The First Powerhouse of the WNBA: The Houston Comets
Photo credit: theuptownlounge.com
Although Women’s History month has concluded, the history that many women have made continues to lives on. When it comes to the sports arena and its powerhouses and dynasties, the discussion is usually one-dimensional, strictly focusing on the men’s side; for example, the team sport of basketball. Although the UCONN women’s basketball team is an exception of this separation – due to its garnering of coverage in part of its dominance – the Huskies are still considered second-class citizens in a male dominated industry. Whether sports fanatics want to admit it or not, UCONN is the greatest basketball dynasty at the collegiate level thus far, in regards to statistics not gender. With his 11th national championship this past season, head coach Geno Auriemma surpassed John Wooden for most titles by any head coach in NCAA basketball.
The Huskies also became the first D1 women’s basketball team to win four consecutive titles, has completed six perfect seasons and nine undefeated seasons. There are many documentaries that tell the stories of great men’s college basketball dynasties: “The Fab Five,” “Running Rebels of UNLV,” “Survive and Advance” and many more. It’ll be interesting to see once the UCONN dominance comes to an end, if there’ll be a special film documenting what that program, its players and its coach have done, not only for women’s basketball, but for the game itself.
Now, let’s move on to the professional level where the discussions of great sports dynasties are limited to the NBA. There are many sports documentaries, films, shows and analysts to educate the current sport generation about the great teams and players that came before this time: Bill Russell and the Boston Celtics won 11 NBA titles during the Red Auerbach era, a series of documentaries covering the LA Lakers, Isaiah Thomas and the Detroit “Bad Boys” Pistons and Michael Jordan and the Bulls. Furthermore, almost every team has a big three who leads it to winning a championship; for example, in the modern age of the game, the Celtics had Allen, Pierce and Garnett; the Heat had James, Wade and Bosh; and the Spurs have Parker, Duncan and Ginobil. However, it seems as if “they forgot about Dre.”
From its opening season in 1997 until 2000, the WNBA was owned by the Comets; preceding the UCONN Huskies, the Comets won four-consecutive championships, deeming Houston the mecca of women’s basketball. The Comets joined the Celtics to become the second professional team to ever complete a four-peat. During their first two title runs, the Comets had a point guard and floor general in Kim Perrot who helped the team to mesh together; similar to the role Rondo played for the Celtics’ big three. During the third season, Perrot was diagnosed with lung cancer and died one week before the playoffs; she was 32. Houston played in honor of her the rest of the season. After completing the 3-peat, players and fans hoisted signs that said “3 for 10” – three championships for no.10 Kim Perrot.
Although Perrot was the heart and soul of the team and the glue that made Houston stick, the greatness of Sheryl Swoopes, Cynthia Cooper and Tina Thompson is what brought the city four championships. Thompson was the shooter and the x-factor, Cooper was the prolific scoring veteran and Swoopes was the franchise player. Before the inception of the WNBA, Thompson had just finished her collegiate career at the University of Southern California, Cooper played many years overseas and Swoopes was a part of the 1996 U.S. Women’s Olympic gold medal team. Swoopes, a 2016 Basketball Hall of Fame inductee, is a sports icon in her home state of Texas. She was a high school and college standout. In 1993, her senior season, she led the Texas Tech Raiders to their first and only NCAA national title and was named the most outstanding player in the tournament, as well as the Naismith National Player of the Year. Following her college career, there were many comparisons to Michael Jordan; the combination of her basketball skills, image and persona led to Nike offering her a shoe endorsement for “Air Swoopes” (former UCONN Husky and current Minnesota Lynx star Maya Moore followed suit, becoming the first female basketball player to sign to Jordan Brand).
The shoe deal along with other endorsements led her to become a millionaire. Swoopes’ success on and off the court, along with the success of other players on the 1996 Olympic team, served as a catalyst to the launching of the WNBA. As the most heavily marketed player, she was the face of the league. The three-time gold medalist and league MVP is now the head coach for the Loyola University Chicago women’s basketball team. Cooper – the four-time WNBA Finals MVP, three-time WNBA scoring champion and All-Star and two-time WNBA MVP – previously coached for several universities (Prairie View A&M, UNC Wilmington, and Texas Southern). She’s currently the head coach for the USC Trojans, who she led to a pair of national championships as a player. Thompson, the no.1 Draft pick and the WNBA’s all-time leading scorer is currently an assistant coach for the Texas Longhorn women’s basketball team. After 17 seasons, her resume also includes nine WNBA All-Star selections and two Olympic gold medals.
The Comets were blessed to have the first 12 picks in the WNBA’s inaugural Draft – they led the team to winning the first four championships of the WNBA and three of those players became WNBA legends. What these women and this team did for the sports industry, the WNBA, the city of Houston, the game of basketball and younger female athletes deserves more respect than what has been given. The Houston Comets will always be the first ever powerhouse of the WNBA and one of the greatest sports dynasties to grace the sports industry.