Storm's four owners are fans first
The Storm's four owners — Anne Levinson, Ginny Gilder, Dawn Trudeau and Lisa Brummel — open up about themselves and why they bought the WNBA team in a 90-minute discussion with Seattle Times reporter Jayda Evans. Here are the highlights.
Seattle Times staff reporter
They're just four fans.
Four fans who once took breaks from high-profile day jobs to enjoy a game. Four fans who stepped forward in 2008 to make sure the team they adopted wasn't swiped in an arena fight involving the Sonics.
Now those four fans — Anne Levinson, Ginny Gilder, Dawn Trudeau and Lisa Brummel — own the Storm, Seattle's WNBA team that enters the playoffs as the favorite to win its second league championship. These four women comprise one of only six independent ownership groups in the 12-team WNBA. Just three are operated entirely by women.
The foursome — which calls itself Force 10 Hoops LLC — recently met with Seattle Times reporter Jayda Evans for in a 90-minute interview about everything from the KeyArena experience to Brian Agler's dance moves. Here are the highlights:
AL: When we started, it wasn't that we had to be the owners. It was that we wanted to do whatever we could to help keep the Storm in Seattle.
Times: How hard was it?
GG: That's the great thing about memory. It's kind of like childbirth.
Times: Once you deliver, the pain doesn't matter anymore?
GG: Anne was the lead on that. She did a great job of working with Clay Bennett, and I think it was hard. It's always hard to negotiate. But the degree of difficulty in doing something, probably should be measured in terms of what you got. And in terms of what we got for it? It was totally worth it. It has been amazing. This is our third season and there's so much more of a great future ahead of us. It was the right thing for the city and it was actually the right thing for our group.
DT: It was very easy for us to come together. I'd say that.
AL: We all knew wanted to work together in a collaborative way and we wanted a small enough group that we could get in and contribute what we could, but not create a big bureaucracy that would take a lot of time around process.
Times: Dawn, what are the different skills everyone brings?
DT: It's both skill and perspective. I probably tend to be somewhat of the perennial optimist in the group. Ginny, we laugh, is always the glass is always half empty and we're courting disaster.
AL: No, no, no. There's no glass.
DT: Yeah. And Lisa, is probably the most pragmatic of all of us and I think Anne is probably the most intense and sort of driven. Those personality traits actually play out pretty well with each other because we kind of counterbalance. When maybe I'm being too optimistic, Ginny reminds me that there are issues. If we're getting too intense, Lisa will, a lot of times, lighten the mood. Anne, of course, has the political background, which is really unique in our group. Lisa has the professional basketball experience, which really helps us understand what's going on with the team, the coach and the basketball operations part of it. Ginny's got a great financial background, and I've built businesses before, so I'm a good manager and business leader.
Times: In going from fans to owners, how much did you have to shut down the cheerleading part?
DT: I don't think we shut down the cheerleading part, I just know that I'm hypersensitive to anything that's not right. If the scoreboard isn't correct, if the timing isn't right, if there's a piece of lint on the floor. I'm much, much more critical of things that I see that aren't perfect, the way we'd want them to be, whereas before? I don't think I even noticed that stuff.
LB: A fan is a fan is a fan, and we bought this team because we were fans. The difference is I feel responsible for creating a great experience. What's their experience when they get here, how they are treated by the ushers, where they sit? had a lot of amazing feedback from fans. I love having that dialogue. Being a fan and being an owner really has its benefits because you really get to constantly look for improvement.
GG: I'm the one who was not a season-ticket holder from the beginning. I came in 2005. I feel like we're hosts of this community jewel. The four of us, really, are in a unique position to make that experience as positive as possible. This probably sounds so corny, but we're really models for humanity. What can a good human being be like? And it's those women. They get to do what they love. They know it's a privilege and they bring it every day.
Times: All of you were born before Title IX passed in 1972 and have different athletic backgrounds.
GG: I hold the record for the Elite Women's Single for the Head of the Charles, which I think I set in 1982. I am proud and humbled by what I did as an athlete. I don't feel like I'm the same person. I look back on that sport (rowing) and it's incredibly brutal, but it gave me so much of the strengths that I have today and it made me want to be a part of moving opportunities for women sports further, which is really why I'm part of the ownership group. We all love basketball, but the truth is, when Brian (Agler) asked me what a post player was the first time I met him, I blushed that I couldn't answer. Even though I knew the answer.
