2021 WNBA Finals: Ranking every WNBA championship team

Ranking the WNBA championship teams is like trying to decide which spectacular ocean sunset is the best. Each champion gets the same trophy and title, a designation that can never be taken away. But in this silver anniversary season, with the league soon to crown its 25th champion -- the Chicago Sky and Phoenix Mercury meet in Game 2 of the 2021 WNBA Finals on Wednesday (9 p.m. ET, ESPN/ESPN App) -- we put the champs in order.

In September, we ranked the WNBA franchises, which took into account the entire history of each organization, with extra weight given to those that have stood the test of time. Here, we looked at each title team on its own merits, unconnected to the overall successes and failures of its franchise. Among the biggest challenges was ranking champs from the same franchise who were made up of mostly the same players. Is one of Houston's four consecutive title teams demonstrably better than the others?


And, of course, similar to our ranking of the 25 greatest players in WNBA history last month, there is more than one way to assess the data. ESPN's Mechelle Voepel ranked the teams based on discussions with coaches and players around the league -- and old-fashioned subjectivity.

ESPN's Kevin Pelton ranked the former champs one through 24 using a similar statistical model to the one he developed to determine the NBA's top teams. Based on the predictive power of point differential, it starts with that mark in the regular season. He then added playoff point differential and adjusted it for the regular-season performance of the opponents each team faced en route to the title so as to give more credit for beating another powerful foe than a lesser competitor.

There are two key differences from the rating Pelton used for the NBA and the WNBA version. First, instead of giving equal weight to play in the regular season and playoffs, he weighed each of them by games played to acknowledge the greater variability in the shorter WNBA postseason. Second, since the WNBA hasn't gone through as many different eras, he did not use an adjustment for quality of play in a given season.

Ultimately, these are rankings where being at the bottom isn't much different than being at the top. They're all champions.

1. 2000 Houston Comets



Regular season and playoff records: 27-5, 6-0

Defeated the New York Liberty 2-0 in Finals


  • Pelton overall rank: 2

  • RS differential: +12.8.5 (1st among champions)

  • PO rating: +21.5 (6th among champions)

  • Rating: +13.0



This was the last of Houston's four consecutive title teams, the end of the Comets' version of "Camelot." In 2000, the WNBA was at 16 teams and most of the former ABL players were in their second year in the league. Sheryl Swoopes won her first of three MVP awards and two-time MVP Cynthia Cooper played her last full season at age 37.

As was the case with the other Houston championship teams, the stars carried them: Swoopes and Cooper averaged 35 minutes a game, Tina Thompson 34 and Janeth Arcain 30.5. Fifth starter, Tiffani Johnson (22.2), was the only other player who averaged at least 20 minutes a game. With three future Hall of Famers (Cooper, Swoopes, Thompson), Houston didn't need much statistically from its reserves. The Comets' bench players knew their roles, and the team knew how to win. This title ended the dynasty -- the Los Angeles Sparks were ascending -- but what a finish. -- Voepel

The Comets weren't the top seed in the playoffs. Despite the best differential in league history, Houston finished one game back of the 28-4 Sparks before sweeping Los Angeles in the best-of-three conference finals. Five of the Comets' six playoff wins came by eight points or fewer, but all three of their opponents went 20-12 or better during a top-heavy year where the league expanded by four teams. -- Pelton

2. 2020 Seattle Storm



Regular season and playoff records: 18-4, 6-0

Defeated the Las Vegas Aces 3-0 in Finals


  • Pelton overall rank: No. 1

  • RS differential: +11.5 (4th)

  • PO rating: +21.5 (1st)

  • Rating: +13.7



Bringing back the same core that won the 2018 title into a bubble season marked by opt-outs of several stars, the Storm entered 2020 as heavy favorites. Seattle wasn't the No. 1 seed in the playoffs, losing a tiebreaker to Las Vegas, but dominated with veteran point guard Sue Bird back in the lineup. After a COVID-19 scare postponed their opening semifinals game, the Storm never looked back, going 6-0 in the playoffs with five of the six wins by double-digits -- including a 33-point blowout to close out the Aces. -- Pelton

