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 up to #2 Los Angeles Sparks, but take a look at all of the criteria and defunct teams to get a good idea of how things work.
LOS ANGELES SPARKS
Years Active: 1997-Present
Prestige Score: 104.5
Prestige Rank: 4/23
Active Rank: 2/12
L.A. is the best of the original teams that remain in their first locations, with a sizable lead on Mercury, the No. 3 team in our rankings. Both teams have three championships, and while the Sparks have one more WNBA Finals appearance, the real difference comes in other places.
The Sparks have never finished last in the league, and only three times have they finished a season with negative points in our system. In all, L.A. only collected 24 negative points in its 22 years, a huge help for its score. Compare that to Phoenix, and that’s a little more than a 20-point advantage.
Los Angeles has had three players – Lisa Leslie, Candace Parker and Nneka Ogwumike – earn six MVPs, the most of any franchise. The Sparks have had their coach win Coach of the Year twice, and they’ve had a staggering 29 All-WNBA selections, good for 87 points. Match that up with the Mercury, and the points continue to add up.
But the sustained success, which also affects those other areas, is what really does it. The Sparks have played in 18 of 22 WNBA Playoffs, only missing two since 1999. From 1999-2006, Los Angeles made eight consecutive postseasons, and the team is currently on a seven-season streak of playoff appearances. All together, those have earned the Sparks 241 points.
It shouldn’t be too surprising to see the Sparks up here. Los Angeles is one of the most well-known, winningest teams in the WNBA, and have had several of the best players ever on its roster. But the reason the team isn’t No. 1 is longevity. The Sparks have had two more years to win one fewer championship than their rivals, the Minnesota Lynx, and when the margins are this slim, that can make the difference. Regardless, Los Angeles is one of the most storied franchises in all of basketball history and deserved to be considered one of the WNBA’s greatest.
Los Angeles Sparks Totals
WNBA Championships: 3 |300 points|
WNBA Finals Appearances: 5 |300 points|
Series Wins: 18 |540 points|
Playoffs Wins: 44 |660 points|
Playoffs Byes: 4 |60 points)|
Playoffs Appearances: 18 |241 points|
Regular Season Top Record: 2 |20 points|
Above .500 Regular Season: 14 |56 points|
All-WNBA Player on Roster: 29 |87 points|
MVP on Roster: 6 |30 points|
Coach of the Year: 2 |10 points|
Regular Season Worst Record: 0 |0 points|
Below .500 Regular Season: 6 |-24 points|
Total points: |2,297|
Best Year: 2001
The Sparks won their first nine to start the year before losing three in a row. That would be the worst stretch of their season as the Sparks won the following 18 showdowns, winning every game for almost seven weeks and setting a WNBA record for most consecutive victories that still stands today. Los Angeles finished the regular season 28-4, the top mark in the league by six games.
The team met the No. 4 seed Houston Comets, the only team to win a WNBA championship four full seasons into the league, in the Western Conference Semifinals. The series was a rematch of the last two Western Conference Finals, both of which went Houston’s way.
Los Angeles took Game 1, 64-59, its first-ever playoff win against the Comets in five tries. Lisa Leslie scored 19 points and grabbed 11 rebounds, and Janeth Arcain was held to 11 points on 4-of-15 shooting after averaging 18.5 points per game in the regular season. The Sparks finished the job in Game 2, winning 70-58 to sweep the series with another incredible double-double performance from Leslie on 28 points and 18 rebounds, plus a 10-of-12 mark from the free-throw line.
The No. 2 seed Sacramento Monarchs stood in front of the Sparks and the WNBA Finals, and in Game 1, L.A. took the first step narrowly. Five Sparks scored in double figures, Leslie notching another double-double, in a 74-73 victory to take an early 1-0 series lead. The Monarchs responded strongly in Game 2, running away 80-60 with 24 points and eight rebounds via Yolanda Griffith. Los Angeles answered in kind, bashing Sacramento 93-62 to advance to its first-ever WNBA Finals. Leslie yet again stuffed the stat sheet, outdoing herself with a near triple-double on 35 points on 15-of-22 shooting from the field, plus 16 boards and seven blocks.