Times: And competing at the 1984 Olympic Trials with a broken rib, sounds like Lauren Jackson's fight through pain.
GG: Any time I see an athlete wave off their coach and just wanting to get it done — yeah, I can totally relate.
Times: Dawn, your experience was gym class?
DT: Gym class consisted of the boys playing and the girls sitting on the sideline and cheering. And even in fourth grade, I sat there thinking, 'This isn't fair. I want to get up and run around, too.' How come we didn't get to run around?' And it wasn't organized sports, either. I think there may have been some kind of basketball going on. It really was, for me, my first realization of feminism without knowing what the word was or what the concept was. I really didn't have any opportunity to participate in sports.
Times: Does it make you envious of WNBA players?
DT: The skills that you learn competing in team sports is super important, but my path was just different. I don't feel envy. In some ways I feel like I had that contact sport at Microsoft.
LB: I'm with you (there) ... But I had the benefit of playing very competitively at an early age through high school and college. And I played for a traveling team around the world. We won national championships and world championships. So, I really had the experience similar to what these guys have here: Get on the bus, gotta go to practice, gotta fly to the next city. I did that,and it was a wonderful experience. But my attention span is short and I wanted to be able to do something that lasts a lifetime. I'll always try to give back to it where I can. ... but I'm ready to use my education and my experience in a different way to challenge myself and grow.
Times: Is owning the Storm part of giving back?
LB: This is an experience that hopefully can be an example for other people. There aren't many female ownership groups in professional sports anywhere. I'm fortunate to have the opportunity to participate in that. To the extent that helps other women — or men, minorities, anyone — feel like they could do it, too, then that's great. I'll feel like I'm giving back in the right way.
It's a massive challenge for me. I have a day job over at Microsoft that is challenging in and of itself, but this allows me to think very differently about a business. And I have a whole different appreciation for it than I do the business I work on at Microsoft. It's both giving back and giving back to me. It's been very stimulating.
Times: Player-wise, Do you think you could have made it through a Brian Agler practice?
LB: The intensity that people put it into it today, it's probably proportional to what it was then. But you look at it now and say, 'Boy, there's a lot going on out there.' But, yeah, I do think I could have been all right in Brian's practices.
Times: So, what's playing on the iPods?
LB: They do the iPod thing. You must speak to me in Zune.
Times: What's on the Zune?
LB: I have everything on my Zune. From classical music to my kids turned me on to the person called — well, it's not a group, but it's called — Girl Talk? It's sort of new music, sort of a rap mix kind of thing. So, I have everything from classical, to jazz to female vocalists.
AL: My iPod has all sorts of stuff on it, but a lot of R&B, a lot of Motown — the old fashioned girl that I am.
DT: I am a big hip-hop fan. I was listening to a Dutch group called Pete Philly & Perquisite. I consume music like water. So, I have a huge music library — all legal, of course. I'm very stickler on that ... My favorite artist is Michael Franti and Spearhead. He's just a great, positive writer.
GG: My goal is always silence. I have an iPod, I use it if I'm doing a particularly long and boring workout. I'll listen to Billy Joel, Elton (John). My partner Lynn loathes my iPod.
Times: So, you're the type who likes to wake up and hear the birds chirping?
GG: That's right.
Times: That's very Zen. Are you very Zen?
GG: I'm so not Zen.
LB: We're working on the Zen part.
GG: I try to get the inner chatter down to a doldrums.
AL: That would be a great T-shirt: 'So not Zen.'
Times: Your partners and friends are always in the locker room after games and on trips. Are they involved?
GG: My partner is very involved with the Storm. And it has been a lot of fun for our family. This has really become a family business. All of our kids are athletes at one level or another and everybody, except for one kid, really enjoys coming to games.
He said, 'Look, Ma, if you bought the Seahawks. ... ' Nineteen-year-old male. But we have a 24-year-old male who loves them and 21-year-old male who loves them. So, for us, it has enriched every level of our family-dynamic relationship. In fact, it was Lynn who came up with the (ownership) name Force 10 Hoops.
Times: Lynn is a sailor, so Force 10 has special meaning, right?
