Two weeks ago I ventured off my usual turf here at Crosscut to write about Seattle sports. I focused on the Mariners, Seahawks and football Huskies, arguably the “big three” of Seattle sports. I lamented their lack of leadership. Recent events (Seahawks' shuffle, Mariners' prevarications, and Huskies' inability to win in the fourth quarter) seem only to have confirmed those observations.
But a fair number of readers called attention, quite rightly, to my sins of omission. I had failed to mention other Seattle pro teams, most especially Seattle’s WNBA team, the Storm, which swept into the WNBA finals last Sunday (Sept. 5) with a very impressive come-from-behind win in Phoenix. The Storm is in the midst of a year in which its regular season record (28–6) established a new high for the best single season winning percentage in Seattle pro sports. With an .824 winning percentage, they surpassed the 2005 Seahawks (13–3, .813).
One reader went beyond pointing out my sins of omission. Community activist and Storm booster Pam Eakes made it her mission to see that I got swept up in the Storm enthusiasm by inviting me to the first game in the Western Conference Finals last week.
It was the night that Lauren Jackson received the WNBA trophy for Most Valuable Player, and then went out to show all 9,600-plus fans exactly why she got the award. Jackson snatched rebound after rebound with her quick hands, dropped three-point shots from the perimeter with nonchalance, and was undeterred by a Phoenix defense that, as Jackson commented with considerable understatement after the game, “plays a pretty physical game.” At one point in the fourth quarter a frustrated Phoenix defender simply held Jackson from behind in a bear hug as she attempted to shoot.
A quiet miracle has been unfolding this season over at KeyArena where the Storm has gone undefeated at home. Only one other team in WNBA history has ever done that, the 2001 Los Angeles Sparks. Between June 18 and July 30, the Storm put together the longest winning streak in team history, and the third longest ever in the WNBA, winning 13 games in a row. Nor are the Storm’s winning ways a new development. The team has won 20 or more games in three consecutive seasons, 2008, 2009, and 2010. And the Storm is seeking its second WNBA title, having won their first in 2004.
The list of achievements this year goes on and on. The Storm swept Western Conference rivals, Los Angeles and Phoenix, 7-0. They won 13 games when trailing after three quarters. In addition to Jackson claiming MVP honors (for a third time), Storm Coach Brian Agler was voted WNBA Coach of the Year, guard Tanisha Wright was voted to the All Defensive Team, and three players (Jackson, Sue Bird, and Swin Cash) were voted to the All Star Team. That gave the Storm more all stars than any other team in the league. All in all, it’s been quite a year, one that will reach its climax with the WNBA finals, which begin Sunday (Sept. 12). The Storm opponent will be the Atlanta Dream.
But it’s not just that the Storm is playing great basketball and winning. There’s something else going on. What? Maybe this: excellence without the big, overstuffed egos. Pro sports without the arrogance or sense of entitlement that seem so much of that world these days. The Storm really is a team. Moreover, they are a team with a palpable connection to their fans and community.
The Storm seems, from top to bottom, real, and well fun. Instead of the usual cheerleaders and sexy dance teams, the family-friendly Storm “dance team” was a couple dozen well-rehearsed local kids. Halftime featured a hilarious dog relay race up and down the court. It was so much fun it got repeated three times. At one point the team mascot, Dopler, called all the kids in the crowd onto the floor for a Conga line dance that snaked all over the court until a horn blared and the kids shot off for their seats like Cinderellas whose coach was about to go pumpkin. It all just seemed kind of down home and unpretentious. And yet the quality of play is intense and top-notch.
One of the other characteristics of pro sports these days is profit maximization, which means that every inch of space and every second of time has been sold (or is used to sell you something). So, we now have, “Tonight’s first pitch is brought to you by ...” Or, “This is the (fill in the blank with name of sponsor) recap of the first quarter.” The money-making side is so omnipresent that the game itself is obscured. I didn’t notice this particularly with the Storm. There were lots of things that could have been turned into sales opportunities that weren’t.
Before the game, I spoke with one of the Storm’s four owners, Anne Levinson, who explained “the fourfold goals of Storm ownership: 1) build a championship-caliber team with players who excel on the court and are role models off it; 2) create a sustainable business model so that the team will thrive in Seattle for years to come; 3) provide a welcoming, affordable, family-friendly experience for fans; and 4) run the franchise in ways that are true to the best values of our community.”
I had the feeling that this wasn’t just PR blather; it’s real. My recent night at the Key certainly confirmed it. The owners see themselves as stewards of a community asset. Imagine!
Most of the time, as regular readers of Crosscut know, religion or religion and culture is my beat. Maybe I can reach back in that direction for a final observation. A case can be made that the Bible is a story of, “God’s preferential option for the unlikely.” God is forever choosing the unlikely to work with and through. Whether its the old geezer or the young kid, the outsider or the disreputable, it is the unlikely who emerge time and again in that ancient story as the surprising heroes, sheroes, and saints. God’s preferential option for the unlikely. The likely are, apparently, too full of themselves to be of much use.
Maybe something like that is going on here? While year after year the mighty, and mighty rich, have fallen and disappointed, a humble and real, if somewhat unlikely, home team has been showing the way. Perhaps the other teams need to send a delegation over to meet with Storm ownership, management, and players to get their groove back?