2004: Path To A Championship

Kevin Pelton, storm.wnba.com | Oct. 20, 2004
The Seattle Storm and Coach Anne Donovan entered the winter of 2003 determined not to let the disappointment of the 2003 season be repeated.

Your 2004 Seattle Storm.
Jeff Reinking/NBAE/Getty
After starting 2003 16-11, an injury to starting center Kamila Vodichkova caused the Storm to lose five straight games and slip out of playoff contention. Clearly, Storm cornerstones Sue Bird (who earned All-WNBA First Team honors despite a bad knee that required post-season surgery) and Lauren Jackson (who earned WNBA MVP honors) were not to blame. However, the Storm needed a better supporting cast around its superstars if it was to achieve its goals in 2004.

After adding Director of Player Personnel to her duties in a front-office shift that also saw Storm stalwart Karen Bryant promoted to Chief Operating Officer and leaving the two of them holding ultimate power, Donovan for basketball decisions and Bryant financial ones, Donovan got to work. In the Dispersal Draft of former Cleveland Rockers players, Donovan added shooting guard Betty Lennox. Donovan's big move was trading the Storm's sixth pick, along with small forward Amanda Lassiter, to Minnesota for veteran small forward Sheri Sam and promising center Janell Burse.

With the trade, Donovan accomplished her major two off-season goals, adding a veteran wing who would give the Storm more scoring from the perimeter as well as a backup center capable of stepping in should Vodichkova be injured.

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  • Donovan also added free agents Michelle Greco and Alicia Thompson, who made the team in training camp, and drafted Trina Frierson from Louisiana Tech in the second round. The Storm lost two players, starting shooting guard Sandy Brondello and reserve forward Jung Sun-Min, to the 2004 Olympics, as both players chose to remain in their home countries to be able to play on their Olympic teams. Center Alisa Burras was not invited back, while three 2003 holdovers - guard Rita Williams and forwards Tonya Massaline and Danielle McCulley - were waived during training camp.

    After a 1-2 preseason that saw the Storm go from an 83-44 loss at Phoenix to defeating the Mercury 82-72 in the one game played at KeyArena, the team was ready for the season with Lennox and Sam as starters alongside Bird, Jackson and Vodichkova. Most preseason predictions had the Storm finishing third in the Western Conference and returning to the playoffs for the second time in franchise history, but Hall of Famer Ann Meyers, writing for WNBA.com, picked the Storm to finish last in the West because, "they have the most questions surrounding them coming into the season."

    The Storm answered some questions in its opening homestand, seeing Jackson score 31 points and Lennox add 18 and 10 rebounds in an 88-85 victory over the surprisingly feisty Minnesota Lynx and then thumping the Los Angeles Sparks by a 93-67 final, the second-worst loss in Sparks history. But the Storm subsequently lost its first two road games at Phoenix and Los Angeles, leaving observers to wonder whether 2004 would be a repeat of 2003, when the Storm had won just five times on the road.

    In that respect, the Storm's most important game of the season might have been July 5 at Sacramento. Staring down not only a nine-game road losing streak but also an 0-7 record at ARCO Arena in franchise history, the Storm pulled out a critical 65-63 victory on Lennox's score with less than a second left in the game. The win helped propel the Storm to a season-high six-game winning streak, including a sweep of a three-game road trip for the first time in Storm history.

    At 8-2, the Storm was atop the WNBA, but the momentum was short-lived. On June 22, back at KeyArena, the Storm not only dropped its first home game to Houston by a 63-57 count, but Lennox suffered a broken nose while rebounding. Playing with a mask four days later, Lennox shot 6-for-18 from the field as the Storm lost its second straight game, playing the New York Liberty in the WNBA's first out-of-market regular-season game in Spokane, Wash.

    With Lennox out of the lineup following surgery on her nose, the Storm bounced back to beat San Antonio and Sacramento at KeyArena, with Jackson scoring a season-high 33 points (including the first 11 of the game, nine of them on three triples) against the Monarchs. Back on the road, however, the Storm dropped three heartbreakers by a combined 11 points against Eastern Conference foes.

