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Houston Comets

Bring back the Comets

Jenny Dial Creech would like to see one more professional sports team in Houston.

As [Tina] Thompson — the league’s first No. 1 overall draft pick — was inducted into the [Naismith Basketball] Hall of Fame, we were all reminded that the Comets set the bar for greatness in the WNBA.

“The Comets were the impact,” Thompson told ESPN earlier this year. “They made people stand up and watch. They made skeptics of the league and its ability to survive into believers. Houston set a tone. It created awareness and excitement, like a curiosity of, ‘What’s going on over there in that league? What is it that everybody’s talking about?’ Not just in the state of Texas, but also in other states and other cities, because they wanted to kind of know what the fuss was about.”

The Comets were widely supported, averaging more than 11,000 fans per game in their first five years. Cooper, Swoopes, Thompson and their teammates were stars.

Since 2008, a passionate group of Comets supporters has clamored for the return of their beloved team. It’s not that easy, of course.

There doesn’t seem to be a WNBA expansion plan. And though one team, the Liberty, is for sale, the hope in New York is that the new buyer will keep the franchise there.

But even though there isn’t a clear answer to get a team to Houston, the city should jump at any chance to get one.

We were season ticket holders for the Comets from 2001 through their last season. They may have averaged 11K per game in the first five seasons, but it definitely dwindled after that. (I can’t find season by season totals on the internet, so you’ll have to trust my memory on this.) I’d say part of that is that Houston fans can be fickle, and part of it is that the team just wasn’t as good after Cynthia Cooper retired. The team started out with a superstar trio (Cooper, Swoopes, Thompson), and never found another high-level player. There’s only so good that a basketball team can be with two stars and a bunch of mostly interchangeable spare parts. I don’t know what the WNBA’s plans are for expansion in the near to medium term, but if and when that becomes a thing, bringing a Houston franchise back to the league should be a priority. If you don’t remember the Comets or just want a refresher on their history and how damn good they were for those first four years, this Undefeated story from 2016 has you covered.

Tina Thompson

Congratulations to original Houston Comet Tina Thompson for her selection to the Basketball Hall of Fame.

Tina Thompson

Tina Thompson was honored for her stellar college, professional and Olympic career when she was named to the 2018 Class of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame on Saturday.

The associate head coach for the University of Texas women’s basketball team joins a list that includes NBA greats Steve Nash, Ray Allen, Grant Hill and former Ohio State and WNBA standout Katie Smith.

[…]

Throughout her 17-year professional playing career, Thompson was a four-time WNBA champion with the Houston Comets (1997, 1998, 1999, 2000), a member of the WNBA All-Decade team, an eight-time All-WNBA team selection, a nine-time WNBA All-Star, and the WNBA All-Star MVP in 2000.

Thompson ended her professional career with the Seattle Storm in 2013 as the league’s all-time leading scorer with 7,488 points in 496 games played (15.1 ppg). She still remains the league’s second-leading all-time scorer behind Diana Taurasi (7,867 points).

On the international level, Thompson has won two Olympic gold medals as a member of Team USA in 2004 (Athens) and 2008 (Beijing).

Jenny Dial Creech gives Thompson some well-deserved love. For a bit of perspective here, the Comets had more championships in their twelve years of existence than the Astros, Rockets, and Oilers/Texans have combined in their histories. They were an amazing team, and Tina Thompson was a foundational piece of it. It’s a shame the franchise was disbanded, and it’s a shame that the memory of them fades as time passes, but as long as Tina Thompson and Sheryl Swoopes and Cynthia Cooper are in the Hall of Fame, a piece of the Comets and their amazing legacy will live on. Congratulations, Tina Thompson!

Sheryl Swoopes elected to Basketball Hall of Fame

Congratulations!

