The WNBA launched with eight NBA-affiliated teams in June 1997. Since then, the league’s landscape has shifted several times, including to ownership outside the NBA. At its largest, the WNBA expanded to 16 teams, but has been at 12 since 2010.
With the league celebrating its 25th season, we rank every franchise in each of its incarnations in different cities, all 23 of them. The main ranking criteria are success and standout players, although franchise longevity played a factor, too.
Three original franchises are still in the same place in 2021: the Los Angeles Sparks, the New York Liberty and the Phoenix Mercury, although the Liberty are now in Brooklyn instead of Manhattan. Another, the Utah Starzz, are now the Las Vegas Aces, with a 15-year stop in between in San Antonio. The other four originals — the Charlotte Sting, the Cleveland Rockers, the Houston Comets and Sacramento Monarchs — are gone, but not forgotten by fans.
We opted to rank the franchises separately rather than group Utah/San Antonio/Las Vegas, Detroit/Tulsa/Dallas and Orlando/Connecticut. In all but one case — Tulsa to Dallas — the ownership was different when the franchise moved, and in all cases the teams have had distinct identities.
Some players are listed under more than one franchise as they had a big impact on different teams. With the “face of the franchise” category, we list the years she was with that team, which is not necessarily how long she was (or still is) in the WNBA.
So which WNBA franchise is the best in league history?
Championships: Four (2004, 2010, 2018, 2020)
Playoff appearances (record): 16 (32-25)
Regular-season record: 383-341
MVPs: Breanna Stewart (2018), Lauren Jackson (2003, 2007, 2010)
League all-time leaders: Sue Bird in assists (3,031) and games (545)
Face of the franchise: Sue Bird (2002-present)
Other notable stars: Jewell Loyd, Alysha Clark, Camille Little, Swin Cash, Tanisha Wright, Betty Lennox
High point: Winning the franchise’s fourth title in 2020 during a pandemic-shortened season in an unprecedented “bubble” location in Florida. It tied the Storm with the Minnesota Lynx and Houston Comets for most in WNBA history.
Low point: Going 12-22 in 2014 and missing the playoffs for the first time in 10 seasons. Bird said she “felt like crap” that season, but committed to getting in the best shape of her life and staying in Seattle. Plus, help in the form of two consecutive No. 1 draft picks was on the way.
Franchise journey: Greatness is invariably accompanied by some luck. Seattle is our top-ranked franchise in part because it consistently has taken best advantage of its good fortune, and also because it has created such a positive, winning culture. The Storm launched soon after the demise of the Seattle Reign of the short-lived ABL, so there was already a professional women’s basketball audience in place.
Originally part of the NBA’s Seattle SuperSonics organization, the Storm franchise was bought by a Seattle-based, all-women ownership group, Force 10 Hoops, in 2008 to keep the WNBA team in place when the NBA team moved to Oklahoma. Force 10 has never wavered in its commitment to the WNBA and the Seattle community. And twice, the organization has gotten back-to-back No. 1 picks and drafted superstars with all four picks: Jackson (2001), Bird (2002), Loyd (2015) and Stewart (2016). Bird has been a key factor for all four titles and is a primary icon of the WNBA.
Championships: Four (2011, 2013, 2015, 2017)
Playoff appearances (record): 12 (42-24)
Regular-season record: 413-340
MVPs: Maya Moore (2014), Sylvia Fowles (2017)
WNBA career stats leaders: Sylvia Fowles in rebounds (3,640), rebounding average (9.81) and field goal percentage (59.6)
Face of the franchise: Seimone Augustus (2006-2019)
Other notable stars: Rebekkah Brunson, Napheesa Collier, Taj McWilliams-Franklin, Katie Smith, Lindsay Whalen
High point: Avenging a 2016 WNBA Finals loss to the Los Angeles Sparks by winning the 2017 Finals, also against L.A. The Lynx stewed for a year after a heartbreaking one-point loss to the Sparks on Nneka Ogwumike’s putback in the 2016 WNBA Finals. They went the distance in 2017, too, but this time Minnesota won the decisive fifth game for its fourth title. That it came on the University of Minnesota’s home court where Whalen played as a collegian (Target Center was being renovated) made it all the more memorable.
Low point: Missing the playoffs for a fifth consecutive season in 2009.
Franchise journey: Part of the league’s second expansion in 1999, along with Orlando, the Lynx qualified for the playoffs just twice in their first 12 seasons. They traded Smith, a future Hall of Famer, to Detroit in late July 2005. She would go on to win two championships with the Shock, while the three players obtained for her played just 37 combined games for Minnesota. The Lynx resembled their parent organization, the NBA’s Minnesota Timberwolves, in lack of success.
