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Rockets: How the Houston Comets became the dynasty that started it all for the WNBA

Cynthia Cooper #14 of the Houston Comets
Cynthia Cooper #14 of the Houston Comets
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Houston Rockets
Cynthia Cooper #14 of the Houston Comets Mandatory Credit: Ronald Martinez /Allsport

What the Comets meant to the WNBA and the entire city of Houston

To get a clear picture of what the Comets meant to the WNBA and especially to the city of Houston, you’d have to look at the sports landscape at that time. The Houston Rockets were coming off their back-to-back championships in 1994 and 1995, in addition to the heartbreak of John Stockton’s buzzer-beater in Game 6 of the 1997 Western Conference Finals.

After that game the Houston Rockets would not get back to the Conference Finals for almost 20 years. The Houston Oilers had just left town for Tennessee and the Astros could not get over the hump in the playoffs (although they were a good team).

To get a better picture, I sought the opinion of a few Houston sports legends both on-and-off the court, as they explained the atmosphere surrounding the Comets’ four championships at that time.

How the Rockets played a role in the Comets' exit. Related Story

The first person I spoke with was Matt Bullard, who was a member of the 1994 Houston Rockets championship team and was also a radio broadcaster for the Comets. Bullard is also now the TV color analyst for the Houston Rockets and explained the impact of the Comets’ success.

“Houston was riding high after the Rockets’ back-to-back championships. When the Comets started winning championships, it just felt right in the city.

It felt like the winning would never end. The Comets had Hall of Fame players in Cooper, Swoopes and Thompson, and they had role players that the fans fell in love with, too.

Coach Chancellor was a great coach and a great personality. The four straight Comets championships were an amazing run of basketball played at the highest level.

Looking back on it now, basketball fans in Houston were spoiled in the ’90s. That run of great hoops might never be equaled again.”

I also asked longtime Houston sports anchor and current play-by-play analyst for Texas Southern University Butch Alsandor what the buzz was like around Houston during the Comets’ title years.

“The Comets were formed at a very unique time. Remember, the Oilers had just left town in 1996, so there was a void to fill in Houston sports. There was definitely a buzz surrounding the Comets! It was new and no one really knew what to expect.”

Alsandor further elaborated on how the Comets impacted the city.

“Two things about the Comets, they were fun to watch and they were winners! They made a major impact on the city. We were hungry for something good and positive in sports.

They dominated the WNBA with 4 straight championships and Cooper and Swoopes became household names in town. Also, the media loved them because they were so accessible!

Houston was good for the Comets and the Comets were good for Houston. Too bad it didn’t last. I should also mention the championship parades were epic!”

Finally, I asked Charlie Pallilo, longtime Houston sports radio host and current host of the Charlie Pallilo Show on ESPN 97.5 FM, which is the ESPN flagship radio station in Houston.

“Winning the first four titles was an amazing achievement. The Comets were assigned Sheryl Swoopes and Cynthia Cooper.

That turned out very poorly for the other teams, since Cooper immediately showed she was the best player in the league. Add in Tina Thompson as the first overall pick in the college draft and they basically got to start with a WNBA version of LeBron, D-Wade, and Chris Bosh.

In those first years the Comets tapped into some new audiences and developed a nice niche but not more than that, a la the Dynamo now. At their peak their popularity was not remotely in the realm of the Astros or Rockets.”

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The Houston Comets ushered in the WNBA and in the process became one of the greatest teams of all-time, whether in the men or women’s ranks. For that reason, we should all remember their place in history as a dynasty on the WNBA’s 25th anniversary.

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