to earn a spot in the playoffs before getting blown out in both of its games against the Phoenix Mercury in the Western Conference Semifinals.
21) Orlando Miracle
Tiebreaker point average: 7.1875
The Miracle were coached by national championship-winning head coach and now legendary analyst/announcer Carolyn Peck three of their four seasons. Peck led them to the Eastern Conference Semifinals with a 16-16 regular-season record in 2000. The team was also 16-16 in 2002 under Dee Brown, but missed the playoffs. It was below .500 but above .400 in both of its other seasons.
20) Miami Sol
Tiebreaker point average: 7.91666667
Like the Fire, the Sol were only around from 2000 to 2002, but they had one great regular season, going 20-12 and earning the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference in 2001. In Game 1 against the No. 2 seed Liberty, they fell on their home court. They went on to win Game 2 in New York, but lost the deciding Game 3, also in New York. Miami was under .500 but better than .400 in both of its other seasons.
19) Dallas Wings
Tiebreaker point average: 9.9742857
Here we have the poor Wings, who I, unfortunately, had to place as the lowest of the current teams. But you’re probably familiar with the fact that they’ve made the playoffs in each of the past two seasons and hope to have a bright future ahead. They are also still technically the same franchise as the three-time champion Detroit Shock. So far, Dallas has missed the playoffs in its first season, then made it twice in a row, missed it twice in a row and made it twice in a row again. So they’ve made the playoffs better than half the time, but have yet to make it out of the first round.
18) Utah Starzz
Tiebreaker point average: 10.915
Here we have one of the original eight — a team that has gone on to become the San Antonio Silver Stars/Stars and now the defending champion Las Vegas Aces. While in Utah, the Starzz went to the playoffs twice (in its final two seasons before moving to San Antonio). They lost in the Western Conference Semifinals in 2001 and then, in 2002, beat the four-time champion Houston Comets to win their first-ever playoff series before getting swept by the Los Angeles Sparks in the Western Conference Finals.
17) San Antonio Silver Stars/Stars
Tiebreaker point average: 12.1566667
The Utah/San Antonio/Las Vegas franchise saw slightly more success during its years in San Antonio than it did during its years in Utah, with the Silver Stars (2003 to 2013)/Stars (2014 to 2017) coming in at No. 17. Dan Hughes was the coach of the team for eight of the Silver Star years and three of the Star years, leading the team to the Finals in 2008. San Antonio had the best regular-season record in the WNBA that year, but it was swept 3-0 by Detroit in the Finals. San Antonio made it to the playoffs six years in a row from 2007 to 2012 and seven times overall, with one Western Conference Finals exit and five Western Conference Semifinals exits.
16) Cleveland Rockers
Tiebreaker point average: 15.8114286
Before his success in San Antonio, Hughes coached the Rockers, one of the original eight, during their final four years of existence. He took them to the playoffs three times and the Eastern Conference Finals once. Linda Hill-MacDonald was at the helm for the team’s one other playoff season (1998), which saw Cleveland make it to the semis. Cleveland is one behind San Antonio in Finals appearances but is tied with two semifinal appearances and accomplished that in eight-fewer seasons. The Rockers’ rate of making the playoffs was 57.1 percent, while San Antonio’s was 46.7 percent.
15) Atlanta Dream
Tiebreaker point average: 18.4026667
The Dream have the same rate of making the Finals as the best team to never win a championship (the Connecticut Sun), making it to the championship round 20 percent of the time (three times in 15 years). However, despite Angel McCoughtry averaging 23.7 points over their nine Finals games, the Dream have never won a Finals game. They were swept by the Seattle Storm in three close games in 2010 and then were swept by the Minnesota Lynx dynasty in both 2011 and 2013. Atlanta improved by 14 games from its first season (2008) to its second after drafting McCoughtry at No. 1 in the 2009 draft. It made the playoffs every year from 2009 to 2014. It hasn’t been to the playoffs since 2018, but now has another No. 1 pick in Rhyne Howard who hopes to turn things around.
14) Charlotte Sting
Tiebreaker point average: 19.721
One of the original eight, the Sting’s best regular season came in 1998 when they went 18-12. In 1997 there were only eight teams, so a semifinal finish wasn’t as impressive, but they got 35 points from that season. Give them credit for making it to the semis out of 10 teams in 1998 and for winning a playoff game to get there in 1999, when there were 12 teams. In 2001, their 18-14 record wasn’t spectacular, but they upset Eastern Conference No. 1 seed Cleveland and No. 2 seed New York en route to the Finals. They made the playoffs twice more (in 2002 and 2003) before crumbling to 6-28 and 11-23 in their final two seasons of existence (2005 and 2006, respectively). Their rate of making the playoffs is higher than the Dream’s (60 percent to 53.3 percent) and their rate of making it to at least the semifinals is greater (40 percent to 26.7 percent).
13) New York Liberty
Tiebreaker point average: 21.0126923
Ah, the Liberty. Such a diehard fan base and one of the original eight that is still going. When you’ve played all 26 seasons it’s harder to have maintained a high level of success, but the Liberty’s point average is impressively second-best among teams without championships and fifth-best overall when looking only at non-championship winning years. It took them until 2013 and 2014 to miss consecutive trips to the playoffs. They’ve tied the Sun with four Finals appearances, falling in the championship round in four out of the first six seasons of the league in almost Buffalo Bills fashion. The Liberty’s one win in a Finals game is perhaps the most famous by a non-champion: Teresa Weatherspoon hit a half-court shot at the buzzer of 1999’s Game 2 to down the Comets, who won the first four WNBA titles in a row. Breanna Stewart, who is 28 years old, now has potentially the rest of her career to improve on this ranking for the Liberty.
12) Connecticut Sun
Tiebreaker point average: 24.75
Since the Miracle became the Sun in 2003, Connecticut has had just three head coaches. Current Washington Mystics general manager Mike Thibault, who went on to coach the Mystics for 10 seasons and bring a championship to D.C., coached the Sun for their first 10 seasons, taking them to the semis in each of the first four years, including the 2004 and 2005 Finals. The Sun have replicated the four straight-semifinal accomplishment over the last four seasons. Jonquel Jones and Alyssa Thomas led the way to the Finals in 2019 and 2022, while Jones (for the most part without Thomas) won league MVP in 2021 and led the team to the semis, and Thomas (without Jones) led the team to the semis in 2020. In 2019, the Sun pushed the Mystics, coached by Thibault, to a Game 5 in the Finals. Curt Miller was the coach at the helm in Connecticut from 2016 to 2022 and, like Thibault, is a great coach. But he has moved on to the Sparks for 2023. The Sun have a 70 percent success rate when it comes to making the playoffs.