Swoopes, who contributed to the Comets’ memorable run of four WNBA championships after the league was established in 1997, winning three league MVP awards, and who played on three Olympic gold medal-winning teams, said she was proud to be announced as a Hall of Famer in the state where she played high school and college basketball (at Texas Tech) and became one of the foundations of the women’s pro game.

Still, she said, she feels a twinge of regret that she no longer has a home team to call her own with the Comets’ demise after the 2008 season.

“I went to the Rockets game (Sunday) and saw the Comets banners, and it brought back so many memories,” she said. “My mom said, ‘I hate that there’s no place for you to have your jersey retired.’

“If the Rockets would decide to do something like that, it would mean a lot to me. But if it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t make this honor any less special.”

Swoopes also received high praise from [fellow inductee Shaquille] O’Neal, who said, “She could play with us. That is how good she was.” Val Ackerman, who was the first commissioner of the WNBA and is now commissioner of the Big East Conference, said Swoopes “helped form the identity of the league.”

Swoopes joins Yao Ming in this Houston-centric Hall of Fame class. I attended a lot of Comets games back in the day, and Swoopes was a joy to watch – she could do it all on the court, and she did it with grace and tremendous athleticism. It would be nice for the Rockets to honor her at a game, as I’m sure they will do with Yao, and to hang her jersey from the rafters. She’s a distinguished part of Houston basketball history, and a key component of a team that won four straight championships. 2017 will mark the 20th anniversary of that first championship. Let’s take the opportunity to celebrate that.

Losing our sports history

This is sad.

The original championship banners for the Rockets and the WNBA’s defunct Comets remain on display at Toyota Center, as do banners saluting both teams’ representatives in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

After that, Houston’s legacy of pro sports banners gets a little fuzzy.

The latest collection of banners to depart the city left in 2013 with the Aeros. The minor hockey team was moved by the NHL’s Minnesota Wild to Des Moines, Iowa, when the team could not reach agreement on a new Toyota Center lease with the Rockets.

Team officials said the Aeros’ 2011 banner for winning the American Hockey League’s Western Division title is on display at the Wild’s training center in Des Moines.

As for the other Aeros banners, they are presumed to be in storage in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, although team officials could not provide details on their location. A team spokesman, in fact, was not familiar with any banners that existed other than the 2011 flag.

Regardless, Toyota Center once was home to banners commemorating the 2003 Calder Cup title, the 1999 International Hockey League Turner Cup title, the 1974 and 1975 Avco Cup titles won by the World Hockey Association team, and the retired No. 9 jersey worn by Hall of Famer Gordie Howe, who played for the WHA Aeros.

[…]

NRG Park spokeswoman Nina Jackson, asked this week about the location of the Astros memorabilia, said, “Nobody knows anything about any banners.”

There was no indication whether the banners were sold during the Astrodome “garage sale” in 2013 and, if not, whether they still are stored somewhere within the building.

Similar questions surround the Oilers’ championship banners and retired number banners. The Oilers left Houston after the 1996 season for Nashville, Tenn., and a spokesman for the Tennessee Titans said the Oilers banners have not been seen in storage in Nashville.

So thanks to two relocated (and renamed) franchises plus one that changed its home stadium, a lot of tangible pieces of Houston’s sports history are at best in unknown locations. The obvious solution to this would seem to be a local sports museum, whose first task would be to try and track down these things that no one will admit to having at this time. Maybe this story will be a catalyst for someone with the money and the inclination to pursue that. Until then, at least we still have people who remember that these things did once happen.

Ching and the Dash

Good move.

A few weeks after he was sent into retirement with the first MLS testimonial match, the face of the Dynamo will attempt to build Houston’s new National Women’s Soccer League franchise.

Brian Ching will be the managing director of the NWSL’s Houston Dash. The role will be similar to a general manager’s position, but Ching’s duties will also entail being “the face of the team,” said Dynamo and Dash president Chris Canetti

“I’m excited about it,” said Ching, 35, who has an accounting degree from Gonzaga. “When I stopped playing, I didn’t think that I would be this excited about being in the front office. I think it’s a great opportunity for us to grow the Dynamo brand and make the Dash just as successful as the Dynamo both on and off the field.”