GG: Well, it's the Beaufort Scale. It's a visual way of assessing the weather. I'm not a sailor. I'm a rower and rowers like flat water. So, anything other than flat is a problem. In sailing, anything that is flat is a problem. But, Force 10 is the level at which the weather becomes a storm. It's very simple and elegant.
Times: What names did you throw off the table?
AL: We're sworn to secrecy.
GG: In my business, we are always naming LLCs. So, names are very important. We (Lynn and I) have dogs and we'd go for dog walks and come up with names after names and I'd e-mail them and (it was) 'No! No! No!' No!' So, it took a while.
Times: It's a great name and fans go to games with flag that symbolizes that. Is that cool to see?
GG: Yeah, it's fun for her (Lynn). She feels like she contributed. And I feel like with both Ron (Dawn's husband) and Celeste (Lisa's partner), it's the same thing. That this is everybody's team.
Times: OK, but does Steve Ballmer ever get jealous you're an owner and he's not?
LB: We actually never discuss it. ...
Times: Never. Not once.
LB: Nope. He does occasionally say, 'Hey, I see your team's doing really well' and we'll talk about it. We talk about basketball in general more than we talk about the Storm. His son played, so we spend a lot of time talking about high school basketball and a little about pro basketball. He's interested about the WNBA, how it works. He's got plenty of things to be proud of and I'll just keep my team and we'll be good.
Times: There was a recent story about NBA players who are from this area that helped grow Seattle's men's basketball community. Plus, there's still talk about wanting a team back since the Sonics left. Is that a topic amongst your group?
DT: We'd welcome a men's team back in town because we believe sports is part of what makes a great, rich society. But we're very much focused on what we're doing with the Storm and how to make it a successful. ... You know what I dream for? I want that article on the cover of The Seattle Times to be about the women who brought basketball to the Seattle area. The women who've helped the kids come up through the ranks and become professionals. I don't really ever want to be quite structured like the way the NBA is. I think there's something that's fundamentally flawed there, but I do want our athletes to be paid enough that they don't have to play 12 months a year. I do want them to be able to give back and come back to the girls of this community and have them think, 'Yeah, Lauren Jackson, that's the person who made a difference in my life and now I'm going to be a professional women's basketball pro.'
Times: How do you view Lauren Jackson and Sue Bird's place in the organization?
LB: They're physically, mentally and community-wise, two of the greatest examples we could have. They have different personalities, but I respect that. At the core, they both want to play here. They want to do well here and as an owner, you've got to think, 'Wow, it doesn't get any better than that.' We're really privileged to have them on this team and have their commitment to Seattle even well before we became owners.
GG: I traveled, I trained hard and I don't think the average person has any awareness of how hard it is. I will never use the word sacrifice because I think it's a privilege to get to pursue what you love at the highest level. I just can't get Olympic and sacrifice in the same sentence. It's the same thing here, but having said that, I think that our job is to have them as comfortable as possible and as well-poised as possible to be successful. It is true that technically we are their bosses, but that is not how we operate in our franchise. We operate in a consensus manner. We're a team and we're always looking for how to we solve the problems that come up. And I think we all know this is a magical season and it is not something you can count on happening twice. If you can't live in the moment and enjoy this, even I, Miss Glass Half Cracked and Empty, knows that you'd better enjoy every game.
Times: Did you crack up when Brian Agler busted a move as part of an interview with a Storm Dance Troupe member?
LB: That is priceless.
DT: It is so out of character for Brian to do that. But that's why it's funny, right? Because it's just so unexpected. For Brian, getting down is cracking a smile.
GG: It's so true.
LB: He's a great attractor of talent. People want to play for Brian. And you can't ask anything more in a coach than when players ask to come play for him. That's gold. He's constantly evaluating talent. You look at Jana (Vesela) and you look at some of the players we've picked up outside of the U.S. and he really is a global talent kind of guy. I have the utmost respect for the way he handles the players, the way he speaks to us and the way he works with Karen (Bryant).
AL: I don't think we could ask for a better coach.
GG: Really we have a CEO (Karen Bryant), coach, and an ownership group that are so synced in terms of how we work together.
Times: But does winning make it easier?
GG: It's definitely much more fun. My first coach told me you learn more when you lose. I said I'd rather be stupid. That's one of the great things about Brian. He is always looking to what we're really trying to achieve. It's not that he doesn't care about the milestones along the way, but he is not going to be diverted. And that's what we want.
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