Celebrating the 2004 Storm
Six and a half months ago, most of the players from the 1978-79 Seattle SuperSonics NBA Championship team gathered at KeyArena to celebrate the 25th anniversary of their championship. They did so with both players and fans knowing full well that in the intervening 25 years, Seattle had not won a major professional sports title.
Storm guards Sue Bird and Tully Bevilaqua celebrate at the end of Tuesday's game.
Otto Gruele Jr./NBAE/Getty
Back then, the Storm lineup that took the court Tuesday night was just a gleam in Coach Anne Donovan's eye. Forward Sheri Sam and center Janell Burse were members of the Minnesota Lynx. Guard Betty Lennox was the player who couldn't find a home in the WNBA and was merely being counted on to provide scoring punch off the bench. And Sue Bird and Lauren Jackson, while undeniably successful, still hadn't been enough to lead the Storm into the playoffs in 2003 as Bird battled injury.
Growing up a Seattlite - born and raised, spent all of my relatively brief life here, to establish my credentials - one didn't have the city's championship drought thrust in one's face daily, like the "curses" of the Chicago Cubs or Boston Red Sox. Slowly but surely, however, with each time the Sonics ran into referees who allow the Phoenix Suns to shoot 64 free throws in Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals in 1993; or the Sonics finally broke through to the Finals only to face the winningest team in NBA history; or the Seattle Mariners won 116 games only to fade quietly in the American League Championship Series; or the Seahawks … well, the Seahawks have last Sunday, that this town couldn't win the big one became more and more apparent.
Until last night.
Earlier during the playoffs, my brother asked me whether a Storm championship would be sweeter than one for the Sonics, whom I also cover. My answer, without hesitation, was yes.
No, there isn't the same sense of history with the Storm. I got hooked on basketball and the Sonics in 1989, just in time to watch the Sonics become a contender and all the playoff heartbreak that entailed (still, I must admit to having impeccably lucky timing; I started following the Mariners in 1993, "the year it all began", and jumped on the Storm bandwagon with both feet in 2002, right as Bird came aboard to lead the team for the playoffs for the first time. My biggest regret ever since and particularly throughout these playoffs has been that I wasn't on board with the Storm from day one to share that experience with the founding fans, players and staff).
At the same time, as much as I may have felt connected with those Sonics teams, there is something different here. Something special.
"Everybody in the lower bowl knows our players," Donovan said earlier this week, discussing the sellout crowds that packed KeyArena for the WNBA Finals. "Some of it comes from the work we do in the community, there's a connection there. And the people in the upper bowl were wondering, 'What's so special about this? What's going on down there?' Because it wasn't just your average crowd into a game. There was a personalized energy coming from the crowd."
It's beyond clichéd for players to tell their fans that they are the very best in the league, but nobody doubts the Storm whatsoever when they make the claim. The Storm lost just three times at KeyArena this year, sweeping at home in the playoffs, and don't for a second believe that's coincidence or random chance. Storm players feed off the crowd - and vice versa.
The dedication Storm fans have shown throughout this season and into the playoffs, from traveling to road games to making signs to wearing band aids to support players with broken noses to making KeyArena rock night in and night out … the value of that cannot be put into words. As much as the sellout crowds were a validation of the team and the organization, so too did they reflect the passion of the die-hard fans who can be counted on to Bring It for the Storm night in and night out.
Coach Anne Donovan was the architect of the Storm's championship squad.
Otto Gruele Jr./NBAE/Getty
A year ago, when I was an intern, it struck me at season's end that, given the inevitably temporary nature of my employment, I might not be around to cover the Storm this season. This was a profoundly depressing thought, and I consider myself lucky to have been around the team this season and, hopefully, for many more. Covering this team is, on a daily basis, fun. And while I certainly haven't been around enough teams to put that fact into any sort of perspective, I can't help but believe I've stumbled onto something incredibly rare.
There are a precious few sports memories in my life I can guarantee I will never forget because of my conscious effort to take them in. I count amongst those Game 5 of the 1995 American League Divisional Series, when Edgar Martinez's double drove home Ken Griffey, Jr. and turned back the Yankees; the 2000 Apple Cup, when the Washington football team completed a 10-1 regular season and clinched a Rose Bowl berth with a 51-3 blowout of the Cougars; and this March, when the UW basketball team upset the undefeated Stanford Cardinal at Hec Ed.
None of those can even come close to matching what I experienced Tuesday night at KeyArena.
Because of my job, I couldn't take everything in quite as much as I would have liked to, having instead to get the news of the Storm's victory out to the world through this Web site. The last 10 minutes of the game remain something of a blur to me, the realization slowly and, paradoxically, suddenly hitting me that the Storm was going to win the game, the series and the championship.
But ears ringing from the din that filled KeyArena; Lennox once again finding the zone; Sonics and Storm Chairman Howard Schultz celebrating like a kid in the candy store from his seat courtside; Connecticut Coach Mike Thibault conceding by pulling his starters with 1:40 left; Donovan then pulling her starters to loud ovations; the countdown of the final seconds until the championship was officially the Storm's; the confetti falling from the rafters; players mobbing at center court? Only someone with a heart of stone could have gone unmoved by the scene at the Key.
The city of Seattle has been waiting for a long time for a professional team to bring home a championship. In the 2004 Seattle Storm, we got that and so much more.