Then everything changed in the 2010 season: Cheryl Reeve was hired as head coach, forward Brunson was picked in the Sacramento Monarchs dispersal draft and a trade brought point guard Whalen home to Minnesota. The Lynx went 13-21, their last losing season. In 2011, they won the draft lottery, which brought UConn superstar Moore as the No. 1 pick, and got them to the WNBA Finals for six of the next seven seasons. They then obtained center Fowles via trade during the 2015 season. The Lynx have been in a talent re-stocking process the last few seasons, but still consistently make the playoffs. Former baseball star Alex Rodriguez and businessman Marc Lore are in the process of buying the Timberwolves/Lynx.
Championships: Three (2001, 2002, 2016)
Playoff appearances (record): 19 (47-43)
Regular-season record: 490-323
MVPs: Nneka Ogwumike (2016), Candace Parker (2008, 2013), Lisa Leslie (2001, 2004, 2006)
WNBA career stats leaders: Lisa Leslie in defensive rating (88.43)
Face of the franchise: Lisa Leslie (1997-2009)
Other notable stars: Alana Beard, Tamecka Dixon, Chelsea Gray, Mwadi Mabika, DeLisha Milton-Jones, Kristi Toliver
High point: Defeating Minnesota on the Lynx’s home court in Game 5 of the 2016 WNBA Finals for the Sparks’ third title, and first in 14 years.
Low point: Star center Leslie missing the 2007 season on pregnancy leave. That season, the Sparks had their fewest wins in franchise history, going 10-24. But forward/center Parker would be the No. 1 draft pick for Los Angeles the next year.
Franchise journey: Of the eight original WNBA franchises, Los Angeles and Phoenix are the two most successful remaining teams, with the Sparks having the most playoff appearances in WNBA history. They hosted the first WNBA game in 1997, and were part of the Jerry Buss-owned Los Angeles Lakers organization until 2006. From 2007-2013, the Sparks were owned first by Gemini Basketball and then Williams Group Holdings, but there was concern in late 2013/early 2014 that the franchise might move when Williams opted out of ownership. That’s when Sparks LA Sports, which included Laker legend Magic Johnson, stepped in to buy the team.
Along with its three titles, Los Angeles has two other trips to the WNBA Finals, falling to Detroit in 2003 and Minnesota in 2017, and has played in every postseason since 2011.
Championships: Three (2007, 2009, 2014)
Playoff appearances (record): 15 (41-34)
Regular-season record: 422-390
MVPs: Diana Taurasi (2009)
WNBA career stats leaders: Diana Taurasi in points (9,161), field goals made/attempted (2,887 of 6,703), 3-point field goals made/attempted (1,203 of 3,286) and free throws made/attempted (2,184 of 2,508)
Face of the franchise: Diana Taurasi (2004-present)
Other notable stars: DeWanna Bonner, Skylar Diggins-Smith, Candice Dupree, Brittney Griner, Cappie Pondexter, Tangela Smith, Penny Taylor
High point: A franchise-best 29-5 regular-season record plus a 7-1 playoff mark in the Mercury’s 2014 championship season.
Low point: An 8-26 record in 2003 under the Mercury’s third coach in three years. But the next year brought Taurasi as the No. 1 pick.
Franchise journey: The Mercury seem to have had the most ownership stability of any WNBA franchise. They’ve been part of the Phoenix Suns organization since their inception as one of the eight original franchises, first under owner Jerry Colangelo and then Robert Sarver. They’ve also had one of the most involved fan bases in the X Factor, which fell in love with the likes of Jennifer Gillom, Bridget Pettis and Australia’s Michele Timms in the early years.
After losing in the 1998 WNBA Finals, the Mercury missed the playoffs seven of the next eight years. During that time, Taurasi joined the team, and she led the Mercury to their breakthrough championship in 2007. Other than in 2008 and 2012, they’ve made the playoffs every year since.
5. Houston Comets (1997-2008)
Championships: Four (1997, 1998, 1999, 2000)
Playoff appearances (record): Nine (20-14)
Regular-season record: 241-149
MVPs: Sheryl Swoopes (2000, 2002, 2005), Cynthia Cooper (1997, 1998)
WNBA career stats leaders: Cynthia Cooper in scoring average (20.98), minutes per game average (35.19) and player efficiency rating (28.72)
Face of the franchise: Sheryl Swoopes (1997-2007)
Other notable stars: Janeth Arcain, Kim Perrot, Michelle Snow, Tina Thompson
High point: Going 6-0 in the 2000 playoffs, sweeping Sacramento, Los Angeles and New York to win their fourth consecutive title.
