Women's professional basketball made its entrance into Salt Lake City on October 30, 1996, when Utah was selected as one of the WNBA's charter franchises. On Jan. 22, 1997, Elena Baranova and Lady Hardmon were assigned to the team, thus becoming the first ever Utah Starzz players. The inaugural Starzz team continued to take shape as Dena Head and Wendy Palmer were selected by the Starzz in the first and second rounds of the WNBA's Elite Draft on Feb. 27, 1997.
The reins for directing the first year franchise were handed to Denise Taylor on Apr. 19, 1997 as she was named the first head coach of the team. The Starzz roster continued to grow as Tammi Reiss, Jessie Hicks, Reagen Scott and Kim Williams were selected by Utah on April 28, 1997 during the 1997 WNBA Draft. May of 1997 brought the addition of two key staff members, Leanne Stockton as team trainer, and Greg Williams as assistant coach, along with the selection of Deborah Carter and Megan Compain as final roster allocations.
Utah Starzz basketball made its debut on the court on June 21, 1997 as they hosted the Sacramento Monarchs at the Delta Center. The opening night starting lineup included Wendy Palmer, Deborah Carter, Karen Booker, Lady Hardmon and Tammi Reiss. Tammi Reiss scored 14 points in the inaugural contest to lead the Starzz, but it wasn't enough as the Monarchs handed the Starzz a 70-60 loss. The Starzz bounced back two nights later (June 23), to record the franchise's first ever win, a 102-89 victory over the Los Angeles Sparks.
The Starzz opened the month of July with the franchise's first road victory, a 73-68 overtime win over the Sacramento Monarchs. July would prove to be a tough month for the fledgling franchise as the Starzz lost 10 of the 13 games played during that stretch.
With victories over Houston and Charlotte, the Starzz opened the month of August strong, recording the franchise's first ever winning streak. This momentum could not be sustained, however, as the Starzz hit a six game losing skid, their longest of the season.
The Starzz finished the inaugural 1997 season with a record of 7-21, last in the league. Forward Wendy Palmer led the team with 15.8 points and 8.0 rebounds per game and was named to the All-WNBA second team, while center Elena Baranova finished first in the league in blocks per game averaging 2.25 bpg.
As the Starzz began their second season in existence, things were beginning to look up, way up, as the Starzz drafted the 7-foot-2-inch Margo Dydek with the first pick in the 1998 WNBA draft. In addition to Dydek the Starzz acquired three other quality players in Stanford graduate Olympia Scott, forward LaTonya Johnson and point guard Tricia Bader. In addition to the draft, the Starzz were busy making other changes to their roster. On May 5, 1998 the Starzz traded Lady Hardmon to Sacramento for Chantel Tremitiere. Three days later, on May 8, Karen Booker was sent to Houston in exchange for Fran Harris.
The Starzz opened their second season at home, suffering an 83-89 loss at the hands of the Los Angeles Sparks. Utah would win their next two contests against Washington and New York before hitting a six game dry spell.
July was a month of change for the Starzz organization. On July 27, 1998, with the team holding a record of 6-13, Denise Taylor was dismissed from her duties as head coach of the team. Frank Layden, former head coach and then current team president of the Utah Jazz was named as her successor. In his first appearance with the club, Layden guided the team to a 90-80 victory over the visiting Phoenix Mercury. Unfortunately the momentum could not be sustained as the Starzz then proceeded to record their second six game losing streak of the season. In the midst of this losing streak, however, Margo Dydek made WNBA history when she recorded a league record nine blocked shots against the Cleveland Rockers on Aug. 6, 1998.
The Starzz finished the 1998 season with an 8-22 record, which tied them with Sacramento for last place in the Western Conference. Wendy Palmer led the team in scoring for the second consecutive year, averaging 13.5 points per game. Margo Dydek established herself as a force in the paint as she recorded a league high 3.8 blocks per game and led the team in rebounding averaging 7.6 rebounds per game.
The 1999 WNBA draft proved to be a success for the Starzz franchise. With the influx of players from the defunct ABL (American Basketball League), the Starzz were able to acquire several high impact players. In the first round, with the third overall pick, the Starzz selected Utah native Natalie Williams. Williams, a 6-2 power forward, had spent the previous three seasons playing for the Portland Power of the ABL, where she was named the MVP in 1998. With their second pick in the draft, the Starzz acquired tenacious point guard Debbie Black. Black, a 1988 graduate of St. Joseph's, was a seasoned veteran known for her hustle. In the third round of the draft, the Starzz selected veteran forward/guard Adrienne Goodson. Goodson spent three seasons playing for the ABLs Philadelphia Rage and Chicago Condors, where she was named an All-Star in 1997 and 1998. In the fourth round the Starzz selected point guard Dalma Ivanyi.