In the WNBA Finals, the Sparks met the Charlotte Sting, who were also seeking their first championship. In Game 1, Leslie and DeLisha Milton-Jones combined for 43 points to overcome a balanced Charlotte attack for a 75-66 triumph. The Sparks completed the job in Game 2, stomping the Sting, 82-54, behind Leslie’s sixth double-double in seven playoff games. The title capped off one of the greatest individual playoff performances of all time from Leslie and provided her with her first and very deserved championship.
Leslie was the team’s leader in points, rebounds and blocks, averaging 19.5, 9.6 and 2.3, respectively. Tamecka Dixon was second in scoring (11.7 points per game), with Mwadi Mabika (11.2) third and Milton-Jones (10.3) fourth. Dixon was also L.A.’s top distributor at 3.9 assists per contest. It was Michael Cooper’s second season as head coach and his first WNBA Finals appearance and championship.
Two Sparks were named to All-WNBA teams: Leslie on the first team, Dixon on the second team. Leslie received her first MVP award, later winning her second in 2004 and third in 2006.
Worst Year: 2007
Twice, the Sparks have had seasons worth -4 points, but their 2007 season was the bottom.
In December 2006, Lisa Leslie’s pregnancy was announced, meaning the Sparks would have to spend 2007 without their superstar.
Despite Leslie’s absence, the team jumped out to a 5-2 start following an 89-80 victory at Washington, its third in a row. But in the midst of that streak on June 11, Chamique Holdsclaw announced her retirement effective immediately. Like that, the Sparks were out two of their best players.
Los Angeles lost at least three consecutive games five times throughout the course of the year, including a seven-game slump from late June well into July. The Sparks finished 10-24, the worst record in team history and tied for last in the Western Conference. L.A. missed the playoffs for the first time since 1998, snapping an eight-year run that included two championships.
Excluding Holdsclaw and her give games, Taj McWilliams-Franklin was the team’s leading scorer with 11.1 points per game. Sidney Spencer (9.6), Marta Fernandez (8.7) and Sherill Baker (8.5) followed her. McWilliams-Franklin was also the top rebounder at 5.9 per contest, and Baker dished the most dimes with 3.2 per night. It was Michael Cooper’s first season in his second stint with the Sparks after previously coaching in L.A. from 2000-04.
Winningest Coach: Michael Cooper
In 1999, Los Angeles fired Orlando Woolridge after one full season and the team’s first-ever playoff appearance, citing philosophical differences. To replace him, the Sparks hired Michael Cooper as their fourth head coach.
In Cooper’s first year in 2000, the team finished 28-4, the best record of the regular season, but lost in the Western Conference Finals, 2-0, to the Houston Comets, who were one game behind the Sparks in the regular season. But the following season, Cooper had the team playing at a high level again, going 28-4 again, but this time finishing the job and winning the organization’s first championship. In 2002, the Sparks would repeat again, solidifying themselves as the new leaders in the WNBA.
L.A. went to a third-straight WNBA Finals in 2003 under Cooper’s guise, losing to the Detroit Shock in the final round. The team started well, but midway through the season, Cooper left the Sparks to pursue a coaching career in the NBA, accepting an assistant position with the Denver Nuggets.
Following a few failed replacements, the Sparks turned back to Cooper in 2007. He had been coaching the Albuquerque Thunderbirds in the D-League for two seasons, winning the 2006 championship, before leaving to make his L.A. return.
In his second tenure, Cooper couldn’t capture the same magic, missing the playoffs in his first season back, then falling in the Western Conference Finals in 2008 and 2009. He was removed concluding the 2009 season but is still the winningest coach in team history with a 167-85 overall record (25-13 in the playoffs), two titles, three Finals appearances, six Western Conference Finals showings and six postseasons in seven full campaigns.
No. 12 – Las Vegas Aces
No. 11 – Dallas Wings
No. 10 – Chicago Sky
No. 9 – Washington Mystics
No. 8 – Connecticut Sun
No. 7 – New York Liberty
No. 6 – Indiana Fever
No. 5 – Atlanta Dream
No. 4 – Seattle Storm
No. 3 – Phoenix Mercury
No. 2 – Los Angeles Sparks
No. 1 – Minnesota Lynx
First photo credit to Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images. Second photo credit to Juan Ocampo/NBAE via Getty Images. Both provided by L.A. Sparks.