The Dash, who will play their inaugural season in 2014, begin preseason in March and play their season opener in April.

“He’ll work closely with me building this team from the ground up,” Canetti said of Ching. “I think it’s an unbelievable opportunity for him. He wants to be an MLS president one day. I think it’s awesome for the Dash as well.”

When the Comets debuted with the WNBA, they were owned by the Rockets – more specifically, by Les Alexander – but other than playing in the same building and occasionally having Rockets players attend games, there was no obvious tie in between the two franchises. The Comets wound up having enough star power on their own to establish themselves, but a little help from the better known brand never hurts. Having the most famous name from the Dynamo there in the beginning for the Dash makes all kinds of sense. I look forward to seeing who they hire to be their coach and who they get on their initial roster.

Anyone remember the Comets?

Not much to remember them by.

I remember them

Five years ago Sunday, the Comets played their final game.

There were no balloons, no confetti, no celebration. There weren’t even fans.

The final game the WNBA team played was at Strahan Coliseum in San Marcos, where it was moved after Hurricane Ike hit the Houston area. It was the latest setback in a string of them for the Comets that season.

Six weeks before that game, the team was put up for sale and its operations were taken over by the WNBA.

Despite their troubles, no one in the organization thought the Comets were folding. So when they played their final game in the Texas State University gym, worried about their friends in hurricane-ravaged Houston, they never thought it would be their last.

But three months later, the league suspended team operations and the franchise that won the first four WNBA titles was no more.

“We knew there was trouble,” former guard Tamecka Dixon said. “But it never crossed our minds that we wouldn’t be playing in Houston the next year. We understood that there would be new owners and that the league would run the team for a while, but I never thought it was over.”

[…]

The Comets won the league’s first four championships from 1997-2000. No other team has won more than two. The team’s average attendance was a WNBA-high 11,442 from 1997-2002, then fell to 9,592.

[…]

“No one saw it coming,” former Rockets guard John Lucas said. “No one. And it’s too bad, because they were a big part of Houston basketball. When the Rockets weren’t playing, you had the Comets. It was an important part of the sports cycle for the city of Houston.”

So when the Comets traveled from Chicago to San Marcos for their last game of the regular season Sept. 15, 2008, no one on the team knew they would be on the floor for the last time.

“It’s sad to think that there was no celebration for the Comets, nothing,” Dixon said. “We weren’t even in Houston. The fans didn’t get a chance to have a real goodbye, a real celebration. And Houston had such loyal fans. That is a franchise that deserved a real sendoff.”

The Comets did indeed have a loyal fanbase, with fans as rabid and dedicated as any you’d see at a Texans game. But it was a dwindling fanbase, and if we’re honest with ourselves we will say that it hadn’t been treated very well towards the end. Speaking as a many-year Comets season ticket holder, the move from the Toyota Center to Reliant Arena for that last season would have killed hardier franchises than that. Reliant Arena, to put it delicately, was a dump. You could probably find a dozen high school gyms, and likely a few junior high gyms, that offered a better fan experience for watching a basketball game. Dark, dingy, lousy sight lines, worse acoustics, few amenities – it was a depressing way to watch a game. Had the team continued to exist, I doubt we’d have renewed our tickets for another year – the kids were too little to enjoy the games, and unlike the Toyota Center where you could at least walk around the outer corridors with them in some comfort and with some awareness of what was going on in the game, there was nothing at Reliant for the fan with small children. For a franchise that won four straight championships, something very few teams in any league can claim to have done, they deserved better. Speaking for their once rowdy fans, so did we.

Is this the end of hockey in Houston again?

Looks like it.

As the Houston Chronicle first reported in January, it appears the Houston Aeros’ 19-year run in Houston is all but over.

