Just savor it.
Who knows if this will be the last season to watch the Storm’s transcendent trio of Sue Bird, Breanna Stewart and Jewell Loyd? Who knows how long it might be until another group emerges in Seattle that matches it in talent, charisma and championships?
It’s best just to enjoy all three while you can, and appreciate the opportunity — a privilege, really — to watch greatness in action, perhaps one last time as a unit in Seattle.
Storm coach Noelle Quinn mused contentedly at the outset of training camp that “the old gang is back together.” With the Storm set to start their season Friday at their glittering new home, Climate Pledge Arena (where they play nine of their first 11 games), just remember how close it came to not happening this year.
All three of the Big Three were free agents after last year. Bird contemplated retirement before heeding the siren call of fans who chanted for “One More Year” when the Storm were eliminated in the playoffs. Stewart, after flirting with the New York Liberty, re-upped in Seattle — but just for one more year. Loyd is the most solidly ensconced of the three, signing a two-year deal that, barring a trade, ensures her return in 2023.
The question of whether Loyd will have two of the most decorated players in women’s basketball history still with her after this year is a question that will loom throughout the season. But they are here now, and that will ensure that this is a memorable season, one way or another, for the Storm.
Of course, the ultimate way to commemorate a possible final ride together would be to nail down the Storm’s fifth WNBA championship, matching those achieved in 2004, ’10, ’18 and ’20. Bird was around and influential in all of them; Stewart and Loyd contributed heavily to the latter two.
The Storm will enter this season as they always have whenever the Big Three are healthy — as either a favorite or the favorite to win another title. Their chances in 2019 were destroyed by an Achilles injury to Stewart that wiped out her season along with a knee injury that sidelined Bird all year. They both returned in the COVID-wracked 2020 season to lead Seattle to a dominating championship in the WNBA bubble, only to have a late-season injury to Stewart last year torpedo a blazing start. The Storm were 20-8 with Stewart but bounced in the second round of the playoffs without her.
It would be reasonable to attach a “championship or bust” aura to 2022 for the Storm. For one thing, they have a loaded roster that has been boosted by the addition of veteran defensive standouts Briann January and Gabby Williams. They have the energy boost that will come from moving into their new $1.15 billion palace after a nomadic three-year existence that saw them play home games at Everett’s Angel of the Winds Arena and Alaska Airlines Arena at the University of Washington, in addition to IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, in 2020.
And then there is the urgency that comes with the uncertainty about whether Bird and Stewart will be back in ’23.
At a news conference in February after she signed back with Seattle on a one-year contract, Stewart deflected questions about where she’d play next year.
Bird, 41, has not yet announced that this is her final season, but strong indications are it will be. After signing her one-year contract for 2022, Bird said “all arrows” point to this being her final season, and at the start of camp she said, “I feel like I’m approaching it like it is.”
But Quinn said at the Storm’s media day last week that a “title or bust” mindset is counterproductive.
“Obviously, we are built to compete for a championship,’’ she said. “We have our core pieces. But that can’t be our focus. I think if you were to ask each of those players about their careers or this season, each will say their focus is on the moment and getting better and making sure we’re taking care of business. … Honestly, we can’t think about the future if you don’t take care of the present.”
The Storm’s present will no doubt be marked by a seasonlong appreciation of Bird, who joined the Storm 20 years ago. Is Bird at all concerned that fans’ and media’s eagerness to celebrate her career will inadvertently swallow up her teammates in the process?
“Yes and no,” she replied. “It’s definitely crossed my mind. It’s actually something that once the regular season is closer, I plan on addressing with them. I don’t want it to be a distraction. And I don’t want them to get — and this is going to be on you guys (the media) more than anything — to get bombarded with questions about it.
“Because I feel like we’ve all seen different athletes go through what could be a final season, and it tends to steal the story lines and the headlines. But hopefully they feel a part of it, because they are a part of it. This is all of ours’ season, it’s not just mine. We’re all trying to win this championship. We’re all trying to enjoy it.”
This is a Storm season not just to enjoy, but to savor.