Each week of the WNBA season, we'll go "All In" on five topics that are worth a closer look and preview what is upcoming.
Walk into any arena around the country, professional, collegiate or high school, and you'll see a trophy case, retired jerseys and scores of memorabilia. It's a mini-museum of history ahead of a sporting event.
That isn't the case for the Houston Comets, the first WNBA dynasty and a beloved franchise that folded in 2008 despite winning the first four championships in league history. The Comets helped build the WNBA, and when it comes to expansion, they are often mentioned first.
"Every time I think about a fact that Houston no longer has a team, it infuriates me," Sheryl Swoopes, a former Comets standout and three-time MVP, told Yahoo Sports. "It’s hard for me to look at an organization, a franchise who won the first four championships and was so significant in the beginning of the WNBA, and for there no longer to be a team in Houston. It’s very frustrating."
Expansion is a hot topic during the 25th anniversary season while incredibly talented players again remain on the outside of the roster limits. The NCAA is producing more high-caliber, league-ready players every year and the NBA Academy is developing even more international-ready stars.
"I’d like to see a team come back to Houston," said Swoopes, who spoke with Yahoo Sports as part of a partnership with Academy Sports and Outdoors. "I think what the city represented, what the players represented, what that team represented was just greatness. Seriously."
Swoopes called the franchise under Leslie Alexander's ownership "first class." They were top four in league attendance in the inaugural years and only dropped off at the end with a move to a smaller arena. The 2000 Comets were named the league's best team ever in a Yahoo Sports vote in April 2020.
"The fans were, in my opinion, and of course I’m biased, were the best fans in the WNBA," she said. "And for them not to have, to no longer have that, I think it’s — and I’m trying to keep it nicely — it’s just frustrating to me, and I would absolutely love to see a team come back to Houston."
Commissioner Cathy Engelbert recognizes how deep the talent pool is, but voiced caution in a preseason call with reporters. She said first she wants to work on the economics at the team and league level coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic. Swoopes doesn't disagree.
"What I don’t want to see happen is for the league to expand too soon and then you end up having teams fold. Because to me that doesn't really help anybody," Swoopes, the first player to sign with the WNBA, said. "I do think there is expansion in the works. I think it will happen. I think it’s just a matter of time.
"But it’s kind of tough when you sit and you watch and you see how much talent is in the collegiate game today and just knowing that there are very few spots and few opportunities for those women who are coming out of college. But I do think it’s a matter of time, and I do think it will happen."
Philadelphia has been heavily rumored as the league's next landing spot given its strong girls basketball reputation that includes South Carolina Gamecocks head coach Dawn Staley. The Mystics' Natasha Cloud told a Girl Talk Sports TV Clubhouse panel a push for a Philly team has been in the works for a year and a half.
Farther north, a pair of Toronto-based tech entrepreneurs launched a bid in 2019 to bring a team to the city. A Twitter account for it teased "sooner rather than later" in April.
Engelbert said on the New York Times' "Sway" podcast last week the league is gathering data and analytics in certain areas, naming, as examples, Detroit, Portland, Toronto, Philly, Nashville, Knoxville, Boston and the Bay Area.
The first location she threw out, of course, was Houston.
New wave of team ownership could come to WNBA
As for bringing back the Houston Comets, would Swoopes want in?
"Of course," the Hall of Famer said. "I would be interested in being a part of, I don’t want to say any team in the WNBA, [but] almost any team. But to be able to have a team come back to Houston and me play a role in that or have a part in that, it’s absolutely something I would love to do."
It's easy to talk about expansion ideas in terms of where a team would be and where it works, but it's also important to talk about what it would look like. There is a growing movement in sports of doing what works for women's sports leagues rather than fitting it into a longstanding mold of the men's leagues.
That includes new team ownership models, in the cases of Athletes Unlimited and the NWSL's Angel City FC. In some ways, the WNBA is like AU in that it is player-driven. But there's still a more traditional team ownership structure to the W which has followed the NBA's lead for the longest time.
As viewers saw in the "144" documentary, teams and players are moving toward doing what's right for them and not simply what the men's league is doing. That will likely bleed over into what expansion team structures look like.
An expansion ownership team might look more like what Angel City FC has done, which is involve dozens of people, including former United States women's national teams stars who are invested in growth. They're focusing on winning, but also doing good and being positively involved in the community.
We're already seeing that with a fresh WNBA team owner. Renee Montgomery became the first former player to own a franchise this past offseason, and her presence is shown in how the Atlanta Dream are marketed. The team hired an all-Black woman broadcast team and an authentic intro video. The values align from top to bottom, and Montgomery knows firsthand what players need, want and value.
Whomever buys into the league in expansion will have to be on board with the social justice initiatives and supporting their athletes first and foremost, as the Atlanta group has so far. It would also be beneficial to have someone like Swoopes who is emotionally invested. And team owners will need to know this isn't a money-making endeavor — yet.
