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Any expansion should be by measured approach, WNBA history reveals

Jun 7, 2021

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By Tamryn Spruill

On this day in WNBA history (June 7, 1999), the league announced its decision to expand the league to 16 teams for the 2000 season, adding the Indiana Fever, the Portland Fire, the Miami Sol and the Seattle Storm. The addition of the four teams exceeded the more modest expansion in 1998, which brought the Detroit Shock and the Washington Mystics into the league, and 1999, which added the Minnesota Lynx and the Orlando Miracle.

Of the four teams added in 2000, only the Fever and Storm exist, but the conundrum of WNBA teams going defunct is not limited to those that came after the original eight.

Photo courtesy of Tamryn Spruill

 

A review of the teams that have come and gone in the WNBA’s 25-year history underscores the point. Of the WNBA’s original eight teams, just three remain active today. And a total of eight teams that once existed no longer do.

Active teams are presented in bold italics.

1997 WNBA teams

EASTERN CONFERENCE 

Charlotte Sting (1997-2007)

Cleveland Rockers (1997-2003)

Houston Comets (1997-2008)

New York Liberty (1997-present)

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Los Angeles Sparks (1997-present)

Phoenix Mercury (1997-present)

Sacramento Monarchs (1997-2009)

Utah Starzz (1997-2002)

The league added two Eastern Conference teams in time for the 1998 season, the Mystics and the Shock, allowing the Houston Comets to move to their rightful place in the Western Conference.

1998 WNBA teams

EASTERN CONFERENCE 

Charlotte Sting

Cleveland Rockers

Detroit Shock (1998-present)*

New York Liberty

Washington Mystics (1998-present)

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Houston Comets

Los Angeles Sparks 

Phoenix Mercury 

Sacramento Monarchs

Utah Starzz

1999 WNBA teams

EASTERN CONFERENCE 

Charlotte Sting

Cleveland Rockers

Detroit Shock*

New York Liberty

Orlando Miracle (1999-present)*

Washington Mystics

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Houston Comets

Los Angeles Sparks

Minnesota Lynx (1999-present) 

Phoenix Mercury 

Sacramento Monarchs

Utah Starzz

2000 WNBA teams

EASTERN CONFERENCE 

Charlotte Sting

Cleveland Rockers

Detroit Shock*

Indiana Fever (2000-present)

Miami Sol (2000-2002)

New York Liberty 

Orlando Miracle*

Washington Mystics 

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Houston Comets

Los Angeles Sparks 

Minnesota Lynx 

Phoenix Mercury 

Portland Fire (2000-2002)

Sacramento Monarchs

Seattle Storm (2000-present)

Utah Starzz

The Comets had established itself as the first dynasty in the WNBA by winning four-straight championships, but even that could not inspire confidence and commitment by owners to see the franchise through its transition period. Of the other teams that went defunct, the Monarchs also won a title (2005) and the Rockers and Sting contended fiercely in markets that loved them.

The WNBA currently has 12 teams with 12 roster spots apiece, and a level of competitiveness that cannot be sustained. Expansion should be prioritized, whether by increasing the number of players allowed on each team or adding franchises in other cities. Yet, the urgency of league’s logjam of talent should not compromise a measured approach to adding either teams or players.

Keeping and building on the league’s current stability should be of utmost concern.

*The Detroit Shock moved to Tulsa, Oka., in 2010. After a five-year stint, the Shock relocated to Dallas and rebranded the franchise as the Wings. The Miracle relocated from Orlando to Uncasville, Conn., in 2003 and rebranded the franchise as the Sun.  

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