Have you ever wondered how many WNBA teams there are? Well boy do we have an answer for you. Today we’ve prepared a comprehensive WNBA team guide that covers everything from the number of players to how many teams make the playoffs.
We’ll reveal the Eastern and Western conference WNBA teams currently in the league. Plus, explain how they’ve changed over time — including those that folded and which have relocated. And you’ll even find out which teams win the most and lose the most. So let’s get after it.
Well, the short answer is there are 12 WNBA teams. But there’s a lot more to the story than that fact alone. So pull up a chair, and let me tell you a tale, like the kind Grandpa tells after he’s had one too many Brandy Alexanders…or is that reference too specific to me and my Grandpa? Either way, you get the point.
The WNBA is currently split into two conferences, with 6 teams per conference.
But it hasn’t always been a 12 team league. The WNBA was founded with only eight teams. The Charlotte Sting, Cleveland Rockers, Houston Comets, and New York Liberty were in the Eastern Conference. And the Los Angeles Sparks, Phoenix Mercury, Sacramento Monarchs, and Utah Starzz were in the Western Conference.
Okay. But that has to be all the teams, right? Surely there weren’t any other teams throughout the history of the WNBA that we haven’t mentioned yet, right? WRONG. There were also the short-lived Miami Sol and Portland Fire. Along with teams that have relocated and/or changed their names over the years.
The WNBA is a constantly evolving league, always looking for new ways to do things better and elevate the play on the court. With that comes expansion, contraction and relocation. As you can see below, it’s been quite the ride.
The Detroit Shock entered the league in 1998 and lasted through the 2009 season. Before they moved south to Tulsa in 2010 and became the Tulsa Shock through 2015. In 2016 they moved to Texas and took on a full rebrand as the Dallas Wings. And today the team, while young and still building, is full of talent such as Arike Ogunbowale, Moriah Jefferson, Allisha Gray, and Satou Sabally, and is thriving.
Another team that relocated and changed their name is The Connecticut Sun. Who were known as the Orlando Miracle their first four seasons in the league from 1999-2002, before moving to Connecticut. But that’s only one move. You want a team that’s reinvented itself as much as an unconfident teenager?
The San Antonio Stars have had the most name changes of any WNBA franchise. They started in the inaugural season as the Utah Starzz lasting from 1997-2002. Before moving to Texas and becoming the San Antonio Silver Stars for a decade (2003-2013). They stayed in San Antonio through 2017. But rebranded by dropping the “Silver” in their name and shortening it to San Antonio Stars. Before eventually relocating to Las Vegas and losing the Star all together in exchange for their current name, the Las Vegas Aces in 2018.
Following the season, eight teams qualify for the playoffs. The regular season records determine the playoff seedings. Since 2016 the first round of the playoffs are played between the 5-8 seeds and the 6-7 seeds. The winners advance to the second round. In this round the 3 seed faces whichever team advances with the lowest seed and the 4th seeded team takes on the higher seeded team. The Semifinals are next, where the winners of the first two rounds take on the well rested, and highest two seeds.
The number 1 seed will face the lowest remaining seed and the 2 seed will play the other team. At which point there are only two teams left, so you guessed it, they play each other in the WNBA Finals! The WNBA Finals and the Semifinals are both best-of-five series. The first two rounds are single elimination games, which makes for exciting WNBA action.
WNBA teams are allowed to carry either 11 or 12 players on their roster at any time, while staying under the agreed upon salary cap. For the 2020 season, the salary cap was $1,300,000 per team and 142 women were listed on opening day rosters.
292 different team rosters from 1997-2020 means there have been around 3,500 rostered players in the history of the WNBA. Though the actual number of players would be much less as many players have played for multiple seasons.
For example, Sue Bird has been playing in the WNBA since 2002. Geez Sue Bird, we know you’re one of the greatest passers in WNBA history, and the all-time assists leader but maybe it’s time to…Wait, no! Nevermind. We take it back! After watching this highlight package, we want all the Sue Bird we can get, forever.
We’ve already shared the 12 teams that currently make up the WNBA. But let’s take a deeper dive into each one with a classic get to know you game: (More Than) Two Truths and a Lie WNBA Franchise Edition!
The truths: Since then they’ve made the playoffs in 9 of their first 12 WNBA seasons. And gone all the way to the Finals three times. Losing in all three.
The lie: The Dream are affiliated with the Atlanta Hawks of the NBA. Not true! The truth is, while they share the same Atlanta market, the two teams are NOT affiliated and even play their games in different arenas. The Atlanta Dream play at the Gateway Center Arena in College Park, Georgia.