Bird, part of all four Storm title teams, has ruminated over which of them was "best." Lauren Jackson was the superstar of the 2004 and 2010 Storm title teams; her counterpart in 2018 and 2020 was Breanna Stewart. Bird said an edge goes to the very similarly constructed 2018 and 2020 teams due to the presence of guard Jewell Loyd. Bird then gives a nod to the overall depth and chemistry to the 2020 Storm, who were first in the league in offensive and defensive rating.

"The way we shot 3's, the way we moved the ball -- if you took something away, we'd just keep it moving," Bird said. "We talked before every game that we were going to wear teams out with the pace that we played." -- Voepel

3. 2013 Minnesota Lynx



Regular season and playoff records: 26-8, 7-0

Defeated the Atlanta Dream 3-0 in Finals


  • Pelton overall rank: No. 7

  • RS differential: +9.4 (7th)

  • PO rating: +15.2 (3rd)

  • Rating: +10.4



This was the second of four Lynx titles in a seven-season span. They didn't have the best regular-season record among Lynx champs; both 2011 and 2017 went 27-7 (and the 2016 runners-up were 28-6). But coach Cheryl Reeve said the "core four" of the franchise -- Seimone Augustus, Rebekkah Brunson, Maya Moore and Lindsay Whalen -- were near the peak of their collective powers in 2013. They all averaged double figures in scoring, led by Moore's 18.5 PPG. The fifth starter was Janel McCarville, Whalen's former University of Minnesota teammate, and that pairing again thrilled Gophers fans.

In 2012, Minnesota lost 3-1 in the Finals to the Indiana Fever, which irked the Lynx because they were five games better than the Fever in the regular-season standings. The 2013 team didn't allow any openings in the playoffs, sweeping Seattle, Phoenix and Atlanta. -- Voepel

This Lynx championship team was the league's best from start to finish, sweeping its way to a title with the best playoff point differential ever (+15.4 PPG). We were denied playoff matchups against either of the other two teams to win at least 20 games during the regular season because both Chicago and Los Angeles were upset earlier in the postseason. -- Pelton

4. 1998 Houston Comets



Regular season and playoff records: 27-3, 4-1

Defeated Phoenix 2-1 in Finals


  • Pelton overall rank: No. 3

  • RS differential: +12.6 (2nd)

  • PO rating: +13.3 (7th)

  • Rating: +12.7



After winning the WNBA's inaugural championship with limited contributions from Swoopes, who played just nine games after giving birth to son, Jordan, and did not score in the 1997 playoffs, the Comets teamed a prime Swoopes with reigning MVP Cooper and second-year forward Thompson. The result was a 27-3 record, still the best winning percentage in league history. Houston's playoff rating isn't quite as relatively strong because the Comets were taken the distance in the best-of-three Finals by a 19-11 Phoenix Mercury team. -- Pelton

Cooper said if she had to pick just one Comets championship team as her favorite, it would be this one. As Kevin noted, the team's .900 winning percentage remains the best in WNBA history. Swoopes was second on the team in scoring at 15.6 PPG to Cooper's 22.7. Cooper won her second consecutive MVP award; she was Finals MVP for all four championship teams.

And there's another reason this team is dear to Cooper's heart. Her close friend, Kim Perrot, the Comets' spark plug point guard, averaged 8.5 points and 4.7 assists in what would be her last season in the WNBA. Perrot had 13 points, five rebounds and four assists in the title-clinching win over the Mercury. Five months later, she was diagnosed with cancer and died in August 1999 at age 32. -- Voepel

5. 2014 Phoenix Mercury



Regular season and playoff records: 29-5, 7-1

Defeated Chicago 3-0 in Finals


  • Pelton overall rank: No. 6

  • RS differential: +9.4 (6th)

  • PO rating: +14.6 (4th)

  • Rating: +10.4



Amid the Lynx dynasty from 2011 to 2017, the Mercury owned this season. Their 29 wins is a WNBA record, and they were first in offensive and defensive rating. All five starters -- Diana Taurasi, Brittney Griner, Candice Dupree, Penny Taylor and DeWanna Bonner -- averaged double digits in scoring.

