Cleveland Rockers (WNBA): Folded But Not Forgotten

By: Sports Teller


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Why did the Cleveland Rockers Fold in the WNBA? What did the Cleveland Roster Look Like? Cleveland Rockers (WNBA): Folded But Not Forgotten!

Hello Everyone! Welcome to Sports Teller! Today, we will be going over the Cleveland Rockers (WNBA): Folded But Not Forgotten! In fact, we will be going over the history of the Miami Sol.

Defunct WNBA Teams: Miami Sol, Sacramento Monarchs, Portland Fire, Houston Comets, and Charlotte Sting! Without further adieu, let’s begin!

Cleveland Rockers (WNBA): Folded But Not Forgotten

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The Birth of the Cleveland Rockers and First Game in Team History

When the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) was formed in 1997, the Cleveland Rockers were one of the original teams to begin play. The other clubs that began play are the following: Phoenix Mercury, New York Liberty, Los Angeles Sparks, Houston Comets, Utah Starzz, Sacramento Monarchs, and Charlotte Sting. The Rockers team name came from the city of Cleveland’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum located on the edge of Lake Erie. The Rockers played their first game in club history on June 21, 1997 with a 76-56 loss at home vs. Houston. A couple days later, Cleveland celebrated its first franchise win at home 74-63 vs. Utah. The Rockers’ first road victory came on July 7 by defeating the Sparks in Los Angeles 81-70. The Cleveland Rockers spent all of their existence playing home games at the Gund Arena (now the Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse). Also, Cleveland played in the East Conference.

The Creation of the WNBA’s Ohio Team: Cleveland Rockers

Rockers Select their 1st Draft Picks in Franchise History

Along with the original teams, the Cleveland Rockers took part in the WNBA’s Inaugural Draft in 1997. Cleveland selected center Janice Braxton as the 3rd overall pick (out of Louisiana Tech) in the draft. Later in the same draft system, the Rockers would select guard Michelle Edwards as the 4th overall pick (out from Iowa). Later in the year, the league held a college draft as the Cleveland Rockers selected guard Eva Nemcova as the 4th overall pick in the 1st round (out of Czech Republic).

Success in the Playoffs

The Cleveland Rockers made the playoffs four times during their time in the WNBA. The most successful season in the Rockers’ history took place in 2000 when the team advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals. However, Cleveland went on to lose to the New York Liberty in three games in the East Finals. The Rockers were a win away from reaching the 2000 WNBA Finals.

Who was the Cleveland Rockers’ Owner?

For the first couple season of the team’s existence, the Cleveland Rockers were owned by the WNBA. However, in following the league’s restructure in 2002, Gordon Gund (CEO for Gund Investment Corp.) became the owner for the WNBA franchise. The restructure means that NBA owners can also operate WNBA teams rather than by the league. Gund also owned the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers and the NHL’s San Jose Sharks.

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Cleveland Rockers Superstars to Remember

Merlakia Jones-Guard

  • 9.9 Points per Game, 4.0 Rebounds per Game, 1.5 Assists per Game with Team
  • Played for Cleveland Rockers from 1997 until 2003
  • Led Rockers to Four Postseason Appearances
  • 3-Time WNBA All-Star (1999-2001)

Chasity Melvin-Forward

  • 11.1 Points per Game, 5.5 Rebounds per Game, 1.7 Assists per Game with Team
  • Played for Cleveland from 1999 to 2003
  • Led Rockers to Three Playoff Appearances
  • WNBA All-Star in 2001

Eva Nemcova-Forward

  • 11.7 Points per Game, 3.5 Rebounds per Game, 1.9 Assists per Game with Team
  • Played for Cleveland Rockers from 1997 to 2001
  • Guided Rockers to Three Postseason Appearances

Janice Braxton-Forward

  • 9.0 Points per Game, 5.8 Rebounds per Game, 1.9 Assists per Game with Team
  • Played for Cleveland from 1997 until 1999
  • Led the Rockers to One Playoff Appearance in 1998

