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The First Finals Rematch

When the Minnesota Lynx and Los Angeles Sparks tip off on Sunday at 3:30 P.M. ET on ABC, it will be just the second time in WNBA history that two teams will meet in consecutive WNBA Finals.

The last, and only other time it happened was in 1999 and 2000 when the Houston Comets and the New York Liberty faced off in a matchup that the Comets had won two seasons prior, during the inaugural WNBA Finals. Let’s press the rewind button and look back to those memorable meetings.

1999 Season

After winning the first two WNBA Finals in league history, the Houston Comets, led by two-time defending league and WNBA Finals MVP, Cynthia Cooper, were poised for a run at a three-peat. But months before the WNBA season tipped off, Houston received devastating news. Point guard Kim Perrot, who played a key role in the Comets’ two championships, was diagnosed with lung cancer in February of 1999. The cancer spread quickly and on August 19, just a few weeks before the WNBA Playoffs were set to begin, Perrot passed away at the age of 32. Perrot’s fight through her final days was considered to be a source of inspiration for the team during the season, as they finished 26-6. Cooper and teammate Sheryl Swoopes would be named to the All-WNBA First Team, while Tina Thompson earned All-WNBA Second Team honors. Coach Van Chancellor also won his third WNBA Coach of the Year Award, but the goal for the season was simple: win title #3 for #10.

The Comets would go on to face the Los Angeles Sparks in the Western Conference Finals after earning a bye in the single-elimination first round. In Game 1, the Comets lost to Los Angeles on the road 75-60, but once the series shifted back to Houston, the Comets regained control, winning the next two games for their third WNBA Finals berth in a row.

In New York, the Liberty looked to bounce back from a heartbreaking 1998 season where they missed the playoffs after losing a tiebreaker to the Charlotte Sting. Led by Vickie Johnson’s team-leading 13.7 PPG and Teresa Weatherspoon’s (1999 All-WNBA Second Team) 6.4 APG, the Liberty found themselves back in the postseason and ready to exact revenge on Charlotte for the way 1998 ended.

Having also earned a bye in the first round, the Liberty dropped Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals in Charlotte, but took the next two games in New York to set up the rematch of the 1997 Finals.

Cynthia Cooper showed that the WNBA Finals was still her stage as she opened Game 1 with 29 points, six assists and four steals, to go along with a perfect 10-for-10 from the free throw stripe in a 73-60 victory over New York. The Liberty had strong bench play from Sophia Witherspoon, who scored a team-high 18 points off the bench, but it wasn’t enough to give New York the edge at Madison Square Garden.

The only goal on New York’s mind heading into Game 2 was to force a Game 3 in this best-of-three series. After finding themselves down 37-23 at halftime, the Liberty stormed back after the break. Led by Crystal Robinson, who finished the game with a game high 21 points, coupled along with a 10-point off-the-bench performance by a rookie named Becky Hammon, New York found themselves down 67-65 with 2.4 seconds remaining. The Comets had strong team play, with five players scoring 10 or more points, and Houston was ready to celebrate its third straight title.

Weatherspoon had other ideas.

In what would be known today as “The Shot”, Weatherspoon converted a half-court shot to force Game 3 for the 1999 WNBA Finals. To this day, “The Shot” is considered one of the greatest plays in WNBA history.

However, despite Weatherspoon’s heroics, the magic would run out on the Liberty’s season as Houston took the title and won Game 3 by a score of 59-47. Cynthia Cooper earned herself a hat trick, winning series MVP honors with a 24 point, six rebound, three steal performance in the clincher. With the win, Houston officially cemented its WNBA dominance by earning a hat trick of its own, the first three Finals in WNBA history.

2000 Season

The Comets would be led by an MVP performance yet again in 2000, as they sought the Finals four-peat. However, this time the MVP wasn’t Cynthia Cooper. The outstanding player for the Comets in the 2000 season was Sheryl Swoopes, who led the way with a league high 20.7 PPG, 50.6% FG, 37.4% 3P and 2.8 SPG, on the way both the MVP, as well as Defensive Player of the Year honors. Cooper’s reign as MVP wasn’t the only thing to come to an end as Houston’s run of three straight best conference regular season records was halted as they finished a game behind the Los Angeles Sparks.

The second place finish didn’t stop the Comets from coming alive in the playoffs, sweeping the first two rounds with 2-0 series victories over both the Sacramento Monarchs in the Conference Semifinals, as well as the Sparks in the Conference Finals to seal their return.

Meanwhile in the East, the Liberty improved on their 1999 season and finished the season at 20-12 for another first seed finish in the Eastern Conference. Tari Phillips led the way for the Liberty on the season, as she put up a team-high 13.8 PPG and 8.0 RPG on 46.7% FG.

New York had a similarly strong playoff run, sweeping Washington Mystics in the Conference Semifinals and defeating the Cleveland Rockers two games to one in the Conference Finals.

Despite New York’s strong season, it would be more of the same Houston dominance that shaped the league’s early history.

In Game 1, Phillips finished with a game-high 24 points, but Houston’s “big three” of Swoopes (12 PTS, 8 REB), Cooper (20 PTS, 5 AST), and Thompson (15 PTS, 8 REB) led the way for Houston in a win at Madison Square Garden.

Looking to finish off a perfect 6-0 playoff run, the Comets wrapped up the 2000 WNBA Finals in Game 2, winning 79-73 in overtime. Cooper had another strong series-clinching performance, putting up 25 points, seven rebounds, and three steals en route to being named WNBA Finals MVP for the fourth year in a row. Swoopes also came up big, scoring a game-high 31 points.

The Comets’ four straight championships set an watermark for the league, one that has not yet been matched. Looking ahead to the second ever consecutive Finals rematch, this may be just the beginning of a new age of dominance. The Sparks and Lynx sure hope so.