An announcement could be coming in the next couple of weeks, basically after the Aeros’ season, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported Tuesday.

The Aeros, affliated with the NHL’s Minnesota Wild, are expected to move to Des Moines, Iowa.

The reason for the move was that the team has been unable to extend its lease at Toyota Center.

The Harris County-Houston Sports Authority has looked into alternative venues – primarily Reliant Arena – for the minor league hockey franchise but has found none suitable.

I confess, I don’t follow the Aeros very closely – it’s been at least ten years since I’ve been to a game. I didn’t even realize they were now affiliated with an NHL team. What I do know is that if they can’t renew their lease at the Toyota Center, they may as well move. Tiffany and I were for awhile season ticket holders for the Houston Comets, and they played one year at Reliant Arena, their last year before folding. It was a truly awful venue – dingy, lots of poor sight lines, lousy or non-existent amenities, and no option to park for free on the street. Maybe it’s better now, and maybe the replacement facility that has been talked about as part of an Astrodome plan would be better – it could hardly be worse – but that would be of little help to the Aeros. So yeah, Toyota Center or bust. Good luck with that. Hair Balls, which also wrote about this last week, has more.

Women’s Professional Soccer

Has it really been over five years since the Women’s United Soccer Association (WUSA) closed up shop? Time does fly. In any event, if you’re a fan of women’s soccer and have been waiting for another professional league to come along, your wait is over.

[T]he first Women’s Professional Soccer season [launched] Sunday against the backdrop of a troubling recession that could yet be the precursor to another Great Depression.

With infinitely better timing, the WPS’ predecessor, the Women’s United Soccer Association, lasted barely three seasons before closing. And basketball’s WNBA, the reference standard of the genre with its dozen years of history, has seemingly plateaued despite optimism about its future. The demise of the once-dynastic Comets last summer for lack of ownership sounded an ominous warning shot.

Here’s the WPS website. They didn’t take my advice about a regional approach, as you can see, but hey, what do I know? Somewhat amusingly, or perhaps ominously, the third Google result for “women’s professional soccer” is this dead WUSA page. Make of that what you will.

A crucial question remains to be answered, and quickly: Will viewers embrace the games on television, shown exclusively by Fox’s soccer channel? And, most important for the long term, will the young women who aspire to play in the WPS congregate around TVs themselves to marvel at the skills of the brilliant Brazilian Marta — just as adolescent boys do when Kobe and Lebron light up the flat screen?

Plenty of girls play soccer or basketball or both, many at an intensely competitive level, but far fewer are inclined to spectate. Therein lies a huge rub, no doubt a crucial reason why the female pros haven’t secured a niche for themselves as must-see TV, arguably a foundation for assuring their leagues of true viability. Boys aspiring to become athletes are almost always fans first — and remain so after they quit playing. Women? Far less of a given, to be sure.

“I struggle to get my players to watch soccer on TV, or even to attend (Dynamo) games at the same stadium where we play,” admits [University of Houston women’s soccer coach Susan] Bush. “I definitely encourage them to and want them to, but … as little girls, it’s just not something that we did.”

Kristine Lilly, who will play for her hometown Boston Breakers in WPS and, at 38, is the most tenured national team player — male or female — in soccer history, calls the observation Bush makes a “double-edged sword.

“In the past, young girls haven’t had many opportunities to watch women (compete in sports) on television,” Lilly said. “Now they have options, and I really think it’s going to change the culture. It’s very important for young girls to see that they can play at a professional level, too.”

I’d been wondering about that lately, and I’m glad to see the article address that question. For my part, I’ve been trying to get Olivia to watch sports with me, but I haven’t had much luck so far. She’s shown no interest in televised sports, and while she’ll attend live events with me, the games themselves don’t hold her interest for long. Of course, that’s largely a function of her age and attention span, at least for now. Ask me again in a few years and we’ll see if I’ve succeeded.