Their only loss in the playoffs came to Minnesota in Game 2 of the Western Conference finals, but they bounced back to win the series with an 18-point Game 3 victory. In the WNBA Finals, Chicago was no match. Taurasi, who averaged 16.2 PPG in the regular season and 21.9 PPG in the playoffs, was WNBA Finals MVP for the second time. -- Voepel

The 2014 Phoenix team still holds the best winning percentage for any team outside the expansion era. Relative to that record, the Mercury's +9.5 differential wasn't especially dominating, the reason Phoenix falls outside the top five in my rankings. In the playoffs, Phoenix was outstanding, beating the defending champion Lynx 2-1 in the conference finals and sweeping a 15-19 Chicago team in the Finals by an average of 18.3 PPG. -- Pelton

6. 2017 Minnesota Lynx



Regular season and playoff records: 27-7, 6-2

Defeated Los Angeles 3-2 in Finals


  • Pelton overall rank: No. 4

  • RS differential: +11.1 (5th)

  • PO rating: +11.9 (10th)

  • Rating: +11.3



The top-rated one of the Lynx's four title teams in my model fully integrated Sylvia Fowles, who won MVP and Finals MVP, to the core of the team that had already won three championships in the previous six years. After sweeping the Washington Mystics in the semifinals, Minnesota rallied from a 2-1 deficit to win a Finals rematch against the Sparks in five games. -- Pelton

Minnesota was still smarting over a 3-2 Finals loss to Los Angeles in 2016, and the teams were again archrivals in 2017. Minnesota was first in the league in offensive and defensive rating and Los Angeles was second in both.

Target Center was being renovated, so the Lynx's home games in the 2017 playoffs were at the University of Minnesota' Williams Arena, where Whalen had played in college. The decisive 85-76 Game 5 win came in a packed and cacophonous Williams, and Fowles was Finals MVP for a second time (she also won in 2015). -- Voepel

7. 2019 Washington Mystics



Regular season and playoff records: 26-8, 6-3

Defeated the Connecticut Sun 3-2 in Finals


  • Pelton overall rank: No. 5

  • RS differential: +12.0 (3rd)

  • PO rating: +5.1 (22nd)

  • Rating: +10.6



Compared to a regular season that saw the Mystics win a record 13 games by 20-plus points -- four more than any other team in league history -- their playoff run was a slog. Washington outscored Las Vegas by just one point in a hard-fought four-game semifinals win, then needed the full five games to beat Connecticut in a classic Finals. A formula that puts more emphasis on the playoffs would drop the Mystics in the statistical rankings. -- Pelton

Elena Delle Donne said this was the best team she has ever played on: "Not just talent-wise, but the way emotionally and mentally we were so on-point with one another. That's what took us to the next level."

The Mystics also overcame a back injury that hampered Delle Donne during the Finals and has impacted her career since. Delle Donne was the MVP in 2019, but teammate Emma Meesseman was the Finals MVP, averaging 17.8 points in the championship series. -- Voepel

8. 1999 Houston Comets



Regular season and playoff records: 26-6, 4-2

Defeated New York 2-1 in Finals


  • Pelton overall rank: No. 8

  • RS differential: +9.3 (8th)

  • PO rating: +11.1 (11th)

  • Rating: +9.6




Only by contrast to Houston's championship teams before and after would the 26-6 Comets look unspectacular. Houston came within Teresa Weatherspoon's unforgettable buzzer-beating heave of sweeping the playoffs and came back to finish off New York in the winner-take-all Game 3 of the Finals to hoist the trophy a third time. -- Pelton

In 1999, almost all the former ABL standouts had transitioned into and strengthened the WNBA. That didn't stop the Comets, who added former ABL player Sonja Henning at point guard. Houston's standouts were the same as in 1998: Cooper, Swoopes and Thompson. Bulgarian center Polina Tzekova, then 31, made the most of her only WNBA season, starting every game for Houston in 1999.