Keep up with them on Atlanta Dream Instagram.
Chicago Sky played their first WNBA season in 2006.
The truths: The team name, colors (blue and yellow), and logo are said to represent the blue sky and bright sun on a nice Chicago day. We’re assuming it’s a day between April and September. The Sky’s most successful seasons to date occurred during the 2013-2016, not coincidentally the same seasons Elena Delle Donne was on the Sky. Check out her rookie season buzzer beater, and you’ll understand why.
The lie: It would be a LIE to say Beyonce Knowles is the owner of the Sky. However, another Destiny’s Child member, Michelle Willams and Beyonce’s father, Mathew Knowles are minority share holders of the team.
The Connecticut Sun hold the unique, and very cool, distinction of being the first professional sports franchise owned by a Native American tribe.
The truths: They play their home games at the Mohegan Sun a casino on reservation land in Uncasville, Connecticut and their name and logo are inspired by an ancient Mohegan symbol. Connecticut has long been a hotbed for women’s hoops with the success of the UConn Huskies. Since moving from Orlando in 2003, the Sun have made the playoffs in 7 of their 11 seasons in Connecticut.
The lie: The Sun being 3-0 in WNBA Finals is a LIE. They are actually 0-3, losing in 2004, 2005 & 2019.
Catch the team’s latest on the Connecticut Sun Instagram.
The truths: The Fever drafted Tamika after their inaugural season and she played for the Fever from 2001 through 2016, leading the team to 13 playoff appearances, including a WNBA record 12-straight seasons. At her retirement Tamika ranked first or second in numerous other WNBA records including: career playoff scoring (1st), career playoff rebounds (1st), all-time regular season rebounds (2nd), career regular season scoring (2nd), career steals (1st) and career steals per game average (1st).
The lie: It is a LIE that the Fever have found great success since Tamika’s retirement. The franchise has never made the playoffs without Tamika on their roster.
Check them out on the Indiana Fever Instagram.
New York Liberty are one of the original eight teams of the WNBA.
The truths: They hold the dubious distinction of most WNBA Finals appearances without a championship, losing in 2002 to the Los Angeles Sparks and 3 times to the (1997, 1999, 2000) Houston Comets. The Liberty were once the pride of the WNBA, reaching the Finals in three of the first four seasons, but have struggled more recently, only making the playoffs three times since 2013.
The lie: An obvious LIE is the Liberty logo is designed to represent a New Yorker raising their hand to order a slice of pizza and hail a taxi while yelling “Hey! I’m walking here!” Of course that’s not true. It’s the Statue of Liberty, silly.
Catch up with the team on the New York Liberty Instagram.
The Washington Mystics joined the WNBA in the first ever expansion, taking the league from eight to 10 teams in 1998.
The truths: While winning didn’t come easy for the Mystics, drawing fans to games did. The Mystics led the WNBA in home attendance in 1998, 1999, 2000, 2002, 2004 and 2009. And after years of…to be nice we’ll say sub-par performances, only winning one playoff series in the history of the franchise from 1998-2016, the Mystics made their first WNBA Finals in 2017. Since then, they’ve been one of the better and more consistent teams in the league, going back to the Finals in 2018, before winning their first ever WNBA Championship in 2019.
The lie: We could LIE about the Mystics, but honestly, they’ve been through a lot and don’t need us making it any worse. So let’s just enjoy their current success. No lies needed.
Learn more about the team on the Washington Mystics Instagram.
Dallas Wings are a franchise looking to make a name for themselves.
The truths: They began as the Detroit Shock and had their most successful seasons to date in Detroit, going to the Finals four times and winning three Championships before moving the franchise to Tulsa.
The lie: When they moved to Tulsa the winning never stopped, is a LIE. The truth is the team never found much success in Tulsa, going 59-145 and only making the playoffs in their sixth year. By then it was too late. The team moved to Arlington, Texas in 2016, dropped the Shock moniker and became the Dallas Wings. So far winning has been a struggle Dallas, only making the playoffs twice and have yet to win a playoff game.
Keep up with them on the Dallas Wings Instagram.
The Las Vegas Aces have moved more times than a college sophomore.
The truths: They’ve only been in Las Vegas since the 2018 season, but are coming out swinging, finishing the 2020 season with the best record in the West and making it all the way to the WNBA Finals. Before that, this team had bounced around without much winning. From the Utah Starzz, to the San Antonio Silver Stars and then the not so silver San Antonio Stars, this franchise has struggled to win games. Although the Silver Stars did have a successful run from 2007-2012, making the playoffs every year, including a trip to the finals in 2008.