On June 12, the Starzz opened the 1999 season with a victory, defeating the Orlando Miracle 71-65 at the Delta Center. Nine days later, on June 21, the Starzz organization was shocked as Frank Layden announced his resignation as head coach of the team. Former assistant coach Fred Williams was named as the Starzz new head coach.
The Starzz started out July strong, winning three consecutive games including a thrilling double overtime victory (104-94) over the Detroit Shock on July 6. Natalie Williams was selected as player of the week for the week ending July 11. In addition, Williams was selected to represent the Starzz in the first ever WNBA All-Star game. On July 29, the Starzz engineered, at that time, the largest trade in the WNBA as they sent Wendy Palmer and Olympia Scott-Richardson to the Detroit Shock in exchange for Korie Hlede and Cindy Brown.
Following the trade, the Starzz went on a tear, recording victories in 8 of their final 11 games. The Starzz would finish the 1999 season with a record of 15-17, their best in their three years as a franchise. Natalie Williams led the Starzz in scoring, averaging 18.0 ppg (4th in the league), as well as rebounding averaging 9.2 rpg (2nd in the league). Williams was also selected as a member of the All-WNBA First Team. Margo Dydek once again led the WNBA in blocked shots per game averaging 2.41 bpg.
The improvement of the Starzz on the court continued into the 2000 season. In their first move of the season, the Starzz traded Elena Baranova to the Miami Sol in exchange for Kate Starbird. Then on Apr. 24, 2000, one day prior to the WNBA Draft, the Starzz traded the No. 3 and No. 8 picks to the Detroit Shock in exchange for veteran point guard Jennifer Azzi and Detroit's No. 12 pick in the Draft. The next day, Apr. 25, the Starzz selected Naomi Mulitauaopele, Stacy Frese and Kristen Rasmussen with their three picks in the 2000 WNBA draft.
The Starzz suffered a blow early on during the 2000 training camp, as Jennifer Azzi suffered a fracture in the third metacarpal in her right hand on May 14 in a preseason game against the Portland Fire. The injury would sideline the Starzz floor general for the first 17 games of the season.
For the first month of the 2000 season the Starzz played .500 basketball, winning 8 of their first 16 games. July proved to be a successful month for the Starzz with Jennifer Azzi returning to the Starzz lineup on July 7. The Starzz won seven of their 11 games during the month. During this stretch Natalie Williams was named player of the week for the week ending July 16, 2000, while Adrienne Goodson was named player of the week for the week ending July 30, 2000. In addition, Natalie Williams was again selected to represent the Starzz at the WNBA All-Star game.
The Starzz finished the season with an 18-14 record, the franchise's first-ever winning record. Many of the Starzz players finished the season with stellar statistical performances. Natalie Williams led the league in rebounding, averaging 11.6 rebounds per game. In addition she also led the team in scoring averaging 18.7 point per game (4th in the league) and was named to the All-WNBA First Team. Jennifer Azzi finished the 2000 season first in the league in minutes played (37.3 mpg) and first in the league in free throw percentage, shooting an impressive 93.0% (40-43) from the line. Margo Dydek again led the league in blocks averaging 3.0 blocks per game. She also became the first WNBA player to record 200 blocks. Korie Hlede finished the season at the top of the league in three-point field goal percentage as she shot 43.1% (25-58) from long range. Adrienne Goodson finished among the top ten in the league in scoring averaging 17.2 points per game.
Following the 2000 season, Natalie Williams traveled to Sydney, Australia and won a gold medal as a member of the United States Women's Basketball Team.
The 2001 season was a memorable one for the Starzz organization. Celebrating their fifth year anniversary, the Starzz underwent various changes and in the process reached a new level of success.
The Starzz began the season with a successful draft, as they selected in the first round exciting, Louisiana State guard Marie Ferdinand. The Starzz were also able to select forward Michaela Pavlickova, guard Shea Ralph, and guard Cara Consuegra. Utah would be the only team that would keep all four of its draft selections on its 2001 roster. Shea Ralph would spend the entire season on the injured reserve rehabilitating a torn left ACL.
Opening the 2001 season on May 31 at Phoenix, the Starzz started out strong, defeating the Mercury in convincing fashion, 81-62. Utah would struggle throughout most of June and the early part of July, as they won only 5 of their first 13 games. On June 7, 2001 Margo Dydek put on a record breaking performance, as she notched the first triple double in Starzz history and only the second triple double in WNBA history with 12 points, 11 rebounds and 10 blocked shots. Her 10 blocked shots also broke her own WNBA and career record of nine that was set on Aug. 6, 1998.
On July 6 in a surprising announcement, Fred Williams announced his resignation as head coach of the Starzz franchise. The reins of the franchise were turned over to then assistant coach Candi Harvey. In her first game with the team, Coach Harvey guided the team to a 73-69 victory over the Eastern Division leading Cleveland Rockers. Natalie Williams was selected for the third consecutive year to represent the Starzz at the WNBA All-Star game, but was unable to play due to injury.
