KeyArena, Sue Bird, Seattle Storm – WNBA Is Alive And Well In The Pacific Northwest

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Not everyone realizes it, but Seattle is currently home to a reigning national champion sports team.  And, no, I’m not living in 2014 when the Seattle Seahawks clobbered the Denver Broncos to win their one and only Super Bowl.  Nor am I living in 1979, when a team called the Seattle SuperSonics beat a team called the Washington Bullets to win their one and only championship.  I’m also not talking about 2016, when the Sounders won it all!

I choose to live in the present, in the world in which the Seattle Storm got out the broomsticks to whup the Washington Mystics in the WNBA Finals last September.  Though the Storm franchise has only existed since 2000, 2018 was their third championship (the first two came in 2004 and 2010). The best part is that they could just as easily follow it up with another trophy this season, which is about to get underway.      

In reality, the Storm are arguably the most reliable sports franchise in Seattle.  Not only do they have three titles in 18 seasons, but they’ve gone to the playoffs 14 times.  The Seahawks can’t boast such a resume. The Mariners certainly can’t, either, especially since they haven’t even made the playoffs since the Storm’s inception!  The Storm are like—cover your ears—the New England Patriots of women’s basketball.

To carry the analogy one step further, while the Storm don’t have a Belichick (they are on their sixth head coach), they do have a Tom Brady equivalent, and her name is Sue Bird.  Bird is like royalty in women’s basketball, and she’s got the lineage to prove it. She played her college career at none other than UConn, where she racked up not one but two NCAA titles.  She was the number one overall pick in the 2002 draft, and she has played here in Seatown ever since.

Bird boasts a record of being an WNBA all-star in eleven of her seasons.  She has played more games than any other player in the sport (508) and also leads in assists (over 2800).  And this is just in the WNBA. In the offseason, like many players, she has played in international leagues overseas.  She’s also competed in several Olympics—she has 7 gold medals—and, this past season, took on a front office role with the Denver Nuggets.  Considering the run the Nuggets are having, the Storm will be lucky to have her back in time for the WNBA regular season that begins on May 24th,, though obviously Trail Blazers fans would love to ensure that Bird is sent back to Seattle, stat, to worry about the team she plays for instead of the one she works for.

This upcoming season will be the first of two in which the Storm are forced to play their home games in a new arena, considering KeyArena is currently a giant construction site as the city prepares for an NHL team to arrive in 2021 (and hopefully a new NBA team sometime after that).  In general, the Storm’s temporary home will be Alaska Airlines Arena on the campus of the University of Washington (known to locals as “Hec Ed”). But they don’t play their first game there until late June; from the start of the season until then, they will be playing home games at Angel of the Winds Arena in Everett, which is about 25 miles north of Seattle.  Long term, the Storm will return to KeyArena in central Seattle sometime in 2021. That timetable is currently being pushed back, with the KeyArena construction project already taking longer than usual (and costing much more than initially expected, go figure). But once the Key is finally finished, the Storm will be playing in an arena as nice as any in the country.  It will be brand-new, state of the art, but it will retain the structure’s original roof, an example of Googie architecture designed by Paul Thiry.

Another potential cloud on the Storm’s horizon—sorry—is the recent, severe injury to Storm star and MVP of last year’s Finals, Breanna Stewart.  She suffered the injury while playing overseas for a Russian team, the Dynamo Kursk. It’s hard to imagine an NFL or NBA player’s franchise allowing them to play for another team during their offseason, but such is the reality for many WNBA players.  See above for Bird, Sue. Stewart will miss the entire 2019 WNBA season, and it’s hard not to see that affecting the team’s outlook this year. Then again, they did get a month’s notice on the injury, which also happened just prior to the WNBA draft, free agency and the preseason.  The Storm will have time to draft, trade and scheme around Stewart’s absence. The fact that Bird is back, coupled with the overall championship culture in the locker room of this franchise, should preclude anyone from ruling out a back-to-back run.

The KeyArena remodel/relocation drama could potentially be bad for overall fan if not player morale, but at least once they start playing at UW in late June they will be in city limits, which should make things feel a little more normal.  It will be gravely important for all interested parties to keep their eyes on the long term—to realize that in a couple of years the Storm will be playing in the newest, most amazing facilities in the country. At the same time, to not think that the team doesn’t have the capability to compete right away, because they absolutely do.

There is a grand entrance displayed in the architectural renderings of the new arena.  Made of glass two stories tall, it melds together new and old. Perhaps someone could start a fund to erect a giant statue of Sue Bird placed right in front of it.  It’s long overdue.

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Paul Redman

Paul Redman is a writer and chef in Seattle who grew up in the Midwest. His work has appeared in print and online, including San Francisco magazine, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, and Contrary. He eats too many chicken wings and cracks way too many dad jokes and food puns. Follow him on Twitter @predman.

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