Comets Savor Fourth Title

Monday, August 28th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

HOUSTON (AP) — Winning doesn't seem to get commonplace for the Houston Comets, who now own a string of titles unmatched in pro sports in two decades.

Cast as underdogs, the Comets completed another championship run by beating the New York Liberty 79-73 in overtime Saturday for their fourth WNBA championship in a row, remaining the only champions in the league's history.

They swept all three playoff opponents in best-of-three series and the latest title has coach Van Chancellor considering a change in jewelry.

``I pretty well always have worn that first ring, but I'm going to switch to the fourth one, because all this time they've been crowning the Los Angeles Sparks the champion or Sacramento or somebody besides the Comets,'' Chancellor said.

The Comets took a place in pro playoff history with their fourth title.

The only NBA team to win at least four in a row was the Boston Celtics, who won eight in a row, ending in 1966. The last major sport pro team to win four in a row was the NHL's New York Islanders, from 1980-83.

With typical heart, emotion and the Big Three — Sheryl Swoopes, Cynthia Cooper and Tina Thompson — the Comets lost the lead late in Saturday's game but tied it on a clutch 3-point basket by Cooper to force the overtime.

``It's hard to go out there night after night and just play,'' Chancellor said. ``I thought we just had to get to the playoffs. Can you believe we swept Sacramento, LA and New York?''

During the season, Cooper, 37, said she would retire once the year was out, and if she holds firm — some players think she'll play next season — the Comets might just be vulnerable enough for another team to win.

New York, which has lost to the Comets in three of the four WNBA championship series, isn't so sure.

``They're just going to step up and score more points because they have three MVPs on the team,'' Liberty forward Sue Wicks said. ``You lose one, you still have two, and they're still going to handle business.''

Cooper won her fourth straight championship finals MVP award, getting 25 points, seven assists and four rebounds in the clinching game.

``When everyone counted us out, we hung in there and showed character, perseverance,'' Cooper said. ``We could have let down today and said we've got a game tomorrow. But we came out and played tough every single minute.''

The Sparks beat the Comets three straight times in the regular season and were the favorites to unseat the defending champions. But the Comets won their last five regular season games and went 6-0 in the playoffs.

Cooper bid the fans farewell in post-game celebration.

``I've had a wonderful career in the WNBA,'' she said. ``You couldn't ask for a better time to go out than on top with the Houston Comets as No. 1. This is it.''

Later, she hedged.

``You know, right now I'm savoring the moment,'' she said. ``I've had some great years with the Comets, great years in the WNBA. Right now, I'm concentrating on the four championships we won.''

If Cooper doesn't return, Swoopes has shown she's at her peak after missing most of the 1997 season following childbirth.

She came into the league as an average defensive player and this season improved enough to be named the league's defensive player of the year. She also won the scoring title with a 20.4 average and earned the league MVP trophy.

Thompson was the MVP of the WNBA All-Star game and has emerged as the third member of the Comets' Big Three. She had 11 points and eight rebounds in the championship game, and her two free throws with 27.6 seconds left gave the Comets a 75-70 lead.

The theory that the WNBA needs a new champion to retain interest is going to have to wait at least another year and Wicks doesn't think the Comets dominance is bad.

``For me, I mean all sports, I think it's great when you have a dynasty, why not?'' Wicks asked. ``I heard it a few times that it was a bad thing. I don't know how it could be a bad thing. Everyone in America loves a champion.''