Saturday’s game at KeyArena (12:30 p.m. on ABC) is just part of a week of special activities for basketball fans. “You’re trying to create some special memories not just for yourself, but for the fans,” says Storm forward Breanna Stewart.
From Maya Moore to Diana Taurasi and Candace Parker, the biggest names in women’s basketball are gathering in Seattle for the city’s first WNBA All-Star weekend.
They’ve stuffed their itineraries with a Sounders match and a Mariners game, where a quartet of All-Stars will throw out the first pitch. They’ll raise the league’s banner atop the Space Needle, host hoops clinics for children and attend a swank downtown soiree complete with an orange (the WNBA’s signature color) carpet entrance.
And they’ll also play a little basketball.
Hoops around town
Here’s a look at WNBA All-Star Game events in Seattle:
2 p.m. at Mercer Island Boys & Girls Club: The Jr. NBA, WNBA All-Stars, and WNBA Legends will host a youth basketball clinic for approximately 75-100 children from local boys and girls clubs. Closed to the public.
7 p.m. at Safeco Field: WNBA All-Stars to throw out the first pitch before the Mariners game against the Yankees.
7:30 a.m. at Space Needle: Several WNBA All-Stars and WNBA President Lisa Borders will raise the WNBA flag at the Space Needle.
9:30 a.m. at Smilow Rainier Vista Boys & Girls Club: WNBA All-Stars will host a basketball clinic and provide nutrition tips to approximately 90 children. Closed to the public.
2-4 p.m. at KeyArena: The Eastern and Western Conference All-Star teams will each have a practice that’s open to those who have purchased tickets to the All-Star Game.
6 p.m. at Space Needle: WNBA All-Stars attend a private reception at the reception hosted by Visit Seattle at the Chihuly Garden and Glass. Players will walk the league’s Orange Carpet outside of the Space Needle, which is open to the public.
12:30 p.m. at KeyArena: 2017 WNBA All-Star Game and Three-Point Contest
But in reality, Saturday’s 12:30 p.m. All-Star Game at KeyArena, which includes a halftime three-point contest, is the culmination of a deluge of activities designed to generate fan excitement and promote a league that constantly fights for relevancy 21 years after its inception.
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“I think more than anything, you’re trying to create some special memories not just for yourself, but for the fans,” said Storm forward Breanna Stewart, who will play in her first All-Star Game. “That’s what it’s really about. These games are about having fun and celebrating the league. You want everybody to have a good time.”
Seattle will be well represented in the festivities.
Veteran point guard Sue Bird, who tied a league record with her 10th All-Star selection, was voted to start for the Western Conference while Stewart, a second-year forward, was chosen as a reserve by league coaches.
“They’re two of the best in the league, and they’ve had good seasons,” coach Jenny Boucek said. “So it’s great for our home fans to have those two women, and I’m sure they’re going to put on an extra special show.”
Long ago Seattle built a reputation as a hotbed for women’s basketball while the Storm was winning WNBA championships in 2004 and 2010.
Even though the Storm (9-11) has mostly stumbled in recent weeks, Seattle drew 8,358 for Tuesday’s game and ranks seventh in the WNBA in attendance, averaging 7,056.
Across town, the Washington women’s basketball team drew record-breaking crowds at Alaska Airlines Arena during the 2016-17 season and packed KeyArena for the first sellout in Pac-12 tournament history.
“You’ve got an awesome town here,” WNBA president Lisa Borders said during a visit to Seattle last month. “You’ve got a sports town that actually works together. You’ve got other professional teams that work with the Storm, and frankly that’s unique.
“That type of cooperation and support demonstrates that women are valued here. The Storm is valued here — women’s basketball, there’s a clear demand for it.”
The WNBA All-Star Game will be the first professional sports all-star game held in Seattle since the 2001 Major League Baseball All-Star Game. The NBA held its all-star game in Seattle at the Kingdome in 1987.
The Storm, which normally closes the upper deck at KeyArena, is hoping to fill the building that seats more than 17,000.
The last time the WNBA held its All-Star Game in 2015 (the game was suspended last year due to the Summer Olympics), the event drew 8,214 to Connecticut’s Mohegan Sun Arena, where capacity is 9,323.
That year, viewership on ABC, which is broadcasting the 2017 game, increased 23 percent over 2014 (when it aired on ESPN), with an average of 583,000 viewers.
Borders is open to moving the game to new markets. Six current WNBA cities (Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Indianapolis, Los Angeles and Minneapolis) have not hosted it.
“They did a great job of saying, ‘Hey, we’d like to participate. We’d like to do this,’ ” Borders said about the Storm owners. “Seattle is a terrific market first and foremost.”
Here’s what you need to know to get you caught up on what’s happened during the first half of the WNBA season.
Reigning champion Los Angeles and Minnesota are each 8-2 in their past 10 games and appear as if they’re going to meet for a second straight year in the WNBA Finals. The Sparks (14-5) have a solid grip on the No. 2 spot in the standings behind the league-leading Lynx (16-2), which is off to its best start in franchise history.
Nine teams are bunched in the middle of the standings and separated by just 4½ games, which should make for a wild race in the second half of the season for the remaining six playoff berths.
Meanwhile, former UW star Kelsey Plum, the No. 1 overall pick in the draft, has been unable to duplicate the success she had in college. San Antonio (2-18) is headed toward another last-place finish and Plum is averaging 5.4 points.
Taurasi became the WNBA’s all-time scoring leader this season and continues to distance herself from her peers. She stands atop the list with 7,616 career points.
Bird needs 65 assists to pass Ticha Penicheiro for the most in league history. Bird averages 6.9 assists and is on pace to break the record Aug. 20.
• Washington forward Elena Delle Donne (ankle), who was voted an All-Star starter for the Eastern Conference, and Phoenix center Brittney Griner (ankle and knee), who was chosen as a All-Star reserve in the West, will not play due to injuries. New York guard Sugar Rodgers replaces Delle Donne and Minnesota forward Rebekkah Brunson is the alternate for Griner.
• Connecticut’s Curt Miller will replace New York’s Bill Laimbeer as the East coach. Laimbeer, who earned the right to coach the East All-Stars based on the Liberty’s regular-season conference record in 2016, will miss the game to attend to a family matter.