Editor’s Note: In 2019, Nothing But Nylon created Prestige Rankings, a system designed to display the very best and very worst teams any basketball league has had to offer over history. Using points based upon various accomplishments or failures, we have ranked every WNBA team in multiple ways to show you who has truly run the show since 1997. We’re examining the defunct teams, currently the Houston Comets, but take a look at all of the criteria to get a good idea of how things work.
Years Active: 1997-2008 Prestige Score: 128 Prestige Rank: 1/23
If you include all teams in WNBA history, our rankings say the Houston Comets are the most impressive team ever. They won a championship in 33 percent of their 12 seasons and went to nine postseasons. Of course, almost all of Houston’s 1,536 raw points came from 1997-2000 when it claimed those titles. In those four seasons, the Comets counted up 1,324 points, 86.2 percent of their 12-year total. In the franchise’s final eight seasons of play, it didn’t do all that much, failing to earn triple-digits points in any one campaign, but for the most part, the team was at least generating something positive.
The first four years are what carry the Comets, though, and rightfully so. At that time, the Houston Comets were the WNBA, and no team has exercised that level of dominance over the league since. Their teams were so talented that a Houston player won league MVP five different times in 12 years, which is still the second-most of any team in the league, behind only L.A.’s six, and the rankings reflect that. Who knows where Houston would be on these rankings if they team had lasted longer or still played today. The Comets near the end were certainly not the same as the Comets from the beginning, though the Lynx went through their troubles before exploding in the 2010s.
Anything could have happened.
But while Houston is benefitting from its early death in these rankings, it wouldn’t be here without the most dominant run ever in the WNBA, and at the very least, recognition as one of the greatest franchises in the history of the league is well deserved.
Houston Comets Totals
- WNBA Championships: 4 |400 points|
- WNBA Finals Appearances: 4 |240 points|
- Series Wins: 10 |30 points|
- Playoffs Wins: 19 |285 points|
- Playoffs Byes: 1 |15 points)|
- Playoffs Appearances: 9 |141 points|
- Regular Season Top Record: 3 |30 points|
- Above .500 Regular Season: 9 |36 points|
- All-WNBA Player on Roster: 19 |57 points|
- MVP on Roster: 5 |25 points|
- Coach of the Year: 3 |15 points|
- Regular Season Worst Record: 0 |0 points|
- Below .500 Regular Season: 2 |-8 points|
Total points: |1,536|
Best Year: 2000
Four times, the Houston Comets were WNBA champions, tied for the most in the league’s history. In 2000, the team won its fourth straight, the exclamation point to the WNBA’s first dynasty, and earned the most points of any season in our system. The Comets suffered zero losing streaks through the entirety of the 2000 regular season, winning at least five consecutive games three times, including a 10-game undefeated run in the middle of the season. Houston finished 27-5, the second-best record in the Western Conference and entire league, behind only the Los Angeles Sparks by one game. Houston faced the No. 3 seed Sacramenton Monarchs in the Western Conference Semifinals, their first playoff matchup against one another. Riding on the heat of a five-game winning streak to close the regular season, the Comets won Game 1, 72-64, with 25 points from Cynthia Cooper the difference. Houston took Game 2 to complete the series, 75-70, but it also required big performances from the team’s stars as Cooper, Tina Thompson and Sheryl Swopes posted a combined 64 points, more than 85 percent of Houston’s scoring.
The top-seeded Sparks were next in a rematch of the 1999 Western Conference Finals, which Houston won, 2-0. To start the series, the Comets made a statement, crushing Los Angeles, 77-56, behind 22 points from Swopes, 21 via Cooper and a defensive effort that kept Lisa Leslie in relative check. In Game 2, L.A. showed better fight, but it wasn’t good enough. The Comets ended the series, 74-69, as Cooper put up 29. Every one of those points, and Tammy Jackson and Janeth Arcain’s double-figure scoring, were crucial as Swoopes and Thompson both struggled offensively.