Low point: The franchise folded during the height of the global financial crisis, after the 2008 season.
Franchise journey: Many things went right for the Comets from the start. They got four Hall of Fame players in Cooper, Swoopes, Thompson and Arcain, an experienced, successful coach from the college game in Van Chancellor, committed ownership (at least initially) from the Houston Rockets‘ Leslie Alexander and an energetic fan base.
Even though she was 34 when the league started, Cooper was still playing at an elite level after more than a decade of stardom overseas, and was crucial to getting the WNBA off the ground. The Comets were 98-24 in the regular season and 16-3 in the playoffs in the league’s first four years. But they also endured tragedy during that run, when guard Perrot died of cancer during the 1999 season. (The Comets dedicated that season to her.)
Cooper’s career ended after Houston’s fourth consecutive title in 2000 (she returned at age 40 to play four more games in 2003), and that was when other teams in the league caught up. Houston would win just four more playoff games from 2001-2008 before folding after two seasons under owner Hilton Koch, who had bought the team from Alexander. The Comets were so crucial a part of the early WNBA and left such an impression that it’s still sometimes hard to believe they’ve been gone for more than a decade.
6. Detroit Shock (1998-2009)
Championships: Three (2003, 2006, 2008)
Playoff appearances (record): Eight (30-19)
Regular-season record: 210-186
WNBA career stats leaders: Cheryl Ford in total rebound percentage (20.47)
Face of the franchise: Deanna Nolan (2001-2009)
Other notable stars: Swin Cash, Taj McWillliams-Franklin, Plenette Pierson, Ruth Riley, Katie Smith, Kedra Holland-Corn
High point: Going from worst to first and winning the 2003 championship.
Low point: The sale of the franchise to Tulsa, which was a re-set with new ownership, new staff and none of the stars from Detroit. Nolan, Smith, Ford and McWilliams-Franklin, who were still with the Shock in 2009, never moved with the organization.
Franchise journey: Detroit was in the first WNBA expansion wave with Washington in 1998, and made the playoffs just once in its first five seasons. When the Shock started 0-10 in 2002, former Detroit Pistons star Bill Laimbeer came in as head coach, which began a massive turnaround. In the last seven years of the Shock’s existence in Detroit, they reached the playoffs each season, got to the WNBA Finals four times and won three titles. They had an engaged fan base that loved the “Bad Girls” style reminiscent of Laimbeer’s “Bad Boys” playing days in Detroit, plus the explosive skill of Nolan, who was from nearby Flint, Michigan.
But Pistons/Shock owner Bill Davidson died in March 2009 and Laimbeer left for an NBA assistant’s job shortly after. The Davidson family sold the Shock to Tulsa at the end of the 2009 season, but it wasn’t close to the same team that began play in Oklahoma. Meanwhile, Shock assistant Cheryl Reeve left to take over at Minnesota, starting a dynasty there. The Tulsa Shock then moved before the 2016 season to Dallas to become the Wings.
Championships: One (2012)
Playoff appearances (record): 13 (35-33)
Regular-season record: 341-380
MVPs: Tamika Catchings (2011)
WNBA career stats leaders: Tamika Catchings in win shares (93.66), defensive win shares (36.52), steals (1,074) and steals per game (2.35)
Face of the franchise: Tamika Catchings (2002-2016)
Other notable stars: Tully Bevilaqua, Jessica Davenport, Katie Douglas, Briann January, Erlana Larkins, Tammy Sutton-Brown, Shavonte Zellous
High point: The 2012 title gave the future Hall of Famer Catchings a WNBA championship, and her college coach Pat Summitt was in attendance for the clinching victory.
Low point: The Fever are in it now — their fifth consecutive losing season. Three have been with single-digit victory totals, and they’re closing in on the fourth.
Franchise journey: The Fever debuted in the third wave of expansion in 2000 along with Seattle, as well as Miami and Portland, both of which were soon defunct. The Fever are part of the Indiana Pacers organization, one of four teams in our top 10 that are still affiliated with an NBA team (Minnesota, Phoenix and Washington are the others).
An unlucky injury for Tennessee star Catchings — she tore her ACL, which prematurely ended her senior season — was fortuitous for the Fever. After Seattle took Australian star Lauren Jackson No. 1 in 2001, Charlotte bypassed Catchings with the No. 2 pick and took Kelly Miller. It was an enormous mistake by the Sting, who missed out on one of the WNBA’s all-time greats by not waiting a year for her to recover. Catchings was a 10-time All-Star and five-time WNBA Defensive Player of the Year, as iconic to the Fever as Bird and Taurasi have been to Seattle and Phoenix.
