Storm Celebrates in Style

Kevin Pelton, | Oct. 16, 2004
Despite the overcast skies and threat of rain, several thousand people, many of them decked out in championship gear, crowded Seattle's Westlake Center Friday to celebrate the Seattle Storm's first WNBA Championship. After Pine Street was closed between 4th and 5th avenues, it quickly packed with fans who came to share their appreciation for the Storm - and receive it right back from the team.

Sue Bird, Adia Barnes and Tully Bevilaqua wave to fans on their way to the Championship Celebration.
Jeff Reinking/NBAE/Getty Images
That started with Sonics and Storm Chairman Howard Schultz, who told the crowd, "We cannot express to you enough the support that you have given this team, not only this year but since day one."

Schultz was followed by Washington governor Gary Locke, who read a proclamation and declared the next week Seattle Storm Week throughout the state. Seattle mayor Greg Nickels also declared Friday Seattle Storm Day in the city.

Nickels drew a surprising number of hands when he asked how many in the crowd had been present for the parade when the Seattle SuperSonics won the NBA Championship 1979. That was the last major professional sports championship in Seattle until Tuesday, prompting Locke to say, "Finally, it was the women who brought us a championship."

After Storm COO Karen Bryant spoke, the Storm roster arrived via motorcade from The Furtado Center and was introduced by PA announcer Steven Kilbreath to loud applause. The players then headed up to the Westlake Center balcony to join the dignitaries and take their turn on stage.

First to speak was Coach Anne Donovan, who called the Storm crowd "the absolute best in the world". Donovan read from an e-mail she'd received earlier saying, "Life only demands from you the strength you already possess."

Donovan's response: "These girls have a hell of a lot of strength, and so does Seattle."

The microphone was passed amongst the players, many of whom carried cameras or video cameras to record the moment.

After taunting the crowd, chanting her name, that she could not hear them, backup guard Tully Bevilaqua said, "When you come from a small country town in Australia, you don't imagine enjoying something like this."

"I'm very happy that you are happy this season," said center Kamila Vodichkova, recalling the disappointment of last August when the Storm did not make the playoffs, "and to see you happy makes me happy."

Sue Bird, after turning down requests from the media to compare the championships she won at UConn to this one all week, finally admitted to the Storm fans how special this is.

"To be honest, I'm sure there's going to be a lot of people mad at me back at UConn, but this is unbelievable," Bird said. "We're starting something here."

Bryant retook the mike with an important message.

"We hope that each and every one of you will be in KeyArena next May for Opening Night 2004," Bryant said, "when we raise the championship banner for the first professional sports championship in Seattle in 25 years."

The players, led by forward Alicia Thompson, then closed things out by inviting fans to sing with them the song they sang in the huddle before each game: "We ready, we ready, we ready for y'all."

"Thank you so much for your support, day in and day out," Lauren Jackson said back at The Furtado Center, having finally been separated from the championship trophy after cradling it like a baby throughout the celebration. "Our fans are great. I can't even express how important they are to us."

"I was sitting next to Lauren, sharing that with Lauren," Donovan recalled of the motorcade. "At 23, all the accolades she's gotten, she's seen a lot. To see her reaction as well was incredible. We were saying 'Can you believe this?' constantly to each other. It seemed like with every group of people we passed, it got more and more intense."

Lennox Finds Her Home

They were just four words, but they were incredibly meaningful.

"This does feel like home," Finals MVP Betty Lennox told the crowd gathered at the Westlake Center.

Since Lennox first arrived in Seattle this March, the media has been wondering whether the well-traveled WNBA veteran had finally found a home in Seattle. As recently as after Game 2, however, Lennox was unwilling to declare herself home.

"I won't call this my home, and the reason is I've been around so many times, you can't call something your home when you've only been there one season, so we'll have to see," she said Sunday.

By Friday, Lennox had changed her tune. Anyone who has paid attention to Lennox knows that isn't something she would say lightly or on the spot. Instead, Lennox has been truly moved by the love given to her by the Storm faithful.

"It took me a long time to say anything about it being my home, and I tell you, it feels good," Lennox said. "I have to say that it really does feel like home."

Unfortunately, Lennox had little time to enjoy her new home. After the championship celebration, Lennox waited briefly at The Furtado Center to speak to reporters before heading to the airport. She'll stop back home in Kansas City before continuing on to play this winter in Italy. All told, seven of the Storm's 12 players left town either yesterday or today.

Bird and Bevilaqua and forwards Adia Barnes, Jackson and Sheri Sam will be in town a bit longer. Bird is traveling to New York for the Women's Sports Foundation's Annual Salute to Women in Sports Awards Dinner this weekend, but will spend some more time in Seattle thereafter. Bevilaqua is expected to return to Australia to play for the Canberra Capitals starting next weekend. Jackson confirmed that she has scheduled surgery on her right foot next week.