Tue 2 Dec, 2008 06:19 pm
It breaks my heart to see this fine team simply disappear. While I am not the sort of fan to watch many games, I enjoyed following the exploits of these wonderful players - edgarblythe
Steve Ueckert Houston Chronicle
Tina Thompson and the Comets won four championships in Houston.
The Houston Comets, an original member of the WNBA and winner of its first four championships, are being shut down by the league.
WNBA president Donna Orender said Monday that the team could no longer stay afloat. The Comets, who have been on a roller-coaster ride the last two seasons, will suspend operations early next week.
"This is disturbing news," said Cynthia Cooper-Dyke, a two-time WNBA Most Valuable Player who, along with Sheryl Swoopes and Tina Thompson, led the Comets to four league titles from 1997-2000. "This is a team that was an integral part of the WNBA. It is a team that helped establish the league, helped the league grow roots."
The news came to Comets staff and players about 6 p.m. Monday, when acting chief operating officer Tom Garrity made phone calls. Several of the players compete in overseas leagues and may not yet be aware of the WNBA's decision.
The decision to shutter the team came almost four months after the league took it over. The WNBA began running the Comets when owner Hilton Koch had decided to put the team up for sale. In mid-August, Houston Mayor Bill White issued a letter to potential investors, placing the value of the franchise at $10 million and setting a November deadline to find local ownership.
Koch bought the team from Houston Rockets owner Leslie Alexander in October 2006. The team broke away from the Rockets' organization, established a new front office, saw longtime head coach Van Chancellor resign and moved assistant coach Karleen Thompson into the top job.
Orender said several investors inquired about keeping the team in Houston, but the league decided there wasn't enough time to make an ownership transaction.
"It's a sad, sad, sad day for me," said Chancellor, now the women's coach at Louisiana State. "I just feel bad for everybody. I hate to see the city lose such a great franchise. I have so many memories.
"Houston is losing a big piece of its history. The Houston Comets' four championships will always be a big piece of WNBA history and a big piece of the city's history."
The league will hold a dispersal draft on Dec. 8 for the players who were still under contract to the team. Free agents Thompson, Latasha Byears, Mwadi Mabika, Hamchetou Maiga-Ba and Michelle Snow will not be eligible for that draft.
Cooper-Dyke said the Comets will be missed and that Houston needs a WNBA team.
"Houston and Texas in general are huge areas for basketball, and it is important that young women playing basketball here have someone to look up to and know they have a league to play in," said Cooper-Dyke, now the women's basketball coach at Prairie View A&M. "College basketball will play a big role now. It has to. And hopefully the WNBA will decide to put a team here in the future."
This year, for the fourth season of the last five, the Comets did not make the playoffs, but when they started playing in Houston, it was a much different story. In addition to winning the first four WNBA crowns, the Comets were a playoff participant in each of the league's first seven seasons.
"Everyone loved coming to Comets games," said former Comets and Houston Rockets general manager Carroll Dawson. "That was a fun time. There were 13,000 people packed in the Compaq Center to see them."
That number dwindled when the Comets moved to Toyota Center in 2004 and became even smaller when Koch moved them to Reliant Arena for the 2008 season. The arena held 7,200 fans and sold out four games during the season. On average, about 6,000 fans attended.
"It starts at the top," Dawson said. "Our owner (Les Alexander) was very committed to having a great team and winning championships. It didn't go so well for them after that. I do think that a lot of people will miss the Comets. They are a part of this area's history now."
Orender said that although the team was for sale to any interested parties, the league was looking for buyers who would keep the team in Houston.
"Our focus, as the team was up for sale, was always to keep it in Houston," Orender said. "For another team to be in Houston in the future, the right group of buyers would have to get together and form the right ownership group to get it going."
sounds like they'll get another team in there once the dust dettles...
Well, if you bought a few tickets to see them, maybe they would still be in business.