The New York Liberty, the East’s top team and Houston’s opponent in the 1997 and 1999 WNBA Finals, stood between the Comets and their fourth championship in a row. In Game 1, Houston’s defense smothered most of New York, holding everyone but Tari Phillips to a combined 28 points. Cooper scored 20, with Thompson (15) and Swoopes (12) behind her, both grabbing eight rebounds each. In a title-clinching Game 2, the league’s MVP went out of her mind. Swoopes had 31 points on 11-of-18 shooting, an important efficiency on a night when the rest of her team shot a collective 37 percent from the field, as the Comets triumphed, 79-73, to continue their reign as the only champions in WNBA history.
Swoopes was the leading scorer with 20.7 points per game, with Cooper (17.7), Thompson (16.9) and Arcain (8.4) following. Swoopes was also the top rebounder, averaging 6.3 per night, and Cooper was the best distributor, dishing 5.0 dimes per contest. It was head coach Van Chancellor’s fourth season in Houston and subsequently his fourth title. Cooper and Swoopes were both named to the All-WNBA First Team, and Thompson was selected to the All-WNBA Second Team. Swoopes won the league’s MVP award, her first and the third by a Comet, with Cooper earning the honor in 1997 and 1998.
Worst Year: 2004
In 2004 and 2007, Houston ended with -1 points and a 13-21 record. We’re giving 2004 the nod as the worst season, though, considering the conclusion of Houston’s playoff streak and placing lower in the conference as tiebreakers. The Comets started the season okay, 6-4 through the first 10 games. But that’s when the wheels began to wobble, with three losses in five games, then fell off completely as the team lost five in a row in July to go two games below .500. Houston won five more matchups the rest of the season, with four-game and three-game losing skids mixed in. The team finished second-to-last in the WNBA, four games from the league’s worst record.
Tina Thompson scored 20.0 points per outing, the most on the team. Sheryl Swoopes was next (14.8), with Michelle Snow (8.9) and Kedra Holland-Corn (6.6) behind her. Snow posted a team-high 7.7 rebounds per game, and Swoopes was the leading passer, averaging 2.9 assists per night. The season was Van Chancellor’s eighth as Houston head coach. It was the first time in his WNBA career that Chancellor missed the postseason and would remain the only instance. But the team did manage some positive points in our system. Thompson was on the All-WNBA First Team, the seventh time in eight years she was included in one of the two teams. Points: -1
Winningest Coach: Van Chancellor
Chancellor served as the head women’s coach at Ole Miss from 1978-97 until he was hired as the first head coach in Houston Comets history for the inaugural WNBA season. In his first season, he led the team to the first WNBA championship. In his second season, he led the team to the second WNBA championship. In his third season, he led the team to the third WNBA championship.
Guess what he did in his fourth season?
It wasn’t until Year 5 when Chancellor’s Comets failed to sit atop the league’s throne. Houston lost in the Western Conference Semifinals every year from 2001-03, missed the postseason in 2004 for the first time ever, then went back to the postseason in Chancellor’s final two seasons, advancing to the Western Conference Finals in 2005. At the conclusion of his 10 seasons in Houston, Chancellor was 231-126 overall (20-15 in the playoffs) with four titles, four Finals appearances and nine postseason berths. He is tied with Cheryl Reeve with the most championships in WNBA history and is safely among the greatest coaches the league has ever seen. When team owner Les Alexander sold the team in 2006, Chancellor quickly resigned.
“I know you had to have a strong owner,” he told the Mark H. Stowers of The Clarion-Ledger in 2016. “You can’t win on the professional level unless you’ve got an owner who will back you to the hill.”
Two years later, the new owner failed in his attempt to sell the team. The league took over and disbanded the team in 2009.
“I cried a little bit that day,” Chancellor told Stowers. “We put our heart and soul into that franchise and it really hurt me to see them fold.”
The coach accepted the job at LSU and did well, even reaching a Final Four in 2008. He retired from head coaching in 2011. Chancellor was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007.