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Past articles:
  • WNBA Stronger Than Ever

  • 2008 Young All-Americans

  • 2008 NCAA wrapup

  • 2008 WNBA draft preview

  • Wisconsin guard Jolene Anderson

  • L.A. wins draft lottery post-sesason report card

  • WNBA '07 post-sesason report card

  • WNBA '07 awards

  • WNBA '07 mid-sesason report card

  • The 2007 Young All-American Team
    By Dave Wohlhueter

    The Houston Comets no longer exist in the WNBA. How could it be that this once-healthy franchise has gone by the wayside? The announcement on December 1, took many of us by complete surprise, but I guess the WNBA knew that things weren't right in Texas. Writers closer to WNBA President Donna Orender knew that the end was near as early as the league playoffs.

    The Comets were one of the original teams and winners of the first four WNBA championships. It was a proud franchise run by great people with a core of talented players and a terrific coach. No wonder Van Chancellor bolted back to the collegiate ranks at LSU. It seemed like an unusual move to me. Chancellor was all-world as a coach with Houston starting in Day 1 in 1997. I guess he saw the writing on the wall.

    All of this mess goes to poor management. NBA Rockets owner Leslie Alexander sold the team to Hilton Koch in 2007, but it was the shortest ownership possible as Koch ran into a financial crisis and had to bail out, and the WNBA couldn't or didn't find another buyer.

    Let's take a step back and look at this once-proud franchise that is no more.

    The Houston Comets were formed in 1997 as one of the original eight teams in the WNBA. They were the first dynasty of the league, winning more titles than any other team. What was even sweeter was that the Comets won the WNBA's first four championships.

    The first WNBA championship came with a triumph over the New York Liberty, 65-51. The league expanded in 1998, and the team went 27-3, moving from the Eastern Conference to the West. Houston defeated Phoenix two games to one for the title.

    In 1999, the Comets became the "Big Three" due to the enormous talents of Cynthia Cooper, Sheryl Swoopes and Tina Thompson. At the demise this month, Swoopes, who now plays for Seattle, said, "I am saddened by today's news regarding the Houston Comets. Having been a part of the team for the majority of my career, I can't help but think of the rich basketball history created there with the first four championships. I would like to thank the Comets fans for all their support and passion over the years."

    The 1999 finals also went Houston's way, but it took three games. In Game 2, Houston was beaten by the Liberty as Teresa Weatherspoon made the highlight, last second court-to-court game-winning shot to send the series into Game 3. The season was saddened by the death of guard Kim Perrot, who succumbed to cancer. The little sparkplug is still remembered in the WNBA Sportsmanship Award given in her honor each year.

    In 2000, title No. 4 was brought home to Houston, as the Comets beat New York once again, this time in two straight games. The franchise started its downward movement. Cooper retired in 2001 to go into the coaching business. She is currently the head coach at Prairie A&M University. Houston lost in the first round of the playoffs to Los Angeles after going 19-13 in the regular season. In 2002, with Swoopes injured most of the season, they lost in the quarterfinals once again to Utah, 2-1.

    In 2003, Houston qualified for the playoffs for the seventh straight season after going 20-14, but another quarterfinal exit happened, this time to Sacramento in three games. The team missed the playoffs for the first time in franchise history in 2004. In 2005, the Comets won the first round of the playoffs, but lost the Western Conference championship to Sacramento in two straight contests. In 2006, Sacramento took them in two games in the first round. That was the end of postseason play for Houston, as it went 13-21 in 2007, and was 17-17 last summer.

    The Comets were 241-149 in 12 years for a winning percentage of .618. They were 20-14 in the playoffs for a .588 mark that won them four WNBA championships.

    In October 2006, Alexander announced that he was selling the franchise to Koch, a Houston-based mattress and furniture businessman. Chancellor resigned in January 2007, and was replaced for the 2007 season by assistant coach Karleen Thompson, who was way over her head, as the team started 0-10, and finished under .500 for the first time ever.

    The Comets' average attendance their first season was 10,227, and that increased to a tops of 13,000 in 1998, but settled in at 12,500 for the next two years. Going to a Comets game was a family event with hundreds of children roaming throughout the crowd.

    As titles dwindled, so did the crowd although they still averaged almost 11,000 a game in 2002. This past summer, they were down to 6,585 per game at Reliant Arena, and this number ranked 13th in a 14-team league.

    Many would say that in these "hard times" the rest of the league could be trouble. Not so says President Orender. "We are building business models for each franchise, and what works for one team doesn't necessarily work for another."

    The league still has teams operating under the NBA umbrella, but also has franchises that stand-alone under independent owners. Non-NBA owner Kathy Goodman of the Los Angeles Sparks told USA Today in 2007 that the league was comparable to a big-studio mentality versus an independent-studio mindset. Goodman, a former movie company executive, said, "The economic decisions you make are different. The scale of potential profit and potential loss is different. Our view was that the teams that have been successful in the WNBA are the ones that have dedicated management for their women's team."

    Of course that was stated before today's unsettled economy. Orender continues her spiel. "The Comets' issues were specific to the Comets," she said. "Unfortunately, we weren't able to overcome the tough challenges facing the future success of the Comets franchise."

    So, we must move on and remember the good parts of the Comets franchise. Their dominance in the first four years of the WNBA will never be duplicated. Young girls from the Houston area will have to be satisfied to watch other teams on television or travel to San Antonio to see the excellent Silver Stars in action.

    The players from the 2008 franchise have been placed in a dispersal draft. Seven have been selected by other WNBA teams. Four-year forward Sancho Lyttle was chosen first by Atlanta, with rookie guard Matee Ajavon taken second by Washington.

    Unrestricted free agents were not eligible, and they included Thompson, Latasha Byears, Mwadi Mabika, Hamchetou Maiga-Ba, and Michelle Snow. Thompson may retire, but she certainly has all the tools to help out another franchise.

    When it comes to talent, the WNBA has never been so healthy. Each year, the teams get stronger and stronger, and that will continue long into the future. So, it's up to the fans to support their teams during these trying times. And please, WNBA, don't make tickets so expensive that families can't take advantage of this fun-time experience.

    Dave Wohlhueter is Gball's WNBA and women's college game expert. He is a former Sports Information Director at Cornell University, as well as a member of the school's Hall of Fame. He worked in media relations at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. He recently was named the winner of College Sports Information Directors of America's 2007 Bob Kenworthy Good Person Award, which annually is awarded to a CoSIDA member for civic involvement and accomplishments outside the sports information office.

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