It has been 1,322 days since the Storm played at Seattle Center, which had been home for the WNBA team since the franchise’s inception in 2000.
But during the past 3½ years, so much has changed with the Storm.
The Storm has a new look and logo, a new coach and only four players remain from the team that walked off the KeyArena court on Sept. 9, 2018.
And their former venue, which has since been renamed Climate Pledge Arena, underwent a $1.15 billion makeover that changed everything about the building with the exception of its iconic rooftop.
“From what I’ve seen from afar, it’s first class,” forward Breanna Stewart said this week. “It’s a world-class facility. Probably the best in the WNBA, if not the world, in terms of a basketball arena. And we play there. How cool is that?”
Saturday’s 6 p.m. preseason matchup against the Los Angeles Sparks will be the Storm’s first game at their new digs and the first time Seattle players and many of the team’s fans will get a chance to see firsthand what Climate Pledge Arena has to offer.
“We’re all excited to get back into Climate Pledge,” Storm coach Noelle Quinn said. “We got to get a feel for where do we walk up in the tunnel? Where is the coach’s room in correlation to the locker room? How will it feel? It’s a test run for all of those things.”
The Storm’s long-awaited homecoming is finally over.
During its time away, the Storm played at Everett’s Angel of the Winds Arena, Alaska Airlines Arena at the University of Washington and the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, where the Storm won the 2020 WNBA title.
“I’m just super grateful and thankful to Everett for allowing us a place to play,” Quinn said last year after the Storm’s postseason exit following a second-round loss in the WNBA playoffs. “If this year has taught us anything, it’s not to take anything for granted. So while you can say we didn’t have very many fans at games this year, we did have games this year, OK.
“And like I said, just looking forward to coming back home where we belong.”
Last year the Storm averaged a franchise-low 2,607 fans, lower than normal in part due to state and local COVID-19 restrictions for indoor venues.
By comparison, the Storm averaged 8,109 fans in 2018 and drew 14,212, the fourth-largest crowd in franchise history, for their last game at KeyArena — a 75-73 win over the Washington Mystics in Game 2 of the WNBA Finals.
Capacity at Climate Pledge Arena for Storm games is 13,500, up from the 9,686 seats normally available at KeyArena.
Saturday’s game also has several on-court implications for the Storm, who opened training camp Sunday. The regular season begins May 6.
Quinn stressed the importance of rebounding and hopes to see carry-over from the team’s four practices to its first preseason game.
“We’ve been harping on getting back to basics as far as getting into bodies,” she said. “We talked about some nonnegotiables that the team would like to have defensively and offensively, so just being accountable to that. Things like playing at good pace. Playing with one another. Enjoying the moment. Hopefully the score dictates that.”
Saturday’s contest is the first game for many Storm players since last season, including Sue Bird, Jewell Loyd and Stewart, who underwent offseason surgery to repair a left Achilles tendon injury.
The Storm are still missing newcomers Gabby Williams and Briann January, who are playing overseas, as well as center Mercedes Russell, who suffered a non-basketball injury.
Because of the absences, forward Stephanie Talbot and center Ezi Magbegor are expected to start alongside Bird, Loyd and Stewart.
“This is a big year for both of them,” Quinn said of Talbot and Magbegor. “They’re complementary pieces to the Big Three, because Steph can defend multiple positions. Ezi can run the floor, rebound, block shots and alter shots.”
Storm fans will also get their first look at rookies Elissa Cunane and Evina Westbrook as well as Jantel Lavender, a veteran center who signed last month.
“The goal is to play everyone,” Quinn said. “It is part of our camp, so it’s technically another day to get better and a training day for us. I don’t want to get too caught up in the score and wins and losses, but we’re all competitive here and that might happen.
“It’s just getting a feel for seeing people in a different environment and element. Getting that game pace and game conditioning in a little bit. Just seeing where we are as a team right now.”
Canada returns home
Former Storm guard Jordin Canada is expected to make her Los Angeles Sparks debut Saturday against her former team.
Canada, who was taken No. 5 overall in the 2018 WNBA draft by the Storm, spent the past four years as Sue Bird’s backup, except in 2019 when she had a breakout year and led the league with 2.3 steals.
With the Storm, Canada averaged 7.8 points, 4.1 assists, and 1.3 steals.
“It will be the first time seeing her live and in person,” Quinn said. “It will be different for sure. She’s been such a key piece in what we’ve done. We’re just super supportive and happy she’s in a position where she can flourish and be successful.”
Canada, who won two WNBA titles with the Storm, expressed a desire to return to Seattle. However, the team signed Briann January in early February to a one-year, $140,000 contract.
Six days later, Canada, a former UCLA star and L.A. native, agreed to a one-year deal with the Sparks worth $98,000.
The Storm will face another familiar foe in Katie Lou Samuelson, who was dealt to Los Angeles with the No. 9 pick in the 2022 WNBA draft for Williams.
During her one season in Seattle, Samuelson averaged 7.0 points, 3.5 rebounds and 20.6 minutes — all career highs — while starting 24 out of 27 games. She also shot a personal-best 45.6% from the field, including 35.1% on three-pointers.