On April 24, 1996, it was formally announced that the Women's National Basketball Association - the WNBA - had been approved by the NBA, and would begin play in June of 1997, only 15 months later. And that they did, as they proceeded to secure the various things that would be needed. A logo was created, broadcast rights were sold, and most importantly, the teams were founded and players found and signed.
By the time the first jump ball went into the air, eight teams had been created and staffed. All of the original eight teams were owned by the WNBA, and closely tied to NBA teams.
The two conferences each started with four teams. The Eastern Conference consisted of the Charlotte Sting, the Cleveland Rockers, the Houston Rockets, and the New York Liberty. The Western Conference found itself with the Los Angeles Sparks, the Phoenix Mercury, the Sacramento Monarchs, and the Utah Starzz.
When getting things moving, each of these eight teams were assigned two players each, a way of getting what star power there was spread out across the eight teams, and the "Elite Draft" gave each team the ability to choose two players from another sixteen. After that, they had to go with other means to find players.
Since then, another eight teams have joined the league, bringing the total up to sixteen at one point, though not all of them are still around. In 1998, the Detroit Shock and Washington Mystics joined the league. A year later, the Minnesota Lynx and Orlando Miracle came into being, and in the biggest year of expansion, 2000, came four teams consisting of the Indiana Fever, Miami Sol, Portland Fire, and Seattle Storm.
Between the 2002 and 2003 seasons, the WNBA underwent some significant changes. The NBA cut the WNBA loose, where the teams left the NBA-owned operating agreements behind, and the teams became owned like any other professional sport. As a result, two teams folded right afterwards, and the Miami Sol and Portland Fire disbanded, their players being put into a dispersal draft, and the coaches looking for work elsewhere. The Utah Starzz headed to Texas, becoming the San Antonio Silver Stars, and the Orlando Miracle became the Connecticut Sun. After the 2003 season, the Cleveland Rockers also called it quits, dropping the league down to thirteen teams.
With the loss of teams, one might believe the league to be in danger. It might be the case, but some teams are showing considerable success. The Washington Mystics regularly outsell the city's NHL franchise, the Washington Capitals. The 2004 finals have sold out arenas in both Uncasville, Connecticut, and Seattle, Washington. Attendance appears to be up throughout the league. The future doesn't look rosy, but disappearing entirely doesn't seem likely anytime soon.
- 1997 - Houston Comets (def New York Liberty)
- 1998 - Houston Comets (def Phoenix Mercury)
- 1999 - Houston Comets (def New York Liberty)
- 2000 - Houston Comets (def New York Liberty)
- 2001 - Los Angeles Sparks (def Charlotte Sting)
- 2002 - Los Angeles Sparks (def New York Liberty)
- 2003 - Detroit Shock (def Los Angeles Sparks)
- 2004 - Seattle Storm (def Connecticut Sun)
- 2005 - Sacramento Monarchs (def Connecticut Sun)
- 2006 - Detroit Shock (def Sacramento Monarchs)
- 2007 - Phoenix Mercury (def Detroit Shock)
- 2008 - Detroit Shock (def San Antonio Silver Stars)
- 2009 - Phoenix Mercury (def Indiana Fever)
- 2010 - Seattle Storm (def Atlanta Dream)