Strong chemistry in the locker room helped make this a special Storm team. Terrence Vaccaro/NBAE/Getty Images
For Players, Storm's Season Ended Too Soon
Predictably, there was disappointment within the walls of The Furtado Center Wednesday, one day after the Seattle Storm's 2008 season came to an abrupt end when the team lost 71-64 to the Los Angeles Sparks in Game 3 of their Western Conference Semifinals series. What was noteworthy was the tone of the response as players spoke to the media along with conducting their exit physicals and interviews with Head Coach Brian Agler and CEO Karen Bryant.
Not only did the Storm lament the team's season ending early because of the failure to reach goals set no lower than the championship but also simply because it meant having to leave what had developed into an incredibly close-knit team.
"I'm sad and disappointed that this is the fourth year and again we're knocked out in the first round," said guard Tanisha Wright. "At the same time, I'm also sad and disappointed because I really enjoyed playing with this team. Since I've been here, this is the most fun that I've had, it's the most enjoyable season that I've had as far as being on the court and playing and being around the ladies. This team, it was a fun team to be around and play with."
As if to reinforce the good times the Storm had both on and off the court, All-Star point guard Sue Bird came up with a unique answer to a question about her highlight of the 2008 season. Bird did not choose a moment of individual brilliance during an MVP-caliber campaign or even one of the team's highpoints during a 22-win season. Instead, Bird immediately cracked up, recalling the previous week when teammate Kelly Santos accidentally ended up spending the night in a different hotel in Los Angeles than the rest of the team.
Moments like that helped make 2008 a special season for the players.
"This is the best team I've ever been associated with team-chemistry wise," said Katie Gearlds. "I can only compare it to last year in the WNBA, but even before that in college and high school and all the years before, by far the best team I've ever played with. There's not one player on this team where I can say, 'I won't miss you' and 'It's OK if you don't come back.' It's not like that this year."
"I really love this team," center Ashley Robinson said. "It was the best team I'm ever been on."
"This is one of the best teams I've played on as far as loving every person on the team and chemistry," added Shyra Ely. "It's hard to leave right now."
That chemistry was just one of several factors that convinced Storm players that this team had the ability to do big things in the WNBA Playoffs. Ultimately, however, the loss of reigning MVP Lauren Jackson to ankle surgery as well as injuries that plagued starters Swin Cash and Sheryl Swoopes during the latter part of the season proved to much for the Storm to overcome.
"For the most part, I think we had the right thing here," Bird said. "We had the chemistry. We had the intangible things. We had the role players. With Lauren, you can really build anything around that. We had it all and we were putting it together. It's really unfortunate that we got hit by the injury bug."
"If people are healthy, then we go a lot farther and we do a lot better than people ever anticipated for us to do," said Wright. "Our record without Lauren was great and our record with her was amazing as well. You think, if we have her for those last 13, 14 games or so?
"We played a full healthy L.A. squad with Lisa (Leslie), with Candace (Parker), with DeLisha (Milton-Jones), with Marie (Ferdinand-Harris), whoever they threw out at us, and we did it all without the best player in the world. How many people can really say that they can take their best player off and still compete at the level that we competed at? That says a lot about this team and the character of this team."
At the same time, even without Jackson the Storm was able to dominate Los Angeles in Game 2 of the series and was in position to pull out Game 3 on its home floor.
"I'm a firm believer that you need a little bit of everything to go your way to win a championship - a little bit of luck, health, the right type of chemistry," said Cash a two-time WNBA champion in Detroit. "We had all the elements except for the injury bug hit us at the right time. I still felt like we had enough to beat L.A., so we can't blame everything on that."
Cash also pointed to the team's intense desire to disprove doubters who questioned their ability to win without Jackson in the playoffs. While proud of their regular-season accomplishments and their hard work in overcoming the obstacles they faced, Storm players still felt a profound sense of loss in falling in the first round of the postseason for the fourth consecutive season.
"It sucks," said Gearlds. "It's definitely not what we wanted and definitely not what our goal was at the beginning of the year. We felt like we had the potential to win a championship."
Instead of wrapping up the season, the Storm had hoped to spend today preparing to host San Antonio in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals. The rapid shift in focus is difficult for players.
"All of a sudden," explained Bird, "you go from constantly thinking about things and the next game and focusing and what time is practice and what time do we have to be there to ... nothing. It's a huge, huge letdown."
"I woke up this morning with a serious headache," said Cash. "I don't even drink and you would think I had a hangover. I think it was an emotional just letdown. I woke up this morning and we had exit meetings and exit physicals. It was kind of tough to get up and go to appointments and talking about making flights and leaving town."
Cash summed up the conflicted but ultimately downcast emotions Storm players experienced at season's end.
"Disappointment," she said, asked to describe the season. "You take a little bit of happiness about the fact that this team really came together and beat a lot of adversity and a lot of odds with so many injuries and Lauren and this and that happening this year. But, at the end of the day, everyone should come back ticked off next year and have an attitude, a chip on our shoulder because we didn't get it done. I know that I will and I'm sure that Yo (Griffith) and Sheryl and other people that are on this team are going to come back just as well."