Replacing Catchings has been most difficult for Indiana. The Fever haven’t made the playoffs since she retired after the 2016 season. She’s now the franchise’s general manager, and with six wins last year and five so far this season, could have the No. 1 pick in 2022.
Championships: One (2019)
Playoff appearances (record): 13 (18-30)
Regular-season record: 340-444
MVPs: Elena Delle Donne (2019)
WNBA career stats leaders: Elena Delle Donne in free throw percentage (93.9) and offensive rating (124.85)
Face of the franchise: Elena Delle Donne (2017-present)
Other notable stars: Ariel Atkins, Alana Beard, Tina Charles, Natasha Cloud, Chamique Holdsclaw, Ivory Latta, Crystal Langhorne, Emma Meesseman, Murriel Page
High point: The Mystics and Delle Donne overcoming her back injury and a tough Connecticut team to win the 2019 WNBA Finals. It was the first title for the franchise and longtime WNBA coach Mike Thibault.
Low point: After winning the Eastern Conference for the first time in 2010, the Mystics lost their coach and general manager when they wanted to combine those jobs into one. The next two seasons, Washington went 11-57.
Franchise journey: If you became a Mystics fan sometime in the last nine years, you missed the roller coaster of ups and downs and carousel of coaches that preceded that. The Mystics, who came into the WNBA with Detroit in the first wave of expansion in 1998, had 12 coaches in their first 15 seasons, changing leadership during a season four different times. They made the playoffs six times during this often-chaotic period, starting the stretch at 3-27 in 1998 and ending it 5-29 in 2012.
Then Connecticut fired Thibault after the 2012 season, and the Mystics finally had a long-term coach. Thibault is now in his ninth season with Washington, which also traded for Delle Donne before the 2017 season. Even though she has played just three full seasons, she led the Mystics to the 2018 and 2019 WNBA Finals, winning the championship in the second trip. Delle Donne missed last season and has been limited to just a few games this season by lingering back issues. But when she has been on the court, it has made all the difference for the Mystics.
Playoff appearances (record): 12 (30-28)
Regular-season record: 351-273
MVPs: Tina Charles (2012)
Face of the franchise: Alyssa Thomas (2014-present)
Other notable stars: Tina Charles, Katie Douglas, Margo Dydek, Jonquel Jones, Asjha Jones, Kara Lawson, Taj McWilliams-Franklin, Renee Montgomery, Nykesha Sales, Jasmine Thomas, Lindsay Whalen, Courtney Williams
High point: Taking the 2019 WNBA Finals to a decisive fifth game before falling to Washington. It was the Sun’s third trip to the Finals.
Low point: Losing the 2012 Eastern finals to Indiana, after which coach Mike Thibault was fired and went to Washington. The Sun missed the playoffs for the next four seasons.
Franchise journey: After the 2002 season the WNBA was ready for independent ownership outside of NBA franchises, and the Sun were the first to go that route. They had been the Orlando Miracle, affiliated with the Orlando Magic, and were just getting established after four seasons. The Mohegan Tribe in Connecticut, which had an arena at the Mohegan Sun Casino and wanted to capitalize on the popularity of women’s basketball in the state thanks to UConn, bought the Miracle.
That brought players such as Sales, Douglas and McWilliams-Franklin from Orlando, plus the Sun drafted Whalen in 2004. Those four made up the core of the 2004 and 2005 teams that advanced to the WNBA Finals. The Sun haven’t broken through for a title yet, but they’re a strong contender to challenge for a championship again this year under coach Curt Miller, despite Alyssa Thomas missing the season with an Achilles injury.
10. Sacramento Monarchs (1997-2009)
Championships: One (2005)
Playoff appearances (record): Nine (24-19)
Regular-season record: 224-200
MVPs: Yolanda Griffith (1999)
Face of the franchise: Yolanda Griffith
Other notable stars: Ruthie Bolton, Rebekkah Brunson, Kara Lawson, Ticha Penicheiro, Nicole Powell, Tangela Smith, DeMya Walker
High point: Defeating Connecticut 3-1 for the championship in the league’s first best-of-five WNBA Finals series in 2005.
Low point: The franchise folding, despite a committed fan base, after the 2009 season.
Franchise journey: One of the original eight WNBA franchises, the Monarchs were affiliated with the Sacramento Kings and owned by the Maloof family, which for several years was very involved with the Monarchs.