Ultimately, there was a melancholy feel to the 1999 championship for the Comets. Their former point guard Perrot died from cancer on Aug. 19. On Sept. 5, Houston secured "3 for 10" -- its motto in winning its third title in honor of Perrot, who wore No. 10. -- Voepel

9. 2001 Los Angeles Sparks



Regular season and playoff records: 28-4, 6-1

Defeated Charlotte 2-0 in Finals


  • Pelton overall rank: No. 9

  • RS differential: +8.6 (9th)

  • PO rating: +12.4 (8th)

  • Rating: +9.3



After being denied by the Comets a year earlier, the Sparks became the first championship team besides Houston in the league's fifth season. Los Angeles matched the 28-4 record of the previous season with a slightly better point differential. The Sparks followed their lone playoff loss, by one point to the Sacramento Monarchs in the conference finals, with three wins by at least 20 points in their final four postseason games. -- Pelton

The Sparks learned a lot going against Houston for four seasons before making their championship breakthrough. Los Angeles star Lisa Leslie has joked, "Thank God that Coop retired," in reference to the Houston's Cooper ending her playing career after the 2000 season (she returned for four games in 2003 at age 40).

Leslie, Mwadi Mabika, Tamecka Dixon and DeLisha Milton-Jones all averaged in double figures during this title run. Leslie was MVP for the season and the Finals. -- Voepel

10. 2011 Minnesota Lynx



Regular season and playoff records: 27-7, 7-1

Defeated Atlanta 3-0 in Finals


  • Pelton overall rank: No. 10

  • RS differential: +7.9 (11th)

  • PO rating: +12.3 (9th)

  • Rating: +8.7



In 2010, Minnesota got a new coach (Reeve) and also added Whalen (trade) and Brunson (Sacramento dispersal draft). The next year brought the opening championship of the Lynx dynasty as No. 1 pick Moore was Rookie of the Year. The 22-year-old Moore started alongside Taj McWilliams-Franklin, who turned 41 two weeks after the Finals ended. This Lynx team really spanned the age/experience gamut.

The season also brought a well-deserved spotlight to Augustus, who became the original building block for the dynasty when she was drafted No. 1 in 2006. She led the 2011 Lynx in scoring in the regular season (16.2) and playoffs (22.0) and was the Finals MVP. -- Voepel

The first Lynx title winner announced itself as a contender by winning six more games than any other team during the regular season. Following a hard-fought 2-1 win in the opening round over the San Antonio Silver Stars, Minnesota swept the next two rounds en route to a championship. -- Pelton

11. 2016 Los Angeles Sparks



Regular season and playoff records: 26-8, 6-3

Defeated Minnesota 3-2 in Finals


  • Pelton overall rank: No. 12

  • RS differential: +7.1 (13th)

  • PO rating: +10.3 (14th)

  • Rating: +7.8



After winning back-to-back titles in 2001-02, the Sparks endured a lot of frustrating "almost" in the playoffs. They lost in the WNBA Finals in 2003 and the conference finals in 2006, 2008, 2009 and 2012. The playoff format changed in 2016, seeding the top eight teams regardless of conference, and the Sparks made the Finals again. In an epic five-game series, they beat Minnesota 77-76 on Nneka Ogwumike's putback with 3.1 seconds remaining. Ogwumike was the season MVP and teammate Candace Parker the Finals MVP. It was the last jewel to complete Parker's crown; she already had won two NCAA titles and two Olympic gold medals. -- Voepel