Beginning on July 24 with a victory over the Houston Comets, the Starzz embarked on an eight-game winning streak, the longest in franchise history. During this time, Natalie Williams was named Player of the Week for the week ending July 28, 2001. Utah would close out the season with a thrilling 80-78 overtime victory over the Los Angeles Sparks, who had previously won 16 straight games. The victory propelled Utah to a regular season record 19 wins and only 13 losses. The Starzz were a powerful road team during 2001, with 10 of their 19 wins coming away from the Delta Center.
Utah finished the season in third place in the Western Conference standings and secured their first ever playoff berth. The Starzz opened their first ever playoff series at home against the Sacramento Monarchs. In the first game of the series, the Starzz struggled, losing to the Monarchs, 89-65. Two days later, the Starzz fell again to the Monarchs at ARCO Arena, 71-66, to end the series.
During the 2001 season, Natalie Williams led the way for the Starzz in both scoring (14.2 ppg) and rebounding (9.9 rpg, 2nd in the league). Jennifer Azzi paced the league in three point field goal percentage shooting 51.4% from behind the three point arc. She also finished second in the league in minutes played (37.3 mpg), third in the league in free throw percentage (91.7%) and fourth in the league in assists (5.3 apg). Margo Dydek continued to dominate the league in blocked shots averaging 3.53 bpg. She also recorded the 400th block of her career on August 13 versus Los Angeles. Rookie Marie Ferdinand also finished ranked among the league's best as she shot 49.3% from the field (7th in the league).
The 2002 season saw the Starzz organization reach new heights and stamp themselves as one of the top teams in the league. The Starzz returned to the hardwood for the 2002 season with a their core group of veterans intact and Candi Harvey returning as head coach for her first full season.
Utah made their first move of the season on the eve of Draft Day 2002 as they traded Korie Hlede to New York in exchange for the 14th pick in the draft. Draft Day 2002 on April 19 saw the Starzz select Danielle Crockrom, LaNeishea Caufield, Andrea Gardner, Edmarie Lumbsley and Jacklyn Winfield. Crockrom, Caufield, and Gardner would each make the Starzz final roster.
Opening night saw the Starzz play a thriller in Minnesota, as they defeated the Lynx in overtime at the Target Center, 79-75. The Starzz opened their home schedule with a win as well, defeating Portland, 69-64, at the Delta Center on May 30. On June 22, 2002, Natalie Williams etched her name into the WNBA record books as she became the first player to record a 20-20 game, scoring 22 points and grabbing 20 boards against Sacramento. Marie Ferdinand and Adrienne Goodson were both selected to represent the Starzz at the league�s annual all-star game held this year in Washington D.C.
On July 22 the Starzz made their final roster change for the season, acquiring Semeka Randall from the Seattle Storm in exchange for Kate Starbird.
The Starzz went on two four-game winning streaks during the season, helping propel them to their first 20 win season in franchise history. The Starzz also tied the franchise record for most wins at home, going 12-4 within the confines of the Delta Center. The Starzz concluded their historic 2002 season on August 12 at home with a 81-79 win over the Sacramento Monarchs. The win gave the team momentum as they headed toward the postseason.
Having finished the season in third place in the Western Conference, the Starzz faced the four time WNBA Champion Houston Comets in the first round of the playoffs. The Starzz took care of their home court, defeating Houston 66-59 to take a 1-0 lead in the series. The scene then shifted to the Compaq Center in Houston. The setting would be the backdrop for one of the most thrilling games in WNBA history as the Comets and Starzz battled into double overtime, the first ever double overtime playoff game in the league�s history. The Comets escaped with the victory to even the series at one game apiece. The series came down to one game, Game 3, played on August 20, 2002 at the Compaq Center. A tightly contested game throughout, the Starzz pulled out a 75-72 victory, sending them to the Western Conference Finals for the first time.
The Starzz opened the Western Conference Finals series two days later at the Delta Center against the Los Angeles Sparks. The Sparks prevailed, defeating the Starzz 75-67. The Sparks clinched the series in Los Angeles on August 24th as they handed the Starzz a 103-77 loss.
Adrienne Goodson paced the Starzz in scoring for the 2002 season averaging 15.7 points per game, good for 10th in the league. Marie Ferdinand finished right behind Goodson, averaging 15.3 points per game (tied for 11th in the league). Margo Dydek had one of her best seasons leading the league in blocked shots for the 5th consecutive season (3.57 bpg) and averaging 13.1 points and 8.7 rebounds (3rd in the league) per game. Natalie Williams finished the campaign fifth in the league in rebounds (8.2 rpg) while scoring 11.3 points per game. Jennifer Azzi finished the season ranked second in 3-pt field goal percentage (41-92; .446), fifth in minutes played (36.0 mpg) and sixth in assists (4.9 apg)