After losing records their first two seasons, the Monarchs picked Griffith No. 2 in the 1999 WNBA draft, which included many players (like her) who were from the defunct ABL. She joined Penicheiro, the team’s No. 2 draft pick in 1998, as a great guard-post combo. By 2005, Brunson, Lawson, Powell and Walker joined the team and Sacramento won the title. The Monarchs came close in 2006 but fell in the decisive Game 5 at Detroit. The global financial crisis of 2007-08 took a toll on the WNBA, which lost Charlotte in January 2007, Houston in December 2008 and Sacramento in December 2009. To date, the Monarchs are the last WNBA franchise to fold.
Playoff appearances (record): 15 (27-36)
Regular-season record: 390-397
Face of the franchise: Teresa Weatherspoon (1997-2003)
Other notable stars: Essence Carson, Shameka Christon, Becky Hammon, Vickie Johnson, Rebecca Lobo, Betnijah Laney, Tari Phillips, Cappie Pondexter, Crystal Robinson, Tina Charles, Sue Wicks
High point: Weatherspoon swishing a heave from just beyond half court to win Game 2 of the 1999 WNBA Finals 68-67. The Liberty lost Game 3 and the series, but “The Shot” lives on.
Low point: The Liberty losing No. 1 draft pick Sabrina Ionescu in the third game of last season with an ankle injury, and ending 2020 with a franchise-low two victories.
Franchise journey: Madison Square Garden was a pretty special place with a likable and successful Liberty team in the late 1990s and early 2000s. New York made the first championship game (before the Finals became a series) in 1997, and then appeared in the Finals three more times. But the Liberty haven’t been that far since 2002 and haven’t had a winning record since 2017.
As popular as the Liberty have been with their fans, they never seemed to mean as much to James Dolan, even though he owned them from their inception. Dolan put the Liberty on the market in 2017, and Brooklyn Nets owner Joseph Tsai bought them in 2019. After two seasons playing in White Plains, New York, and last year in the bubble in Bradenton, Florida, the Liberty are now at Barclays Center full time. Maybe the magic of the franchise’s early years can be recaptured, along with its first championship.
Playoff appearances (record): Eight (17-21)
Regular-season record: 204-251
Face of the franchise: Angel McCoughtry (2009-2019)
Other notable stars: Iziane Castro Marques, Erika de Souza, Armintie Harrington, Tiffany Hayes, Sancho Lyttle, Courtney Williams, Elizabeth Williams
High point: Reaching the 2013 WNBA Finals — for the third time in four years — despite a .500 regular-season record.
Low point: This season is pretty bleak: Hoped-for star Chennedy Carter is indefinitely suspended, the Dream have lost 10 in a row and they’re about to miss the playoffs for the fourth time in five years.
Franchise journey: The Dream are the last expansion franchise to join the WNBA, in 2008. That was a rough 4-30 season, but McCoughtry was the No. 1 draft pick in 2009 and led Atlanta to the WNBA Finals in 2010, 2011 and 2013. The Dream made their eight playoff appearances in a 10-season stretch from 2009-2018, and they were a victory away from the 2018 WNBA Finals. But McCoughtry was injured late in the 2018 season, didn’t play in 2019 and left as a free agent for Las Vegas in 2020.
The Dream have struggled mightily these past three seasons; they are 21-60 in that stretch. After a contentious final season under co-owner Kelly Loeffler in 2020, the Dream have new owners this year — but are also on their third coach of the season and don’t have a general manager in place. And Carter’s future seems uncertain. At this point, despite a lot of success as a franchise, the Dream face a lot of questions.
Playoff appearances (record): Six (8-14)
Regular-season record: 238-287
MVPs: Elena Delle Donne (2015)
WNBA career stats leaders: Courtney Vanderslooot in assists per game (6.7)
Face of the franchise: Courtney Vandersloot (2011-present)
Other notable stars: Kahleah Copper, Diamond DeShields, Stefanie Dolson, Candice Dupree, Sylvia Fowles, Candace Parker, Cheyenne Parker, Epiphanny Prince, Allie Quigley, Tamera Young
High point: Despite going 15-19 in the 2014 regular season, the Sky got hot at the right time, beating Atlanta and Indiana to reach the WNBA Finals.
Low point: Going 14-20 in 2012, their seventh consecutive season missing the playoffs with a losing record since the franchise launched in 2006.
Franchise journey: The Sky launched in 2006 and for two seasons had two superstars who were both No. 2 picks: Fowles (in 2008) and Delle Donne (2013). That union provided the Sky with their best record (24-10) in 2013 when Delle Donne was Rookie of the Year, and the next season the Sky reached the WNBA Finals, where they were swept by Phoenix. Then Fowles, after seven seasons with the Sky, sat out the start of the 2015 season until she was traded to Minnesota, where she has won two titles. Delle Donne, wanting to be closer to her Delaware home, pushed for a trade to Washington after the 2016 season and has won a title with the Mystics.