That timely rule change allowed the 26-8 Sparks and 28-6 Lynx -- the league's two best teams by a five-game margin -- to meet in the Finals, setting up perhaps the greatest series in league history. -- Pelton

12. 2018 Seattle Storm



Regular season and playoff records: 26-8, 6-2

Defeated Washington 3-0 in Finals


  • Pelton overall rank: No. 15

  • RS differential: +7.6 (12th)

  • PO rating: +6.1 (21st)

  • Rating: +7.3



History repeated itself with the Storm. They had back-to-back No. 1 picks in Jackson and Bird in 2001 and 2002, which led to two titles. Seattle again got consecutive No. 1s in 2015 and 2016 with Loyd and Stewart, which also led to two titles. This 2018 championship in a lot of ways was won in the semifinals, when the Storm held off Phoenix in an epic Game 5 in which Bird took over in the fourth quarter. In the finals, Seattle wasn't going to be denied and swept the Mystics. And the Storm looked to be a strong threat to become the first repeat champion since the Sparks in 2001-02. But an Achilles injury kept Stewart out in 2019. When she returned in 2020, the Storm picked up where they had left off in 2018. -- Voepel

With Los Angeles and Minnesota both eliminated in advance of the semifinals after back-to-back Finals meetings, the Storm emerged as the league's best team, improving by 11 wins under first-year head coach Dan Hughes with Stewart winning MVP. -- Pelton

13. 2010 Seattle Storm



Regular season and playoff records: 28-6, 7-0

Defeated Atlanta 3-0 in Finals


  • Pelton overall rank: No. 13

  • RS differential: +7.9 (10th)

  • PO rating: +6.8 (19th)

  • Rating: +7.7



A rating that focused on record instead of point differential would have the 2010 Storm much higher. Seattle went 28-6 in the regular season and became the first team to go 7-0 in the postseason after the Finals expanded to best-of-five series in 2005. The Storm specialized in close wins, going 9-1 in games decided by five points or fewer in the regular season and winning their last five playoff games by single digits. -- Pelton

The 2010 Storm were six games better than any team in the WNBA; no other team in the Western Conference even had a winning record. Jackson won her third MVP award, and she and Bird got to celebrate their second WNBA championship together. Bird, Swin Cash and Svetlana Abrosimova, who had won an NCAA title together at UConn in 2000, all played for this Storm team. Seattle didn't lose at home in 2010, which ended up being Jackson's last full season in the WNBA, as injuries forced her out of the league after 2012. -- Voepel

14. 2005 Sacramento Monarchs



Regular season and playoff records: 25-9, 7-1

Defeated Connecticut 3-1 in Finals


  • Pelton overall rank: No. 14

  • RS differential: +6.9 (14th)

  • PO rating: +9.2 (16th)

  • Rating: +7.4



After losing in the conference finals three of the previous four years, the Monarchs broke through in 2005, sweeping their way to the Finals and pulling off a mild upset of a 26-8 Connecticut team with home-court advantage in four games. -- Pelton

At age 29, Yolanda Griffith entered the WNBA in 1999 from the ABL and was her new league's MVP that year, a perfect target for point guard Ticha Penicheiro.

Griffith also won Finals MVP, and it was a career-best year for DeMya Walker, who led the Monarchs in scoring in the regular season and made an All-Star appearance. This was also the first of Rebekkah Brunson's five WNBA titles; her other four came with Minnesota. -- Voepel

15. 2002 Los Angeles Sparks



Regular season and playoff records: 25-7, 6-0

Defeated New York 2-0 in Finals


  • Pelton overall rank: No 11

  • RS differential: +6.8 (15th)

  • PO rating: +14.4 (5th)