The league is still young, and though it's doing better at 25 than men's leagues had, it is still in infancy and needs supportive investment. To value the league and players for what it is, we will start seeing teams with more diverse and large team ownership structures who are truly invested.
The WNBA is so competitive. But just how competitive is it?
We're approaching the one-third mark of the season for many teams, and for the past month we've all been talking about the high competition level. Close games, overtimes, buzzer-beaters, parity.
That's all great and good, but let's follow the commish's lead and follow the science — or in this case, the data.
In the 56 games played through Friday morning, there have been six winning buzzer-beaters (or at the very least last-seconds shots). Sabrina Ionescu (Liberty), Diana Taurasi (Mercury), Courtney Williams (Dream), Kia Nurse (Mercury), Jewell Loyd (Storm) and Arike Ogunbowale (Wings) have all pulled off the theatrics.
Five of those came with less than 2.0 seconds, per Elias Sports Bureau. There were eight throughout the entire 2018 season of 204 total games.
— WNBA (@WNBA) June 8, 2021
There have already been seven overtime games, which is on pace to set the record for highest percentage of contests in a season to go into extra time, per Across The Timeline. It is currently 12.5% of games, edging the 2009 season of 25 overtimes in 221 games (11.31%).
A week ago, the percentage was at 15%, and seven overtimes in the first 46 games tied a record with 2013 for most, per Across The Timeline.
Even if there isn't a buzzer-beater or overtime, one-third of games are decided by five points or fewer (19 of 56). A majority of those (12) were decided by three points or fewer. And 29 (51.7%) are decided by single digits.
Number of games
Five or fewer
Less than 10
More than 30
There are the occasional blowouts happening all over the league and can be largely attributed to teams being without key stars due to injury or other commitments.
The Fever are not alone in the "being blown out" category, but they have the two losses of more than 30 points. The Fever and Sparks are on pace for the first- and third-worst, respectively, average loss margin in WNBA history via Across The Timeline. We couch that by saying it's early still.
Like a true and traditional math equation, there's extra explanation needed here. The numbers speak for themselves. This is one of the most competitive starts to a season we've seen in the league's history. And it's not letting up.
Candace Parker is back
Should you still worry about the Chicago Sky? Yes. Should you be less worried? Sure.
Candace Parker made her long-awaited return on Wednesday night after missing all but the season opener because of an ankle injury. It was her hometown debut, and the Sky notched their first win since the first two games.
It was against the Indiana Fever, which is not the best bench-marker for if you should be less worried about the team. Parker also had a poor shooting performance, going 1-for-9 and missing all three 3-point attempts. She did deliver this beautiful bounce pass, though.
— WNBA (@WNBA) June 10, 2021
The Sky have some heating up to do over the next month to go into the Olympic break in a spot better than 11th. They'll have another game against the Fever, then go on the road to face the Lynx and Sun (twice).
The roster is finally full strength with Allie Quigley and Stefanie Dolson back. It's time to see if they're real contenders.
Let's check in on the Aces
It's the Aces' social media world, and we're all just living in it. This time around it's A'ja Wilson with the shot and Kelsey Plum with the chaser.
— Kelsey Plum (@Kelseyplum10) June 9, 2021
Chelsea Gray, Dearica Hamby and Wilson nailed it. Bill Laimbeer should have a supporting role award for that face on the side.
So much of sports today is just as much about what happens before and after the whistle than during it. Yes, we care who wins and how and by what means. But we're also connected through storytelling.
Social media is one way of doing that. We've really been able to see who the Aces are through their team social media handle as well as their players' fun-love style on their own handles.
This is how you grow the game. Have some fun. Poke some fun. And then get it done on the court, too.
Catch up on the week
Commissioner's Cup standings: Seattle storms to big Western lead
We stan the entire Ogwumike family, and this week, Chiney Ogwumike had big sis Nneka on her podcast as her first guest. They talked "Space Jam: A New Legacy," obviously.
Broadcasters mispronouncing names and misidentifying players is still an issue at the one-month mark. Britni de la Cretaz covered it for Vice.
What to watch this weekend
Dallas Wings (4-5) at Phoenix Mercury (5-4), Friday at 10 p.m. ET on League Pass — Anything can happen with the Mercury constantly coming back late in games. These two are together in the middle of the regular and Commissioner's Cup standings.
Seattle Storm (8-2) at Connecticut Sun (8-2), Sunday at 2 p.m. ET on Facebook/League Pass — The best in the West versus the best in the East. The first matchup went to overtime and was decided by three points in the Sun's favor.
— Storm at Dream, Friday, 8 p.m. ET on CBS Sports Network
— Sky at Fever, Saturday, 1 p.m. ET on Amazon Prime
— Mystics at Dream, Sunday, 3:30 p.m. ET on NBA TV
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