PHOENIX — The neon pink sign was hard to miss.
"Keep the Storm in Seattle," read the homemade poster made by a fan wearing Storm green.
Other signs, printed on yellow paper and handed out to the crowd at US Airways Center, read the same.
One of the Storm's franchise players has a variation on the same message: Lauren Jackson doesn't want to play anywhere but Seattle.
"I definitely would not want to play anywhere else but Seattle, and I've said that before and I'll make that statement right now," said Jackson, the native of Australia who has a condo in Queen Anne and plans to keep it even if the team is relocated.
"I might come back to Seattle and hang out," said the longest-tenured player on the Storm roster. "I've grown up there, I really have. A lot has happened in the last six years in my life in Seattle, and I take some sort of ownership of this team in terms of being here a long time and growing up through the program with the people like Karen Bryant [Storm chief operating officer and director of communications]. All of these relationships have developed from absolutely nothing.
"I'm really comfortable here and I'm comfortable with the people and I've been a big part of the team. Once I get settled, I'm settled in."
A week has passed since news of the professional basketball franchises being sold to Oklahoma City businessmen shook the Pacific Northwest. And as the Storm made its way across the WNBA on a four-game road swing, the Seattle team found support in normally hostile arenas for the new owners to be true to their word and keep both the NBA and WNBA teams in the city.
"It's overwhelming the support that us as a team, as a franchise has," Jackson said. "Even though they're booing me when I run out there, they're not really. They're in support of what we're doing, and that's a reason to keep the team there. We're one of the cornerstone franchises."
The Storm is fourth in the 14-team league in attendance, averaging 8,223 with four home games remaining this season. Seattle joins New York, Sacramento and Connecticut as the more profitable teams. And the Storm's championship in 2004 solidified its place in Seattle sports history, joining the Sonics as the only major teams to win pro titles.
But doubt crept in as soon as Jackson and her teammates heard the news of the sale, agreeing with many in the city that the team is gone. The new owners are going to negotiate for 12 months beginning in October for a new arena and have told their hometown residents that they are the backup plan.
"It was a bit surreal when we heard," Jackson said of seeing signs at KeyArena that read "Oklahoma is not OK" during the Storm's 74-61 loss to Sacramento on July 18, then receiving official word of the sale after the game. "It was out of the blue. It's definitely a distraction for us, no doubt. There's a lot of talk and rumors and gossip, and we probably know as much as anybody else."
Other fans are examining steps they can take to retain the team. Saturday, a group of Storm fans met at the Theatre Off Jackson to strategize in conjunction with Sonics fans, who have already built a Web site for both teams (www.saveoursonics.org). The first plan of action is to attend the Storm's home game against Detroit on Friday to raise awareness and show support.
New owner Clay Bennett said he intends to keep the men's and women's team as a package deal, but some Storm fans are looking into ways to purchase the WNBA franchise for about $10 million, if an arena deal cannot be reached.
"Tuesday was a kick in the gut," said Scott Engelhardt, who founded www.stormfans.org. "Now, I feel like it is completely in our power to have a positive impact on this team's future and where they play. We're going to take the Oklahoma City [scenario] at face value and we're going to run with that chance."
Neither NBA commissioner David Stern nor WNBA president Donna Orender responded to interview requests, but both are reportedly pleased with the new ownership and its commitment to Seattle. The WNBA also recognizes the foothold the Storm has created in the city and wants to see it continue, according to sources.
Until then, the Storm continues to focus on its playoff hopes.
"This is a distraction with the team being sold and the talk, but we had to focus on not giving in to all that stuff and just playing because ultimately this is what we do — play basketball whether it's in Seattle or anywhere else," Jackson said. "I don't want it to be anywhere else."
Jayda Evans: 206-464-2067 or firstname.lastname@example.org