  • Rating: +8.0



Coming off back-to-back 28-4 records, the Sparks slipped by three games during a less dominant regular season. They were more impressive during the playoffs, going 7-0 with an average margin of 12.0 PPG. -- Pelton

The Sparks' repeat championship seemed more predictable than extraordinary at the time, coming after Houston had won four in a row. But almost two decades later, no franchise has gone back-to-back, so Los Angeles' achievement stands out more now. There isn't much to separate this team from the 2001 Sparks, who had a little better regular-season record. The standout players were the same except for Nikki Teasley, a rookie in 2002 who hit the championship-clinching 3-pointer in Game 2 of the Finals. -- Voepel

16. 2006 Detroit Shock



Regular season and playoff records: 23-11, 7-3

Defeated Sacramento 3-2 in Finals


  • Pelton overall rank: No. 19

  • RS differential: +4.2 (21st)

  • PO rating: +9.4 (15th)

  • Rating: +5.4



After a 23-11 regular season, the Shock upset a 25-9 Connecticut team with a 24-point road win in the deciding Game 3. Detroit got home-court advantage thanks to Sacramento upsetting Los Angeles in the Western Conference finals and used it, rallying from a 2-1 deficit to knock off the defending champs in five games. -- Pelton

A big key for this team was the 2005 midseason trade that brought Katie Smith to the Shock. She fit in well with Cash, Cheryl Ford, Deanna Nolan and Ruth Riley, who were all on Detroit's 2003 championship squad.


Nolan, a native of nearby Flint, Michigan, was Finals MVP as the Shock prevented Sacramento's attempt at a repeat. In the decisive Game 5, won 80-75 by Detroit, Nolan played all 40 minutes and scored 24 points. -- Voepel

17. 2012 Indiana Fever



Regular season and playoff records: 22-12, 7-3

Defeated Minnesota 3-1 in Finals


  • Pelton overall rank: No. 17

  • RS differential: +6.0 (17th)

  • PO rating: +10.3 (13th)

  • Rating: +7.0



A long-awaited title for Tamika Catchings came as something of a surprise after the Fever finished with the league's fourth-best record during the regular season. Indiana reached a different level in the playoffs, as Mechelle notes below. -- Pelton

When Indiana lost its playoff opener 75-66 at home to Atlanta, there was no reason to think anything magical was in the works. Yet two days later, Indiana scored 103 points in beating the Dream, then closed out that series with another victory. The roller coaster wasn't over. The Fever also lost their opener in the East finals to Connecticut and were on the verge of getting swept before pulling Game 2 out of the fire and winning Game 3 on the road.

Next up: A Lynx team that had the best record in the league that year. The Fever and Lynx split the first two games of the Finals, but Game 3 was one of the weirdest in WNBA playoff history. The Lynx, who led the league in offensive rating, were held to a season-low 59 points, while Indiana's Shavonte Zellous erupted for 30 points.

Indiana had been up 2-1 in the 2009 Finals but couldn't close out that series at home and lost Game 5 at Phoenix. In 2012, franchise legend Catchings and the Fever won Game 4 at home. -- Voepel

18. 2007 Phoenix Mercury



Regular season and playoff records: 23-11, 7-2

Defeated Detroit 3-2 in Finals


  • Pelton overall rank: No. 21

  • RS differential: +3.6 (24th)

  • PO rating: +10.3 (12th)

  • Rating: +5.0



Three years after winning her third title at UConn, Taurasi won her first WNBA championship. Phoenix's winning formula was coach Paul Westhead's run-and-gun offense, which was first in the league. Defense was not as much a priority; the Mercury were next-to-last in defensive rating. But it worked, with Taurasi, Taylor, Cappie Pondexter and Tangela Smith all averaging double digits in scoring.