What might the Sky have become with more seasons of these two playing together? We’ll never know, but Chicago has had a different kind of dynamic duo in guards — and spouses — Vandersloot and Quigley. Signing Chicago native Candace Parker as a free agent for this season was part of the Sky pushing their chips toward the middle of the table while she and the VanderQuigs are still in a championship window. Whether Chicago can get there this year or next will take a whole lot going right, but the hope remains.
14. San Antonio Stars (2003-2017)
Playoff appearances (record): Seven (8-18)
Regular-season record: 204-306
Face of the franchise: Becky Hammon (2007-2014)
Other notable stars: Vickie Johnson, Ann Wauters, Sophia Young-Malcolm, Kayla McBride, Jia Perkins, Ruth Riley, Danielle Robinson
High point Young-Malcolm’s desperation shot at the buzzer in Game 2 of the 2008 Western Conference finals against Los Angeles keeping San Antonio alive. The Stars then won Game 3 and made their only WNBA Finals appearance.
Low point: An 8-26 final season in San Antonio in 2017, when it was clear the Spurs ownership group had completely lost interest in the Stars. Fortunately, there was soon a move to Las Vegas.
Franchise journey: The Utah Starzz were an original WNBA franchise in 1997, but the Utah Jazz were not a very engaged owner and the team moved to San Antonio to become part of the Spurs organization in 2003. They officially were the “Silver Stars” from then through 2013, then just the “Stars” their last four seasons.
There was definite fan interest and a good relationship between the Spurs and Stars. Johnson signed with the Stars as a free agent in 2006, and former New York teammate Hammon came to San Antonio via trade in 2007. Add in Young-Malcolm as the No. 4 pick in the 2006 draft, and a trade for Wauters in 2008, and the Stars had the core of their best team, which went 24-10 in 2008. The Star made the playoffs in seven of Hammon’s eight years with San Antonio. After she retired following the 2014 season, the Stars went 23-79 in their last three seasons in Texas before moving to Las Vegas to become the Aces. Hammon is still in San Antonio, as a Spurs assistant.
Playoff appearances (record): Two (5-8)
Regular-season record: 72-44
MVPs: A’ja Wilson (2020)
Face of the franchise: A’ja Wilson (2018-present)
Other notable stars: Liz Cambage, Chelsea Gray, Dearica Hamby, Kayla McBride, Angel McCoughtry, Kelsey Plum, Jackie Young
High point: Making the WNBA Finals in 2020 in the team’s third season in Las Vegas.
Low point: There hasn’t been one, although the Aces were disappointed to be swept by Seattle in the 2020 Finals.
Franchise journey: The Aces are this low only because they’re in just their fourth season in Las Vegas. Considering they’ve already reached the Finals and had an MVP, the building blocks to long-term success are in place. We could see the Aces much higher in this kind of ranking a few years from now; they are contenders for the title again this season.
The Stars’ struggles in their final years in San Antonio helped lead to consecutive WNBA No. 1 draft picks in 2017 (Plum), 2018 (Wilson) and 2019 (Young). Plum and Hamby are the key players from San Antonio still with Las Vegas. Signing free agents such as McCoughtry in 2020 (although she is out this season with a knee injury) and Gray this year were big moves, as was obtaining Cambage via trade in 2019. Bill Laimbeer, with his third WNBA franchise after Detroit and New York, knows what it takes to win in this league. The Aces are on their second owner in Sin City as Las Vegas Raiders boss Mark Davis bought the team from MGM Resorts International earlier this year. But Davis has been very involved, so the change seems positive for the future.
16. Charlotte Sting (1997-2007)
Playoff appearances (record): Six (6-13)
Regular-season record: 143-179
Face of the franchise: Dawn Staley (1999-2005)
Other notable stars: Vicky Bullett, Allison Feaster, Rhonda Mapp, Charlotte Smith, Andrea Stinson, Tammy Sutton-Brown
High point: Making their only WNBA Finals appearance in 2001, under coach Anne Donovan.
Low point: Going 17-51 over their last two seasons and then folding in January 2007 after 10 seasons in Charlotte.
