Our ambitious 25-part series of articles reflects on the WNBA’s 25 years through the eyes of those who played a part, large or small, in its beginning and sustained growth throughout its quarter-century existence as a major league. This week: when the Comets “took over Texas.”
The Houston Comets (1997-2008) was the WNBA’s first dynasty. To this day, its demise is confusing, especially since the team won more pro basketball titles (four) than its NBA counterparts and former owner, the Houston Rockets (two).
A college student then, WCCO Radio Host Sheletta Brundidge fondly remembers watching the Comets during their inaugural season in 1997. Her following recollections are edited for clarity or brevity.
“I was a sophomore at the University of Houston,” Brundidge recalled. “The Houston Comets had taken over the newly formed WNBA. Young ladies like me and my best friend Angela Tolbert who loved basketball finally had some ladies to cheer for on a professional level. We were big-time basketball fans all our lives, but after college we didn’t have a pro team of women to root for.
“That all changed when Cynthia Cooper, Sheryl Swoopes, Tina Thompson, and Kim Perrot took over Texas. We saved up a little pocket change and bummed a ride from my aunt so we could get to The Compaq Center to watch the women play.
“We got to the building, thinking we’d be able to jack a seat from somebody to get closer to the action, but the place was packed. Because every seat was full, we went to sit in our assigned seats at the very tip-top of the stadium. But it didn’t matter, ‘cause we were there, in an arena filled with mostly women, who were there to enjoy a game and hopefully cheer on the Houston Comets to their first-ever WNBA championship.
“We felt like part of the team. Screaming for every rebound. Jumping up every time the ladies made a point. In the end, when the Comets defeated the New York Liberty, I hollered until I was hoarse.
“It wasn’t just a win for the team, it was a win for women. A team filled with amazing basketball talent had filled up an arena with women rooting them on to victory and had achieved the highest level of success on the biggest stage in our hometown, and not just our hometown—in our own country.
“The high I got from being in that stadium with my best friend, my auntie, and my favorite cousin lasted about a month. The inspiration I got as a woman lasted a lifetime. Watching those ladies play basketball at their highest level and achieve their goals made me want to achieve my own,” said Brundidge.
Houston would go on to win three more WNBA titles, cementing its dynasty status with capturing the league’s first four championships led by the league’s first Big Three. Cooper, who was 34 years old when she came into the league after years playing overseas, won two MVPs. Swoops, the W’s first-ever pick, was a three-time MVP. And Thompson, the league’s first-ever overall number-one pick, was a four-time All-Star.
New York was their Finals opponent for three of those title wins. “Those were great battles,” recalled Swoopes.
Perrot, the Comets’ starting point guard, only played on two championship teams (1997, 1998). Like Cooper, she also played pro ball overseas for years after college and made the Comets through the team’s tryouts.
Her 13 points helped the Comets to their second straight title in 1998, but she was diagnosed with lung cancer in February 1999 that later metastasized to her brain. She died in August of that year and became the first active WNBA player to die.
After its four-year run, Houston’s demise slowly took place with quick playoff exits. Then the Rockets sold the Comets to a local furniture retailer in 2007. A year later the team was again put up for sale, and the WNBA suspended the team’s operations for good on December 1, 2008.
A few years later, Minnesota became the W’s second dynasty, winning four titles in seven years. But the league’s first dynasty should never be forgotten.
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.