From Everett, to Montlake, to Florida and back to Everett — the Storm has traveled quite a bit in search of temporary home digs.
After four years away, the Storm will make a long-awaited return to Seattle Center in 2022 at Climate Pledge Arena.
“We’re super thankful to Angel of the Winds Arena and the city of Everett for taking us in and making us feel welcome and not like guests these past two years,” coach Noelle Quinn said. “And the same goes to the folks at the University of Washington and in the Wubble (WNBA bubble), where they kept us safe.
“But like they say, there’s no place like home. And Seattle Center is our home. That’s where this team belongs. I know I can’t wait to get back home, because it feels like it’s been forever since our last game there.”
Maybe not forever, but the last time the Storm played a true home game, Quinn was a deep reserve for a Seattle team on the cusp of winning the 2018 WNBA championship.
“Oh yeah, I remember our last game inside (KeyArena),” guard Sue Bird said. “Sometimes I kind of get them mixed up between Game 2 of the (WNBA) Finals and Game 5 (of the semifinals). That entire playoff run was incredible for so many reasons, including the tremendous fan support we received in the playoffs.”
In 2018, the Storm averaged 8,109 fans during the regular season, which was the fourth-largest in the WNBA behind the Los Angeles Sparks, Minnesota Lynx and Phoenix Mercury.
That year, Storm game capacity at the 17,072-seat KeyArena was 9,686 for the lower bowl. Seattle sold out its final five regular-season home games and opened up the upper section in the finale, with 12,574 watching an 84-68 blowout win over Dallas.
After selling out its first two playoff games, surprisingly just 8,992 were in attendance for a memorable 94-84 win over Phoenix in a loser-go-home Game 5 classic.
“You can’t tell me that wasn’t a sellout, because it felt like half of Seattle was in the building that night,” star forward Breanna Stewart said. “That place was so loud. And after Sue’s big shot, I mean, it was crazy.”
Seattle attracted 11,486 for its 89-76 win over the Washington Mystics in Game 1 of the WNBA Finals and drew 14,212 for a Game 2 victory, which is the fourth-largest home crowd in franchise history.
“Look, this isn’t just the WNBA, but If you put a winning product on the floor, people will show up,” said Bird who noted the Storm’s 2004 WNBA championship season when Seattle twice drew a team-record 17,072. “I’ve seen it. I know the special relationship this team has with this city and its fans. … It’s just too bad that in 2018, we never got to really capitalize on that momentum and things kind of went flat in terms of fan attendance because we bounced around a bit.”
In 2019, the Storm averaged 7,561 fans while splitting home between Alaska Airlines Arena and Angel of the Winds Arena. It was also the same year in which Stewart and Bird missed the season due to injuries and Seattle finished sixth at 18-16, which was a dramatic decline from its first-place finish and 26-8 mark the previous year.
In 2020 the WNBA played its entire 22-game abbreviated season at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Storm finished second in the standings at 18-4 and won its fourth league championship.
“The entire league came together to compete in the 2020 season, and do that in a way that health and safety was at the forefront,” Storm CEO & president Alisha Valavanis said. “It was a very successful effort by the WNBA and by the teams. And of course, there was some incredible work as we all watched our players step into really advocating and using that platform to drive social and racial justice in our country.”
This past season, the Storm played all 16 of its home games at Angel of the Winds Arena in front of sparse crowds due to state and local COVID-19 restrictions for indoor venues. Seattle averaged a franchise-low 2,607 fans, sixth this season among WNBA teams.
“I’m just super grateful and thankful to Everett for allowing us a place to play,” Quinn said. “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.”
Considering seven of the Storm’s 12 players are free agents, it remains to be seen who suits up for the Storm for its first home game next season.
Bird, the WNBA’s oldest player who turned 41 last week, is contemplating retirement but admits finishing her Hall-of-Fame bound career inside Climate Pledge Arena is tempting.
“It’s not, not a factor,” she said smiling. “Everett and the city of Everett did a wonderful job giving us a home and welcoming us, but I miss playing in downtown Seattle. I miss playing in what was KeyArena and what is Climate Pledge.
“I miss the energy of that building. I miss the home-court advantage the fans give us. I miss driving five minutes back to my house instead of 45. There’s a lot that I miss. That place is a big part of my career. All of my memories are tied up in that location. I don’t know if it’s going to make the decision, but it’s not, not a factor.”
The Storm’s $1.15 billion arena renovation makes Seattle an attractive destination for WNBA All-Star Games and Commissioner’s Cup title games.
“We are absolutely looking into what that would take and how that would be possible,” Valavanis said of the WNBA All-Star Game, which was held in Seattle in 2017. “We don’t have a definitive target for 2022, ’23 or ’24. But we’re very interested in bringing an All-Star Game back to Seattle.”
And Stewart, who is also a free agent, is eager to make new memories at the new arena.
“Oh, I’m sure we’ll be taking bets on who’s going to make the first shot and things like that,” she said. “New buildings are fun. You get to put your stamp on them. I’m expecting it’s going to be the nicest arena in the league, so who wouldn’t be excited to play in a place like that?”