Franchise journey: An original WNBA franchise, the Sting were first owned by the Charlotte Hornets and made the playoffs six of their first seven seasons. The wondrously talented Stinson is the franchise’s all-time scoring leader but point guard Staley — who came to the league in 1999 from the ABL — became the heart of the team. The Hornets moved to New Orleans after the 2001-02 NBA season, but the Sting stayed put. Bob Johnson, owner for the expansion Charlotte Bobcats who were entering the NBA in 2004, bought the Sting. But after four seasons, Johnson was ready to move on from the WNBA. A potential ownership group from Kansas City attempted to buy the Sting, but couldn’t raise enough funds and the franchise disbanded.
17. Cleveland Rockers (1997-2003)
Playoff appearances (record): Four (6-9)
Regular-season record: 108-112
Face of the franchise: Merlakia Jones (1997-2003)
Other notable stars: Rushia Brown, Suzie McConnell Serio, Chasity Melvin, Eva Nemcova, Penny Taylor, Ann Wauters
High point: Finishing first (22-10) in the Eastern Conference in 2001, their best season. But they fell to Charlotte in the East semifinals.
Low point: Becoming the first of the original eight WNBA teams to fold, after the 2003 season.
Franchise journey: They made four playoff appearances in their seven seasons, but the Rockers were gone before they really had a chance to make an impact. Owned by the Cleveland Cavaliers, their last season was the summer that LeBron James was the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft. Florida grad Jones gets credit as the only player who was with the Rockers start to finish. The best player in franchise history, Australia’s Penny Taylor, was there for just three seasons before being taken in the dispersal draft by Phoenix, where she played 10 seasons and won three WNBA titles.
Playoff appearances (record): Two (0-2)
Regular-season record: 71-113
Face of the franchise: Arike Ogunbowale (2019-present)
Other notable stars: Allisha Gray, Liz Cambage, Skylar Diggins-Smith, Isabelle Harrison, Glory Johnson, Marina Mabry, Satou Sabally, Kayla Thornton
High point: Led by Diggins-Smith, making the playoffs in their second year in Dallas.
Low point: Diggins-Smith insisting on a trade before the 2020 season, a year after Cambage had done the same thing.
Franchise journey: Should the Wings really be ranked behind the long-gone Sting and Rockers? After all, Dallas is a contemporary team and has a lot of young talent, led by scoring sensation Ogunbowale. But the Wings haven’t done much yet, losing single-elimination games in their two playoff appearances. So Dallas has its fate in its hands, and could move up quite a lot in the next few years.
The Wings had the top two picks in this year’s admittedly weak draft. That brought young post players Charli Collier, 21, and Awak Kuier, 20, who could blossom. Ogunbowale and Mabry, former Notre Dame teammates, have clicked again in the WNBA. Sabally at 22 has a bright future, and Gray at 26 has been one of the Wings’ most dependable players the past five seasons. The oldest player is 28-year-old Thornton. First-year Wings coach Vickie Johnson has a lot to work with, but it’s also a tough league in which to be this young.
19. Utah Starzz (1997-2002)
Playoff appearances (record): Two (2-5)
Regular-season record: 87-99
WNBA career stats leaders: Margo Dydek in blocks (877) and block percentage (8.99); Jennifer Azzi in 3-point field goal percentage (45.8)
Face of the franchise: Margo Dydek (1998-2002)
Other notable stars: Jennifer Azzi, Elena Baranova, Marie Ferdinand-Harris, Adrienne Goodson, Wendy Palmer, Natalie Williams
High point: Beating four-time WNBA champ Houston in the Western Conference semifinals in 2002, before falling to eventual champion Los Angeles.
Low point: Having their best record (20-12) and making their first conference finals appearance in 2002 wasn’t enough to keep the team in Utah. It moved to San Antonio after that season.
Franchise journey: The Starzz, owned by the Utah Jazz, never caught on in Salt Lake City. The franchise took momentum with them to Texas, having had winning records in 2000, 2001 and 2002 and making the playoffs in their last two seasons in Utah.
Williams, a two-sport All-American in basketball and volleyball at UCLA, was the Starzz’ best player after she came from the ABL, and was also was a Utah native. But there was always a fascination league-wide with Dydek, the tallest woman to play in the WNBA at 7-foot-2. The No. 1 pick in the 1998 draft, she was a fan favorite in five seasons in Utah and the rest of her career in San Antonio, Connecticut and Los Angeles. She died at age 37 in 2011 after suffering a cardiac arrest while pregnant with her third child.
20. Orlando Miracle (1999-2002)
Playoff appearances (record): One (1-2)
Regular-season record: 60-68
Face of the franchise: Taj McWilliams-Franklin (1999-2002)
Other notable stars: Katie Douglas, Shannon Johnson, Elaine Powell, Nykesha Sale
High point: Finishing 16-16 in 2000 and making their only playoff appearance.
Low point: Failing to follow up their postseason breakthrough, going 13-19 in 2001.