The Finals matchup with defending champion Detroit got chippy, with Phoenix surviving a physical Game 4 in a 77-76 win. Then the Mercury became the first WNBA team to win a championship on the road, taking Game 5 108-92 at Detroit behind 30 points from Taylor -- who went 18 of 18 from the free throw line -- and 26 points and 10 assists from Finals MVP Pondexter. -- Voepel

Despite a 23-11 record, the Mercury had the worst point differential in the regular season of any champion to date. (Whoever wins this year's Finals will surpass them.) Phoenix was much more impressive in the playoffs, sweeping to the Finals and outscoring Detroit by a combined 30 points in a series that went the full five games. -- Pelton

19. 2004 Seattle Storm



Regular season and playoff records: 20-14, 6-2

Defeated Connecticut 2-1 in Finals


  • Pelton overall rank: No. 18

  • RS differential: +5.1 (18th)

  • PO rating: +8.9 (17th)

  • Rating: +5.8



In a season without a dominant team, the 20-14 Storm had the league's best differential during the regular season, then got home-court advantage throughout the playoffs when the 25-9 Sparks -- who had gone 3-1 against Seattle that season -- were upset in the opening round. Seattle went the distance to beat both Sacramento and Connecticut. -- Pelton

This was Seattle's first trip to the WNBA Finals. And this was the last year that the Finals was a best-of-three series. The Storm were on the ropes after a 68-64 opening loss at Connecticut. But they pulled out a 67-65 nail-biter in Game 2 at Seattle, led by Betty Lennox's 27 points. In Game 3, with KeyArena packed with Storm fans wielding thunder sticks, Lennox had 23 points and earned Finals MVP honors as Seattle clinched the title 74-60. -- Voepel

20. 2015 Minnesota Lynx



Regular season and playoff records: 22-12, 7-3

Defeated Indiana 3-2 in Finals


  • Pelton overall rank: No. 24

  • RS differential: +3.7 (22nd)

  • PO rating: +3.7 (23rd)

  • Rating: +3.7



Of the Lynx's four title teams, this was the only one with double-digit losses, as Augustus and Whalen both dealt with injuries. But big-time help came via two trades in July: first for guard Renee Montgomery and then for center Fowles, who had sat out the season to that point to force a trade from Chicago.

Moore, the 2014 MVP, was again brilliant in 2015, leading the Lynx in scoring in the regular season (20.6 PPG) and the postseason (23.4). She hit a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to win Game 3 of the Finals vs. Indiana 80-77. The Fever won Game 4, but Fowles cemented her Finals MVP award with 20 points and 11 rebounds in a Game 5 victory. -- Voepel

It's surprising to see the Lynx in last in my statistical model given the championship teams two years before and after are both among my top seven, and the next year's runner-up is the best-rated non-champion in WNBA history. Minnesota was still integrating Fowles, acquired midseason, and slogged through the postseason. The Lynx's +2.5 differential in playoff games was lowest for any champion. Minnesota had just two playoff wins by more than seven points -- one of them in the deciding Game 5 of the Finals against Indiana. -- Pelton

21. 2009 Phoenix Mercury



Regular season and playoff records: 23-11, 7-4

Defeated Indiana 3-2 in Finals


  • Pelton overall rank: 22

  • RS differential: +3.7 (23rd)

  • PO rating: +6.7 (20th)

  • Rating: +4.4



Thus far, the 2009 Mercury are the only champion in league history to go the distance in every series they played, winning three deciding games. (Phoenix could do that one better this year, winning four deciding games with a potential five-game Finals win.) Naturally, Finals MVP Taurasi was at her best in those games, averaging 25.3 PPG in the elimination wins. -- Pelton

This was a good team led by a great player in Taurasi, who won her only regular-season MVP award in 2009. Like the 2007 champions, the Mercury focused on outscoring foes: Phoenix was first in offensive rating and last in defensive rating. Five players averaged in double figures, led by Taurasi's 20.4 PPG and Pondexter's 19.1.