    Jackson led the WNBA in scoring and earned All-WNBA First Team honors for the second straight season.
    Jeff Reinking/NBAE/Getty
    As a team, the Storm set a goal of winning its last eight games before the WNBA took most of August off for the Olympics, and nearly achieved it. After sweeping the season series with the last-place Silver Stars and winning the second straight game at ARCO, the Storm swept a three-game homestand. Again, the Comets slowed the momentum with an 80-55 blowout - the Storm's worst since the inaugural 2000 season and only double-digit loss of the year. But the Storm bounced back to win its last two games and head into the August break at 17-8, the WNBA's second-best record.

    Bird, Donovan and Jackson represented the Storm in the Olympics, Bird as a reserve for the U.S. Senior Women's National Team and Donovan as an assistant coach for the U.S. and Jackson the star player for the Australian "Price Attack" Opals. The U.S. and Australia advanced, both unbeaten, to the gold-medal game, where the U.S. women were able to hold Jackson to 12 points on 4-for-16 shooting and pulled out the 74-63 victory.

    After the break, Jackson stopped only briefly in Seattle before choosing to return to Australia to be with her ailing grandmother Irene, who would pass on weeks later, while also resting her sore foot. In the MVP's absence, the Storm dropped three straight games, playing well but falling short. Jackson's return snapped the losing streak with an 86-67 win over Detroit before the Storm headed East for its final road trip of the year. Playing tight while trying to clinch a playoff berth, the Storm lost to Minnesota and Connecticut. Still, Seattle clinched a playoff berth after the Sun game when the Sacramento Monarchs lost, leaving home-court advantage as the remaining goal.

    A looser Storm team came back in the second half for a 76-70 win at Indiana, and a 73-58 win over the Mercury at KeyArena two days later clinched for the Storm the second seed in the Western Conference. That meant the Storm's season finale, against the Sparks, already locked into first place, was essentially meaningless. Still, in front of what was then a Storm-record 14,884 fans, the two rivals played a classic. When Lennox missed at the buzzer, Los Angeles pulled out an 83-80 win.

    The Storm opened the playoffs against the 18-16 Minnesota Lynx in what proved to be a mismatch. Despite Jackson sitting most of the first half with three fouls and Lennox missing all of the second half with a concussion, the Storm cruised to a 70-58 win in Minnesota. Two days later, Bird suffered a broken nose minutes into Game 2, but Tully Bevilaqua came off the bench for her most important performance of the season, scoring nine points, grabbing five rebounds and handing out four assists without committing a turnover, and the Storm dominated the final stretch for a 64-54 win and the sweep.

    A broken nose couldn't keep Bird from making history against the Monarchs.
    Jeff Reinking/NBAE/Getty
    Meanwhile, down in California, the Monarchs finally overcame the rival Sparks, easily beating them 73-58 in Los Angeles to advance to the Western Conference Finals as the Storm's opponent and giving the Storm home-court advantage.

    The Storm came out hot in Game 1 at ARCO, leading Sacramento 38-27 at the half, but the shooting inevitably cooled down the stretch as the Monarchs tightened their defense. After neither team could convert down the stretch, the game headed to overtime. Both teams traded baskets in the early going before the defenses took over. The game was still tied at 72-all in the final seconds, the Monarchs getting possession. Sacramento forward DeMya Walker drove, then spun back to her left and finger rolled the game-winner up and in at the buzzer as the Monarchs overcame 31 points and 13 rebounds from Jackson.

    The series returned to Seattle with no margin of error for the Storm. That wasn't a problem in Game 2. The Storm dominated most of the night, outside of a late Sacramento rally, to force the series to a deciding Game 3 with a 66-54 win. For the third straight game, the Storm started Game 3 hot before the Monarchs made a game of it. This time, the Storm had the answer, going on a season-long 20-0 run midway through the second half to blow open an eventual 82-62 win. Bird, continuing to play with a mask despite having surgery on her nose the day before, set a WNBA Playoffs record with 14 assists while Jackson scored 27 points and hit six three-pointers.