The lie: The Aces are the only WNBA team to not share a market with a NBA franchise. They are actually the fourth WNBA franchise, after the Seattle Storm, Connecticut Sun and the former Tulsa Shock.
Keep up with their latest on the Las Vegas Aces instagram.
The truths: They also helped launch the entire league, playing the inaugural game against the New York Liberty on June 21, 1997. The bright lights of Los Angeles will always attract stars and for the Sparks, no stars have shined as bright as Lisa Leslie and Candace Parker. The two players have spent their entire careers with the Sparks, spanning the franchise’s history. Lisa from 1997-2009 and Candace from 2008-today. Lisa and Candace are some of the best known WNBA players in the history of the game.
Catch the team on the Los Angeles Sparks Instagram.
The truths: But things quickly changed under then and current head coach Cheryl Reeve who led the team to the Finals in 2011, 2012, 2013, 2015, 2016 and 2017. Winning it all four times in seven years, but never back-to-back.
Catch their latest updates on the Minnesota Lynx Instagram.
Phoenix Mercury came out the gates strong in the inaugural WNBA season, finishing first in the Western Conference.
The truths: They followed that season up by reaching the finals in 1998, before eventually losing to Houston. Not much winning occurred the next eight seasons. Then in 2007, led by all world talent Diana Taurasi the Mercury broke through to win their first WNBA Finals.
They won it all again in 2009 and 2014, and have consistently been in the mix since then. Their only bad season since 2007, finishing a WNBA worst 7-27 in 2012 was rewarded with the top pick in the draft and landing Brittney Griner.
Peep the Phoenix Mercury Instagram for the latest scoop.
The Seattle Storm are named after the city’s rainy weather, but the outlook for this team is nothing but sunny days ahead.
The truths: Winners of four Western Conference Championships and four WNBA Championships, including recent wins in 2018 and 2020, the Storm are often sitting on top of the WNBA. You don’t win WNBA titles without great players and the Storm certainly have had plenty of those in their history. Players like Sue Bird, Swin Cash, Breanna Stewart, Lauren Jackson and Robyn Fenty.
The lie: Okay that last one’s a LIE! Robyn Fenty is Rihanna’s birth name. But you don’t need an “umbrella-ella-ella ay ay” to enjoy these Storm.
Check out the Seattle Storm Instagram for more.
The WNBA standings are constantly in flux with teams battling for playoff position. To check out the most up to date standings here. To watch some high flying WNBA dunks that have nothing to do with standings but are sure to put a smile on your face, click here.
When it comes to Championships, the Western Conference has historically been far more dominant than the East. In the current Eastern Conference, only the Indiana Fever and Washington Mystics have won titles, with one a piece. Meanwhile the current Western Conference has won 17, if you include the three Detroit Shock wins for the Dallas Wings franchise. The most WNBA titles won is a three way tie between the Minnesota Lynx, Seattle Storm, and (rip) Houston Comets, who have each won four.
While numerous WNBA teams have never won a title, including current teams: Connecticut Sun, Las Vegas Aces, New York Liberty, and since moving to Dallas, the Wings, the distinction for worst WNBA season has to go to the 1998 Washington Mystics. Not only did the ‘98 Mystics finish their season with only 3 wins compared to 27 losses, but they were also on the losing end of two of the most lopsided losses in WNBA history.
August of 1998 was not a great month for the Mystics. Really no month in 1998 was great for the Mystics, but especially August. On August 13, 1998 the Mystics lost to the New York Liberty 88-43, currently tied for the fourth largest margin of victory (43 points) in WNBA history.
Then, just a few days later, on August 17, the Mystics got beat 110-65 to the eventual champs, Houston Comets. That 45 point loss is third all time in margin of victory in WNBA history. While we would love to say the 1998 Washington Mystics rallied to win their final game of the season and gain some self respect, that would be a lie. They lost that game too, two days later on August 19, by a slightly more respectful 36 points.
Well there you have it. Everything you need to know about WNBA teams, including some lies you didn’t need to know. Now that you’ve gained all this knowledge, go turn on your TV and enjoy some WNBA action as the smarter, and definitely cooler, fan you are. Up next, keep learning about the league you love: check out interesting WNBA facts.
Written by Megan Mitzel, youth basketball coach, and Founder of Queen Ballers Club.
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