Dan Hughes-Head Coach

  • Coached the Cleveland Rockers from 2000 until 2003
  • Only Head Coach to Guide the Rockers to the Eastern Conference Finals
  • Compiled a 66-64 record with team; 5-7 in Playoffs
  • Led the Cleveland to 3 Playoff Appearances
  • Charlotte Sting Head Coach (1999)
  • San Antonio Silver Stars Head Coach (2005-2009, 2011-2016)
  • Guided Silver Stars to 2008 WNBA Finals
  • Seattle Storm Head Coach (2018-Present)
  • Led Storm to 2018 WNBA Championship

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Here’s What Led to the Demise of the Cleveland Rockers

Lack of Fan Support at Rockers Games

Why would the Cleveland Rockers fold suddenly after multiple playoff appearances? Unfortunately, the Rockers were experiencing low fan attendance at their home games. During the team’s 2003 season, Cleveland owned one of the four worst fan attendance numbers in the league. According to the Associated Press, the Rockers had at least 7,000 fans per game at Gund Arena (approximately 20,000 seats) during the 2003 campaign. The AP also said that Rockers Owner Gordon Gund did not find the WNBA franchise a money maker during the team’s run in the league.

The Cleveland Rockers’ Show Ends: WNBA Team Decides to Fold

With the 2003 season ended with another postseason appearance, things turned for the worse for the Cleveland Rockers. After the season, Len Komoroski (President of Gund Arena) revealed that the Gund Family was no longer interested in owning the Cleveland WNBA franchise. Based to the league’s 2002 reconstruction, as well as the country’s economical impact from the September 11th 2001 tragedy, Owner Gordon Gund and the management group realize that they didn’t have enough money to control both the Rockers and the Cavaliers. Due to financial concerns involving the franchise, the ownership had no choice but to sell the Cleveland Rockers back to the WNBA. Unfortunately, according to the Chicago Tribune, the Rockers soon folded after the league was unable to find a new owner to purchase the team. The folding took place in late 2003 after the WNBA franchise lasted seven seasons (1997-2003). The Gund Family decided it was best to focus contributions to the Cleveland Cavaliers rather than manage on the NBA club as well as the WNBA franchise.

The Rockers compiled a 108-121 regular season record as well as a 6-9 record in the playoffs. The Cleveland Rockers became just the third WNBA team to fold since the 2000’s decade began. The other clubs that folded were the Miami Sol and the Portland Fire (both in 2001). Interestingly, the Rockers became the only team in WNBA history to fold after making the playoffs on their final season. The WNBA would not witness another team ceasing operations until the Houston Comets in 2008.

When was the Rockers’ final game? What happened to the Cleveland Rockers Players?

The final game in the history of the Cleveland Rockers took place on September 2, 2003 with Cleveland losing on the road vs. Detroit Shock 77-63. The Rockers’ final game took place in Game 3 of the 2003 East Semifinals. A couple days earlier, the Rockers celebrated their final victory in franchise history by beating Detroit  in Game 2 66-59. As a result of the club ceasing operations, the players were eventually sent to other teams in the WNBA via dispersal draft.

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The Aftermath of the Cleveland Rockers Becoming Extinct

Since the Rockers ceased operations, a lot of things occurred since then. According to SF Gate, Gund and his family sold the San Jose Sharks (NHL) to Greg Jamison (CEO for San Jose Sports Entertainment) back in 2002. Three years later, the Gund Family sold the Cavaliers to Quicken Loans Founder Dan Gilbert. Meanwhile, former Cleveland Head Coach Dan Hughes would go on to coach the San Antonio Silver Stars (2005-2009, 2011-2016) and Seattle Storm (2018-Present).

Will the WNBA Return to Cleveland One Day?

As of now, there are currently no discussions on whether the WNBA plans to expand. Based on the Rockers’ short-lived history, it appears that the resurrection of the Cleveland WNBA team is more unlikely. Perhaps the reason Houston has a higher chance of landing a WNBA team one day is due to the huge fan base during the Comets’ era. The Rockers might had success in the playoffs, but they did not have the same huge fan base following as the Comets had.

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