    For the first time in franchise history, the Storm was in the WNBA Finals.

    There was little time to reflect on that fact, with Game 1 against the Connecticut Sun looming three days later. Before Game 1, played at Mohegan Sun Arena, Bird and Jackson were awarded First Team All-WNBA honors, while Sparks rival Lisa Leslie beat out Jackson for MVP. The Storm then proceeded to play one of its worst games of the season, despite a late rally, in a 68-64 loss. The team made the long cross-country trip to Seattle knowing it would again have to win two straight at KeyArena.

    Fortunately, a sellout crowd of 17,072 fans was behind the Storm in Game 2. Buoyed by the home-court advantage, the Storm got off to a quick start, but Connecticut caught up behind the sizzling shooting of forward Nykesha Sales. Sales finished with a Finals-record 32 points, scoring 10 straight Sun points late in the game, but Lennox was almost as good, scoring 16 of her 27 points after halftime. Sales got an open look at the buzzer on Connecticut's final possession, but finally misfired, her shot hitting the side of the backboard as the Storm escaped with a 67-65 victory to force Game 3.

    Donovan became the first woman to coach a WNBA Champion.
    Jeff Reinking/NBAE/Getty
    With 17,072 again in attendance, the Storm went for the WNBA Championship on Tuesday, Oct. 12. Continuing the trend, the Storm started well, only to see Connecticut catch up. At halftime, it was a one-point game, but the Storm opened the second half with a 12-4 run. After the Sun cut the lead to five, the Storm shut Connecticut down defensively, holding the Sun without a score for over four and a half minutes and building the lead to 13. This time, Connecticut had no run to answer, never getting the lead back under double-digits as time ticked off the clock - though not fast enough for the Storm. With 1:40 to play, Connecticut Coach Mike Thibault brought in his subs and conceded, and Donovan began removing her starters to lengthy ovations at the next dead ball.

    As the Sun dribbled out the clock on the 74-60 victory, the KeyArena crowd counted down the final seconds before descending into pandemonium as the buzzer sounded and "Rock and Roll, Part Two" began blaring downward. Storm players rushed the court before eventually finding the podium for the WNBA's post-game ceremonies, including the presentation of the championship trophy and Lennox's selection as Finals MVP.

    The win made the Storm, after just five seasons of existence, the fourth team in WNBA history to win a championship and the first major professional sports team in Seattle to bring home a championship in 25 years. Donovan also became the first female coach of a WNBA Champion. The celebration culminated on a cloudy Friday afternoon, as several thousand fans packed Seattle's Westlake Center for a championship celebration that included Washington Governor Gary Locke proclaiming Storm Week throughout the state and Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels declaring it Storm Day in the city.

    2004 WNBA Champion Seattle Storm Roster

    32 Adia Barnes F 5-11 165 2/03/77 Arizona '98 6
    44 Tully Bevilaqua G 5-7 140 7/19/72 Australia 5
    10 Sue Bird G 5-9 150 10/16/80 Connecticut '02 2
    33 Janell Burse C 6-5 199 5/19/79 Tulane '01 3
    4 Simone Edwards C 6-4 164 11/17/73 Iowa '96 4
    50 Trina Frierson F 6-2 186 10/13/80 Louisiana Tech '04 R
    20 Michelle Greco G 5-9 145 3/24/80 UCLA '03 R
    15 Lauren Jackson F 6-5 187 5/11/81 Australia 3
    22 Betty Lennox G 5-8 143 12/04/76 Louisiana Tech '00 4
    55 Sheri Sam F-G 6-0 160 5/05/74 Vanderbilt '96 5
    43 Alicia Thompson F 6-1 180 6/30/76 Texas Tech '98 4
    7 Kamila Vodichkova C 6-4 185 12/19/72 Czech Republic 4
     HEAD COACH Anne Donovan (College - Old Dominion '83)
     ASSISTANT COACHES Jenny Boucek (College - Virginia '97)
    Jessie Kenlaw (College - Savannah State '75)
     ATHLETIC TRAINER Annmarie Henkel (College - George Washington '96)