While Anne Donovan’s passing is being mourned around basketball circles and beyond, her mark on Seattle will never be forgotten. She should be remembered as one of the more important women who helped cement basketball as a part of Seattle’s identity.
Seattle’s relationship with basketball has largely been rocky, mostly defined by the tumultuous departure of the beloved Supersonics. On the women’s side, just trying to have a basketball team in Seattle was hard enough.
Before the Seattle Storm came along, the Seattle Reign made Mercer Arena home in the now defunct ABL. As the ABL folded after just a couple of years in 1998, it came as a near miracle that the city was awarded a women’s basketball team by the WNBA.
The team struggled, as any expansion franchise does. As these struggles cumulated, the team was able to draft future Seattle legends in Lauren Jackson and Sue Bird. The team made the playoffs for the first time in 2002, and despite the early exit, showed promise.
Enter Anne Donovan.
After Coach Lin Dunn departed, Anne Donovan came on board continuing the search for titles. Marred by injuries to Sue Bird, Donovan’s first year as a head coach came to an abrupt halt. The 2003 season was largely disappointing outside of Jackson taking home the MVP trophy.
The league was still young, and there was no guarantee that any team would stick around for long. Just four hours south on the I-5, the Portland Fire had folded in 2002 due to lack of finding a competent owner. The Miami Sol had also folded due to financial problems, and the worst of it is that neither of these teams were bad. Potential didn’t guarantee anything. One season later, the league let go of the Cleveland Rockers, a decent team coached at the time by Dan Hughes, the current coach for the Storm.
As the entire league was feeling pressure to perform, Donovan reigned in personnel and guided the Seattle Storm to its first WNBA Championship. Not only did Donovan get the job done in the business sense, as the team gained immense popularity, but she helped established a winning culture for a young franchise trying to survive in a young league.
Donovan left in 2007 in good graces, having become the first female head coach to win the WNBA title and amassing 93 regular season wins during her five seasons in Seattle.
The championship in 2004 likely cemented the fan fervor needed to get the Storm franchise to stay in Seattle. Lost in the Sonics debacle, Clay Bennett had owned the Storm as well, and the franchise’s future was in doubt when he was looking to dump the Sonics. It came down to four season ticket-holding women with enough cash coming forward to save the team.
Anne Donovan definitely played a part in those female fans owning those season tickets. Had the team fallen under poor leadership and wasted the early development of Bird and Jackson, who knows what would have happened with the Storm in 2008. Anne’s work guaranteed the Storm would stay.
After she left, Donovan went on to coach Bird and the American women’s national basketball team at the Beijing Games, taking home the gold without a single loss. Her career carries a stellar resumé, so stellar in fact, that she was good enough to be inducted to the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in 1999 before she coached the Storm. By then she was already in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame for four years. All due to her playing career at Old Dominion.
But, the only stat that matters is that the Storm are still in Seattle, in large part to her early success in Seattle.