It was last winter when the Seattle Storm learned that two of its top players would miss the 2013 season. Guard Sue Bird and forward/center Lauren Jackson, both perennial All-Stars and multiple WNBA Champions and Olympic Medalists, were sidelined with injuries.
With the Big Two out, all odds seemed to be against a Seattle squad which prided itself on a strong playoff tradition. It also didnt help that the competition in the West appeared particularly fierce in 2013, with the traditional powers in Minnesota and Los Angeles reloading and Phoenix and Tulsa bolstered by the addition of Brittney Griner and Skylar Diggins, respectively.
While outsiders saw this as a problem, the team didnt listen. Players stayed focused and took on new leadership roles.
We started talking with Camille [Little] and Tanisha [Wright] and Tina [Thompson] about how important their leadership was going to be this year for the success of our team, said head coach Brian Agler. Weve had a strong tradition here of making the playoffs and we want to compete for championships and we just didnt want to have that go away just because were missing two really good players.
Seattle had made the playoffs for the last nine seasons and won the WNBA Championship in 2004 and 2010.
A big reason the Storm are vying for a championship once again is because of the play of one of those leaders, 17-year veteran forward Tina Thompson. This year, she is averaging 14.1 points and 5.9 rebounds, her best numbers since the 2010 season when she played for Los Angeles, having struggled with injuries in between.
For Thompson, the all-time leading scorer in the WNBA, clinching the playoffs is a testament to the teams focus.
We knew before we all got together what we were up against, but we didnt have any doubts that where we are right now was possible, said Thompson, who was key part of the legendary championship Houston Comets teams which dominated the early years of the WNBA. So I think that because we had the same goal, we were all focused on doing that and be in this position that allowed us to be here. I mean of course there are a lot of outside things going on and expectations, or lack of, that people didnt have for us in the beginning of the season. But again, thats the outside looking in. We never felt how other people felt, we always thought this was possible.
The Storm is advancing to yet another post-season, but this will be the last for Tina Thompson. Thompson, who was the first ever player drafted in the WNBA back in 1997, is retiring after this season and will player her last home game at Key Arena on September 14 against Tulsa.
Coach Agler has been really impressed with what she has contributed to the team in her 17th season in the league.
Shes really impacted our team in a positive way, obviously with her play. Shes had just a tremendous season, but also with her leadership and her maturity. She does such a good job with all of our players. And I think they sort of look to her because of her resume and the respect they have for her. Even the ones that have been on our team and won championships, like Tanisha [Wright] and Camille [Little]. They still look at Tina and in a lot of ways she helps them a great deal to be better leaders themselves.
For Thompson, the goal is just like it is for any other season.
Im just basically doing whatever I can to help our team win games.
Adjusting to her leadership role this year wasnt problem with that goal in mind.
Coming to this team, or this part in my career, my expectations werent this. I went to Los Angeles, then I came to Seattle expecting to be a contributing player to a very good team, said Thompson, whose superlative efforts this season were recognized with an All-Star berth. But like in LA, here in Seattle weve been kind of riddled with injuries and things just dont go like you planned and Ive just been put in a role where I have to be the go-to player or one of the go-to players, but its not something that Im unfamiliar with, its something that Ive had to do most of my career. So its pretty familiar and I just do whatever I have to do in order to fill our teams needs.