The first game of the 2009 Finals was amazing: a 120-116 Mercury victory over Indiana. But the Fever took the next two games and had a chance to close out the series at home. Phoenix's defense showed up for Game 4, holding the Fever to a series-low 77 points. In Game 5, Taurasi and Pondexter combined for 50 points to win their last game as Phoenix teammates. Pondexter requested and got a trade to New York the next year. -- Voepel

22. 1997 Houston Comets



Regular season and playoff records: 18-10, 2-0

Defeated New York in championship game


  • Pelton overall rank: No. 16

  • RS differential: +6.3 (16th)

  • PO rating: +16.8 (2nd)

  • Rating: +7.0



This is where it all started, with the Comets winning the inaugural championship of the WNBA, which launched with eight teams. Cooper at age 34 was the best player in the new league, averaging 22.2 points and being named MVP. They played just single-game semifinals and finals in the first year, and Cooper scored 31 and 25 points in those victories. Thompson, who had been the top pick in the college draft, averaged 13.2 points and Brazil's Arcain 10.9. Swoopes gave birth to a son on June 25, just after the WNBA season had started. She played her first game on Aug. 7, and appeared in nine regular-season and two playoff games. - Voepel

Because Swoopes was a part-time player, the inaugural Comets weren't yet the juggernaut they'd soon become, going just 18-10 in the regular season. Houston was more dominant in the playoffs, winning the two one-and-done games by an average of 15 points. -- Pelton

23. 2008 Detroit Shock



Regular season and playoff records: 22-12, 7-2

Defeated San Antonio 3-0 in Finals


  • Pelton overall rank: No. 20

  • RS differential: +4.4 (20th)

  • PO rating: +8.4 (18th)

  • Rating: +5.3



As the top seed in the Eastern Conference, the Shock needed the full three games to beat both Indiana and New York before playing their best basketball in the Finals. Against a San Antonio team with home-court advantage, Detroit pulled off a surprising sweep by an average of 10.7 PPG. -- Pelton

By the time the Stars met the Shock in the WNBA Finals, Detroit was the better team. Five Shock players averaged in double figures in the regular season, led by Nolan and Smith. A late-season trade brought McWilliams-Franklin to Detroit, and she averaged 12.9 points and 7.8 rebounds in the playoffs. Smith won Finals MVP honors as the Shock won their third WNBA title in six years.

Unfortunately, the franchise was nearing its end in Detroit. The Shock played just one more season in the Motor City before moving to Tulsa in 2010. -- Voepel

24. 2003 Detroit Shock



Regular season and playoff records: 25-9, 6-2

Defeated Los Angeles 2-1 in Finals


  • Pelton overall rank: No. 23

  • RS differential: +3.7 (23rd)

  • PO rating: +6.7 (20th)

  • Rating: +4.4



The Shock went from worst in 2002 (9-23) to first in 2003, ending the Sparks' attempt to three-peat. Former Pistons player Bill Laimbeer took over as Shock coach during the 2002 season and totally changed the team's culture. He drafted Cheryl Ford at No. 3 in 2003; she averaged a double-double (10.8 PPG, 10.4 RPG) and was Rookie of the Year. Cash, who had been the No. 2 pick in 2002, led the Shock with 16.6 points in the regular season and 16.3 in the playoffs.

Detroit lost the Finals opener to Los Angeles, but survived Game 2, winning 62-61. In front of a huge crowd at The Palace at Auburn Hills, the Shock took the title in Game 3 in an 83-78 win, led by 27 points from Finals MVP Ruth Riley and Cash's near triple-double (13 points, 12 rebounds, 9 assists).

"I think our team really embodied the city of Detroit," Cash said. -- Voepel

Detroit was the WNBA's least dominant best team, leading the league with 25 wins. The franchise's first playoff trip under Laimbeer started slowly, with the Shock going the distance to beat a 17-17 Cleveland Rockers team in the opening round, but Detroit found its footing in a conference finals sweep over Connecticut and then beat the two-time defending champion Sparks 2-1 in the Finals.
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