Franchise journey: The Miracle were part of the Orlando Magic organization and had some real talent in their short stay in Florida. But they never gained traction, and when the WNBA opted to allow non-NBA ownership after the 2002 season, the Miracle were bought by the Mohegan Tribe and moved to Connecticut for 2003. The Miracle’s potential wasn’t fully realized in four years in Orlando, but it blossomed when the Sun — led by players like McWilliams-Franklin, Sales and Douglas — made back-to-back WNBA Finals appearances in 2004 and 2005.
21. Tulsa Shock (2010-2015)
Playoff appearances (record): One (0-2)
Regular-season record: 59-145
Face of the franchise: Liz Cambage (2011-13)
Other notable stars: Skylar Diggins-Smith, Ivory Latta, Tiffany Jackson-Jones, Glory Johnson, Sheryl Swoopes, Odyssey Sims, Riquna Williams
High point: Making the playoffs in their final season in Tulsa, 2015, before getting swept by Phoenix.
Low point: There are so many options. But going 3-31 in 2011 in Cambage’s rookie season was pretty hellish.
Franchise journey: They were the “Shock” in name only after leaving Detroit for Tulsa. Basically, everything that could go wrong did go wrong for six mostly downbeat seasons. The stars from the final Detroit team in 2009 didn’t come to Tulsa; in fact, Deanna Nolan and Cheryl Ford never played in the WNBA again. Others who had been with the 2009 Shock but did go to Tulsa — such as Plenette Pierson, Shavonte Zellous and Kara Braxton — were traded during that first season by coach/general manager Nolan Richardson. A big name in men’s basketball, he wasn’t prepared to run a WNBA team. Tulsa went 7-38 under Richardson, who resigned 11 games into his second season.
Cambage’s selection as the face of the franchise is ironic. She made it clear before being drafted No. 2 in 2011 that she didn’t want to be there, and her brief presence (53 games) and long absences defined the franchise. Among those who passed through in Tulsa were fallen track star Marion Jones (13 years after she had played collegiate basketball at North Carolina) and Swoopes, who played her final season at age 40 for the Shock in 2011. Tulsa finally had a winning record at 18-16 and made its lone playoff appearance in 2015. Then majority owner Bill Cameron moved the franchise to Dallas, where the Wing are still seeking their first winning record.
22. Miami Sol (2000-2002)
Playoff appearances (record): One (1-2)
Regular-season record: 48-48
Face of the franchise: Sheri Sam (2000-02)
Other notable stars: Elena Baranova, Debbie Black, Sandy Brondello, Betty Lennox, Ruth Riley
High point: Going 20-12 and making their lone playoff appearance in 2001, falling to New York.
Low point: The franchise folding after going 15-17 in 2002.
Franchise journey: The Sol are one of the two “if you blinked, you missed them” franchises in the WNBA, along with Portland. Both were in existence for just three seasons before folding. Former Vanderbilt standout Sam led the Sol in scoring all three of their seasons. The Sol were affiliated with the Miami Heat and were coached by Ron Rothstein, who had been the Heat’s first coach when they joined the NBA in 1988. But there just wasn’t a strong commitment from Heat ownership to the Sol. However, Riley went on to win two championships playing for the Detroit Shock, and Lennox was the WNBA Finals MVP with the champion Seattle Storm in 2004. And Brondello is the longtime coach of Phoenix Mercury.
23. Portland Fire (2000-2002)
Playoff appearances (record): None
Regular-season record: 37-59
Face of the franchise: Jackie Stiles (2001-02)
Other notable stars: Tully Bevilaqua, Sylvia Crawley, Kristin Folkl, DeMya Walker, Sophia Witherspoon
High point: Stiles, on the heels of a magical run to the Final Four with Missouri State, winning WNBA Rookie of the Year in 2001 — yes, over Seattle’s Lauren Jackson, which really shouldn’t have happened.
Low point: Having the distinction of being the only WNBA franchise to never make a playoff appearance.
Franchise journey: The Fire were owned by the Portland Trail Blazers‘ Paul Allen, but not for long. Stiles had a strong rookie season but had the first of many major surgeries when it ended and played just 21 more games in the WNBA, all in an injury-plagued 2002 season. She tried for years to make a comeback but was beset with injuries and ended up playing just 53 games total. Bevilaqua (with Seattle) and Walker (with Sacramento) both went on to be WNBA champions. While the Fire lasted just three seasons, the surge in women’s basketball’s popularity in the state thanks to the success of the Oregon and Oregon State women’s programs in recent years makes Portland a place many think the WNBA should reconsider someday.