MINNEAPOLIS — 19 seasons ago, the basketball world was introduced to a team that would become iconic. The Houston Comets capped the first WNBA season with a championship victory over the New York Liberty, beginning a run of four straight championships and quickly assuming the throne of the newly formed league.
On Thursday night, the Minnesota Lynx have a chance to culminate a year of celebration — the WNBA’s 20th anniversary season — with a fourth title of their own.
|4||Houston Comets||1997, 1998, 1999, 2000|
|3||Minnesota Lynx||2011, 2013, 2015|
|3||Phoenix Mercury||2007, 2009, 2014|
|3||Detroit Shock||2003, 2006, 2008|
|2||Los Angeles Sparks||2001, 2002|
|2||Seattle Storm||2004, 2010|
Those Comets teams left an indelible mark on the game and particularly the girls watching closely around the world — girls like Seimone Augustus from Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Like Cynthia Cooper, Sheryl Swoopes and Tina Thompson before them, the Lynx have been led by a Big Three of Augustus, Lindsay Whalen and Maya Moore during their reign.
“Those women inspired and motivated us to want to play ball,” said Augustus. “Now, being in the position to match what they did says a lot about where the game has come. To be the modern-day Houston Comets would be really cool. It took 20 years to create a team like this.”
The comparison between the two teams is natural given the way they dominated play over sustained stretches. In fact, by regular season record, Minnesota actually has already put together the most successful six-year span in league history.
Reunited in Minneapolis as part of the WNBA Top 20@20 ceremony during Game 1, Cooper, Swoopes and Thompson got an up-close look at their potential peers. They see the similarities, too.
“They’re probably the one team that reminds me of the Comets teams we had back in the day, from top to bottom,” said Swoopes. “Everybody said we had the Big Three with myself and Coop and Tina, but then we had a lot of great role players, and I think that’s exactly what the Lynx have. They are an older team and we were probably one of the older teams, and they have the experience. They play well together, they mesh well together. You see that hunger and that fight and that passion that they still have, and I think that’s exactly why we were so successful, because we brought those things to the floor.”
Ever the competitors, both Swoopes and Cooper half-jokingly said that they’re rooting for the Sparks in the series so they can stand alone in WNBA history. Thompson went as far as to say that the Lynx’s dynasty wouldn’t match the Comets’ regardless.
“We won four in a row. They could win four over time,” Thompson said. “I think they’re a great team and I enjoy watching them, but it’s not comparable.”
That could be a debate for another day — Thursday night and beyond, to be specific. With a winner-take-all Game 5 against an equally talented and hungry L.A. team on tap, the Lynx have their hands full.
Ironically, the Sparks are also attempting to spoil the first championship repeat since they pulled it off back in 2001 and 2002. Could the league spawn two repeat champions in its first six seasons, then another during its 20th?
You won’t find the Lynx saying much about that possibility leading up to Game 5. When asked about it following a Game 4 performance that was historic in its own right, Moore steered clear.
“The main thing motivating me is wanting to take advantage of this special group,” she said. “If we go down, we go down playing like us.”
Cooper, on the other hand, was ready to tip her hat: “If the Lynx win, it would be huge. It would showcase their talent, but it would also solidify them as a dynasty in the WNBA. That’s huge, just for their legacy.”