Val Ackerman believes the founders of the WNBA “blew it.” Hence, why we have the 2000 Houston Comets, named the league’s Best Team Ever by Yahoo Sports voters.
The 1998 and ’99 teams were also named two of the league’s best 16 for the bracket and the inaugural 1997 squad was on the bubble. They all won titles with three future Naismith Hall of Fame selections. And yet if league leaders in the 1990s, like Ackerman, had recognized the skill of Cynthia Cooper, it may never have been.
The 2000 Comets are widely regarded as the best ever — though they will have a competitor now in the 2019 Washington Mystics — and won the championship round with 63 percent of the vote against the 2001 Los Angeles Comets.
Statistically, Comets are WNBA’s best
First, a bit about this 2000 Houston Comets squad. The Comets won the first four WNBA titles, from 1997 through 2000, with attendance averaging around 12,000. The team later folded and was disbanded by the league in 2008.
As championships mounted, the team became more of a target — just ask UConn — and the 2000 Comets lived up to that challenge, bettering their former versions.
They were the most efficient offense in WNBA history until the ’19 Mystics came along. Their plus-12.8 point differential is the largest in history and their nine wins of at least 20 points rank second. They boasted three future Naismith Hall of Fame inductees — Cooper, Sheryl Swoopes and Tina Thompson — who helped shape the future of the league. They were also the league’s first “Big 3.”
WNBA ‘blew it,’ gave fans early dynasty
When the WNBA finally came to fruition under the leadership of late NBA commissioner David Stern, leaders allocated 16 players based largely on their hometowns or colleges. It was meant to boost attendance and interest, but they also tried to keep teams competitive.
Swoopes, a Texas native who played for Texas Tech and the 1996 U.S. Olympic gold medal team, was sent to Houston, as was Cooper, a then-34-year-old former USC star. The Comets won the lottery in the college draft and selected fellow USC alumna Thompson.
Said Ackerman, the first president of the WNBA, via The Undefeated:
“The league, we ended up having probably an usually large role in distributing the players early on. So the fact that they wound up doing what they did was a bit of a surprise, to be honest. It wasn’t anything planned.
“I think we blew it. None of us realized just how good Cynthia Cooper was, because if we had, she would not have been assigned to the Comets. … If we had any inkling of how dominant a player she was, we would have … spread it. We just didn’t know.”
Cooper won two MVP awards in 1997 and ’98. Swoopes won three (2000, ’02, ’05) and Tina Thompson, who was 22 when the league started, had a 17-year career that’s placed her tops in the career record books. She’s the league’s second all-time scorer behind Diana Taurasi.
Nostalgia goes a long way in sports
The four-time champions also had the benefit of nostalgia. There aren’t many men’s leagues in the U.S. that started within our lifetimes. Anyone in their late 20s and older can remember the start of the WNBA or at least games on television.
Once the ABL folded, the WNBA was the only women’s professional sports league. Kids had posters of Swoopes, Cooper and Thompson on their bedroom walls. For many, it was their first female role model in sports.
“The Comets were the impact,” Thompson said, via The Undefeated. “They made people stand up and watch. They made skeptics of the league and its ability to survive into believers. Houston set a tone. It created awareness and excitement, like a curiosity of, ‘What’s going on over there in that league? What is it that everybody’s talking about?’ Not just in the state of Texas, but also in other states and other cities, because they wanted to kind of know what the fuss was about.”
It helped that Swoopes had her own shoe, a rarity for women’s players, and the team is one of league lore since it’s no longer in operation. Imagine if the Boston Celtics folded shortly after their dynasty. Fans remember the Comets and what they did for women’s basketball fondly.
Why not the 2019 Washington Mystics?
The 2000 team had the statistical upper hand on every other team in the Best Team Ever bracket except possibly one.
The 2019 Mystics completed one of the most impressive offense seasons of all time, led by two-time league MVP Elena Delle Donne. She became the first WNBA player in the 50-40-90 club and their average 1.128 points per possession bested the ’00 Comets (1.091). They were 11 percent better than the second-place PPP team last season.
Was it recency bias, flipped? The reigning champions can’t be the best ever when so many great teams and players came before them, right?
The Mystics also didn’t have three future Hall of Fame selections on the roster. They’re a team that works incredibly well together with a superstar leading the way, herniated discs and all.
Washington had the No. 2 seed, but were given a difficult matchup against the 1999 Comets in the first round and were surprisingly voted out in a close finish. In years to come, they’ll be given their due.
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