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Houston Comets: The First Dominant WNBA Dynasty

Carey C. Shuart Women's Archive and Research Collection

By James Burke, Intern at UH Special Collections and PhD student majoring in US History and minoring in Public History. His work involves museum archives, artifact cataloging, and exhibit curation.

Close-up of range and white basketball with the autograph of Cynthia Cooper #14 MVP.

Game ball signed by Head Coach Van Chancellor (top) and Cynthia Cooper #14 MVP (center)

The Houston Comets were among the first eight teams of the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) in 1997. In their first season the Comets saw unprecedented success, playing against and beating the New York Liberty in the Championship. The Houston Comets went on to win the 1998 WNBA Championship against the Phoenix Mercury, again in 1999 against the New York Liberty, and in 2000 against the same. Throughout each of the first four seasons, the Houston Comets dominated the court. The “Big Three” Cynthia Cooper, Sheryl Swoopes, and Tina Thompson topped all statistical charts for the WNBA and were instrumental in leading the Comets to four consecutive WNBA Championship wins. While the Houston Comets were a breakout dynasty in the WNBA, after the 2008 season the team was disbanded due to ownership issues.

For the creation of this exhibit, I have had to make up for my own shortcomings in knowledge on the Houston Comets. Prior to beginning the Houston Comets exhibit, Vince Lee, Archivist for the Carey Shuart Women’s Research Collection, and I planned on working on a separate exhibit from Special Collections. However, upon getting the commission for the Comets exhibit, the two of us began working on the task immediately. While I knew people who were fans of the Houston Comets when they were active, I was ignorant to their history at the onset of the project. Working with Vince and by his advice, the first two weeks were largely spent on researching the story of the team. Furthermore, he suggested I familiarize myself with the Houston Comets Memorabilia Collection. While I have experience doing curatorial work, never had it been on something I had minimal working knowledge on, but it was, and remains, an exciting opportunity to learn.

I chose the items for the Houston Comets exhibit largely centered on the first four seasons of the team, in addition to the “Big Three”. I wanted the exhibit cases to demonstrate the history of the team and their success, but also the fans and their dedication. Across the exhibit I selected five items signed by members of the Houston Comets. In addition to signed memorabilia, I wanted to feature several Houston Comets publications throughout the exhibit, both to show the teams history as told by the WNBA, and by journalists from the Houston Chronicle. The Comets dominated the first four seasons of the WNBA, and written material reflects that. Beyond such items, I wanted to include various merchandise to show that fans of the Houston Comets remained so outside the arena.

Despite the Houston Comets only lasting for twelve seasons from 1997 to 2008, the team established a dynasty in the WNBA and made a lasting impact on both Houston and the league at-large. Fans of the Comets remained loyal during and after their time on the court, and the collection of memorabilia establishes that. While the team is no longer active, their legacy continues to permeate the WNBA and their fans to this day.


Explore history at UH Special Collections! We are located in M.D. Anderson Library, 2nd Floor, at the top of the stairs next to the elevators. Our reading room is open Monday-Friday, 10:00 AM-4:00 PM, excluding holidays. Appointments are strongly recommended so that requested materials can be ready for you upon your arrival. Drop-in visits are welcomed if there is available space in the reading room.