Betty made it better for the 2004 WNBA Champion Seattle Storm.
In a 2004 Finals series where the Storm had their backs against the wall on more than one occasion and where Seattle's two First Team All-WNBA stars, Lauren Jackson and Sue Bird, became
the focal point of a smothering Connecticut Sun defense, the 2004 WNBA Finals MVP, Betty Lennox, did everything the Storm needed to lead her team to a championship.
| 2004 WNBA Finals MVP Betty Lennox accepts her trophy
Otto Greule Jr./NBAE/Getty Images
Thorughout the hard-fought three-game series, Lennox was the Storm player that hit the big shot, pulled down the critical rebound or came away with a big steal to get the boisterous KeyArena fans out of their seats.
Coming into the series, Connecticut coach Mike Thibault promised to throw
some different defensive looks at the Storm's star players. It worked in Game
1 as Bird was taken out of her game by Sun guard Katie
Douglas and Jackson, the 2003 WNBA MVP, did not put up MVP numbers.
Both improved in Game 2, but it was Lennox, who had rookie point guard Lindsay
Whalen guarding her, who stepped up.
"All series long, that matchup was the one that we wanted," Storm coach Anne Donovan said. "(Coach Thibault) did not make the adjustment and Betty was able to find success."
And when it was all over, the normally stoic and confident Lennox, who has been been called arrogant at times in her up-and-down career, finally broke down and showed some emotion on the podium as she accepted the crystal trophy.
"I'm speechless," is all she could muster after an extended ovation from the crowd. "This has been a long journey."
Long and difficult, indeed. The 2000 Louisiana Tech graduate talked about how difficult her journey has been to this point. She was named the 2000 WNBA Rookie of the Year as a member of the Minnesota Lynx after averaging 16.9 points per game and was the only rookie selected to the 2000 All-WNBA Second Team. However, after that stellar rookie campaign, Lennox struggled to match that success.
She spent another season and a half in Minnesota, and was then traded to the Miami Sol in 2002. After the team ceased operations at the end of that season, she was picked up by the Cleveland Rockers in the Dispersal Draft. However the Rockers followed suit and disbanded in 2003. All the while, her numbers dropped. Last season, she finished with career lows in scoring (7.6 ppg) and rebounding (2.6 rpg).
| Lennox took a long road to the Championship
Otto Greule Jr./NBAE/Getty
When Seattle obtained her rights in the 2004 Dispersal Draft, it marked her fourth team in five seasons. But coach Anne Donovan saw something in the shooting guard with quick first step and solid jumpshot.
"Coach Donovan was the only one who believed in me," Lennox said as she accepted her MVP award at center court. "I would not be here without her."
But it was Lennox who proved Donovan right. She responded by scoring 11.2 points per game and pulling down 5.0 rebounds for the Storm in the regular season, but was overlooked for the 2004 WNBA Most Improved Player Award. During a WNBA.com chat with Lennox during the Western Conference Finals, a fan asked Lennox if she was disappointed at not having been voted the Most Improved Player this season.
"Personally, I am a little disappointed," Lennox admitted. "I think I worked hard to accompish that goal, but not everyone thought I deserved it. I rarely get what I deserve around the league and get recognized for what I have earned, so it would have been a surprise if I had gotten it. But that just motivates me even more.
"I am not one of those faces that is well-known, but I still have an opportunity to get a ring. I am just looking forward to winning a championship at this point."
Motivation? You bet.
For a player who always felt like she never got recognition around the league, she stole spotlight on the game's biggest stage. She netted 17 points in a Game 1 loss, but put on a show in Game 2. Lennox and Sun forward Nykesha Sales went back-and-forth in an all-time classic WNBA Finals performance. Sales missed the final shot as Lennox 's 27 points lifted the Storm to a series-tying victory.
But it was her Game 3 performance that clinched the MVP. After the Storm jumped out to a double-digit lead, the Sun cut the deficit to one at halftime. But Lennox turned it on, scoring eight straight points in the second half to put the Sun away.
"Betty was unbelieveable," Bird said. "Two days ago, tonight, they couldn't stop her."
With just over a minute to go and the game no longer in doubt, Lennox stepped to the free throw line where she would score her 23rd and final point. As they repeatedly chanted "M-V-P," the crowd signaled that they already knew what the media had just learned. Lennox was the clear-cut Most Valuable Player.
Her 23 points were a game-high and her 22.3 points per game in the Finals was a series-high. She led the Storm in scoring in all three games.
Underappreciated before, Lennox is now a hero in Seattle.
"Who, me? Betty Lennox?" she asked. "This celebration? The award that I just got? I can't believe it. Me? Everything that I've been through, so many teams that I've been on. So many situations that I've been in, so many bad reps of Betty Lennox. I'm speecheless."
After the throng of reporters moved on after the game, with the music blaring and her teammates dancing in a joyous circle, a bare-footed Lennox hobbled through the circle and sat down in front of her locker with a smile on her face.
For the MVP, who hit clutch shot after clutch shot in this series, provided just about every boost of energy that her team needed and played more minutes than any of her teammates in Game 3, she finally got a rest.