Storm fans' loyalty is as enduring as the team
It's still uncertain if the WNBA will be around 15 years from now, but here's one thing people ignore while planning the demise of American women's pro basketball: The true fans are among the most loyal in athletics. The commitment to the brand carries the WNBA, and in Seattle, that's especially true.
Seattle Times staff columnist
Sue Bird has a favorite fan memory. It's nothing spectacular or awe-inspiring, and for less appreciative athletes, it probably wouldn't even be memorable. But that's the great thing about memories. They're about emotions, not logic.
Bird, the star Storm guard, remembers losing a home playoff game to Houston in 2005. The Comets pounded the Storm 75-58 and ended its season. After winning a championship in 2004, it was a disappointing conclusion. However, as Bird and her teammates walked off the court, they exited to a standing ovation. It moved her to near tears.
"I'll never forget it," Bird said Friday at Sport restaurant in Lower Queen Anne, during an event that was part of a celebration for the franchise's all-decade team. "It just reminded me how awesome our fans are."
Her recollection focused the weekend, really. The Storm recognized its all-decade team Saturday night, using it as the blowout event in what has been a summer-long celebration of the team's 10th anniversary. But it wasn't so much a tribute simply to the most influential players in franchise history as it was an appreciation of the kinship between the Storm and its loyal following.
For that reason, it turned out to be the perfect salutation. WNBA dissenters bark all the time about how the league either should or will fold. It's still uncertain if the league will be around 15 years from now, but here's one thing people ignore while planning the demise of American women's pro basketball: The true fans are among the most loyal in athletics.
The commitment to the brand carries the WNBA, and in Seattle, that's especially true. Given this opportunity to be honored, the esteemed Storm players made it more about the community than themselves.
If you recall the team's beginnings, then you understand how appropriate that was. Ten years ago, when the Storm was trying to garner support before its first season, former coach Lin Dunn and Karen Bryant, now the team's chief executive officer, had to convince followers of the defunct American Basketball League franchise Seattle Reign to come to their side.
It was a challenge. Reign fans were still upset that the ABL folded in December 1998 after just more than two seasons, and they believed the WNBA deserved a considerable portion of the blame. So Bryant and Dunn asked Reign season-ticket holders to meet them at the Seattle Children's Theatre.
"It was a very candid conversation with fans," recalled Bryant, who was the Reign general manager before the team folded. "We told them that you may not believe in the alignment with the NBA right now, but it's what we have. Why not support women's basketball? Then we told them to trust us. We promised that we would build the Storm on the same values we had with the Reign."
Over time, a large majority of the fans converted. There are still many who will never do so. But the Storm has never broken that covenant Bryant and Dunn made with the fans, and that's why this franchise is celebrating 10 years of existence.
It's been a wild 10 years, too. Four ownership groups. Three coaches. A championship. A breakup with the Sonics. And now, a journey into complete independence.
But there has been one constant — the loyalty of the fan base. My favorite part of Saturday night's festivities: During a timeout in the first quarter, former Storm players Simone Edwards and Kamila Vodichkova walked to their courtside seats, and the crowd gave them a standing ovation.
Edwards and Vodichkova were both honorees on this night and memorable players. Edwards was with the team at the beginning. Vodichkova helped the Storm win its 2004 title. But they weren't superstars like Bird and Lauren Jackson. The affection, even after all these years, was both touching and telling.
On Friday, Edwards joked that she received fan support "because I'm cute." Vodichkova, the team's first draft pick, said she cried upon landing at the airport because of her fond memories. Adia Barnes, now the team's color analyst, marveled at how she's been able to become a community fixture despite posting modest numbers during her career.
All of the honorees laughed and told stories, even embarrassing ones. Bryant stood in the back of a packed restaurant and smiled at the scene.
She doesn't have to talk people into believing in the Storm anymore. The franchise has credibility now. It has 10 years of good living to prove it, too.
Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @Jerry_Brewer
Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company
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