Sue Bird: "We can't wait to raise this flag and get this party started." That they did, beginning a day of celebrating the Seattle Storm's third WNBA title that culminated in a rally at KeyArena.
From high atop the Space Needle rooftop, down to a parade in the streets and ending with a raucous rally at KeyArena, the Storm celebrated its third WNBA title on a Sunday jam-packed with festivities.
This party started early and had a little bit of everything.
After a three-game sweep against the Mystics last week just outside of Washington, D.C., to capture its third league title, the WNBA champions returned home for a coronation befitting a queen.
Thousands of smiling and howling fans lined the sidewalks to cheer players who rode aboard three trolleys that made a slow, meandering crawl along a 0.6-mile route through streets around the Seattle Center.
“Seattle has turned out the entire time for us,” president and general manager Alisha Valavanis said. “They got us through the playoffs. And it’s exciting to see them lining the streets today.
“We know our fan base is the most passionate and loyal fan base in professional sports. And they’re showing out today. It’s a lot of fun and this one is for them. This is for Seattle.”
For Storm owners Lisa Brummel, Ginny Gilder and Dawn Trudeau, it’s their second WNBA title and the perfect gift to commemorate the 10-year anniversary of buying the team in 2008.
“We’re continuing a legacy that started with Ginger Ackerley,” Gilder said referring to the Storm’s founder and former chairwoman who died in January. “This team belongs to the city. Next year is our 20th anniversary as a franchise and it’s our responsibility to be the caretakers of a community asset.
“The three of us as owners are stewards of that legacy. We own the team, but it belongs to the city.”
The police-escorted parade began at 1 p.m. beneath sunny skies, but 40 minutes later storm clouds rolled in and a downpour drenched the Storm and its fans as they entered KeyArena for more celebrations.
“It’s amazing to be able to share success with a city like this,” said league and Finals MVP Breanna Stewart. “I’ve done it at UConn and we’ve always been embraced in the state of Connecticut. But now to do it here in Seattle, such a sports city, it’s amazing.
“What I learned about Storm fans is when they go hard, they go hard. At the end of the regular season and throughout the postseason, it was rocking. KeyArena was rocking.”
The old building, which begins a two-year, $700 million renovation next month, erupted in cheers one last time this season during a 75-minute rally that included three video tributes and a half-dozen interviews.
Neither the Storm nor its fans wanted to say goodbye and close the chapter on a remarkable year, in which Seattle went 26-8 in the regular season and 6-2 in the playoffs.
“If the Sonics had done what they did and win their third title with a sweep, this city would be on fire,” said former Sonics great Shawn Kemp, who sat courtside during the rally. “These ladies deserve their respect.
“I don’t think they had a great gesture from city the second time they won a championship. It was kind of a nasty and rainy day. But this time it was a much better turnout. Watching what they did from a distance, I wanted to come out and support these ladies.”
More than 6,000 fans inside KeyArena saved their loudest cheers for Sue Bird, who wore a black ‘Stewie MVP’ T-shirt.
And clipped to her belt was the plastic face mask — her newest accessory that’s made her a cult hero – that she wore in the final four playoff games to protect her broken nose.
The league’s oldest player who turns 38 next month said she’ll return next year for her 17th season – an announcement that sent her teammates and the crowd into a frenzy.
“That’s the plan,” she told the crowd. “I’ll be back.”
It really wasn’t much of a surprise, but Bird did reveal when she knew the Storm would capture the sweep.
“I’ll tell you a little secret. I knew we were going to win when my group chat went off about three to four hours before our Game 3 in Washington,” Bird said. “I opened it up and it’s Natasha Howard. She says, ‘Don’t worry guys, I got the goggles for the champagne.’ And it was a wrap.”
— Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan, an avid Storm supporter and season-ticket holder, declared a portion of the street outside KeyArena will be renamed ‘Seattle Storm Way.’
— Durkan also hinted at building a statue for Bird after the Hall-of-Fame-bound point guard retires.
— During a video montage depicting Bird’s Game 5 heroics in the semifinals, Stewart dragged Bird on the court as the crowd cheered. Despite her protests, the Storm players lifted their leader in the air.
— Speaking of Stewart, her shenanigans were particularly entertaining. Wearing mirrored sunglasses and a black T-shirt that read ‘Sue use your legs. – Stewie” she playfully interacted with teammates, fans and media during the parade. The 24-year-old star had the WNBA trophy in one hand and a plastic red cup in the other, sparking questions about her beverage choice.
“Red Bull, of course,” she said smiling. “And maybe something else.”
— Near the end of the parade, Alysha Clark jumped off the trolley and ran into crowd for kisses, hugs and a selfie with her mom and dad, Jan and Duane, who took a morning flight from Mount Juliet, Tenn.
— Jewell Loyd, a former Notre Dame standout who lost to Stewart and Connecticut in the 2015 NCAA championship game, drew a big laugh from the KeyAena crowd when she said: “It’s way better playing with the UConn Huskies than playing against them, I’ll tell you that.”
— Crystal Langhorne, the third-longest tenured Storm, talked about the road back to a title after enduring 12- and 10-win seasons during her first two years in Seattle.
“I was here through the down times and now we’ve made our way back up to the top so I’m so excited I was able to be a part of that,” she said. “It was just so exciting with great teammates. I legit like every teammate that I have. I’m not ignoring anybody because sometimes you have teammates that you don’t like, but I legit like everybody. It was a great season and I just loved every minute of it.”
— Storm mascot Doppler served as the unofficial grand marshal of the parade and rode on the roof of a slow-moving SUV. “We love the team and my daughter really loves Doppler,” said Michael Houser, who lives in Issaquah and brought his 1-year-old Clementine to the parade.
— Hours before the parade, the Storm ascended to the Space Needle rooftop to raise the team flag.
Stewart had the last word at the 75-minute rally that ended beneath a blizzard of green, yellow and white balloons and confetti as the loudspeakers blared Kool & The Gang’s “Celebration.”
“I’ve been waiting all night to speak,” said Stewart when asked about Bird’s impact. “Sue Bird is a G.O.A.T. first of all. She does everything for me on and off the court. What you guys have seen and what you guys have not seen. I wanted to win a championship with her. And we did that and I hope we will do it again.”
The celebrations ended with Stewart hinting that the party is just beginning for the Storm.
“Final thoughts, thank you for helping us get this championship,” she told the crowd. “We’re going to be back again. And I can’t wait.”
As the fans streamed out of the building, the scoreboard at KeyArena read: Storm 98, Mystics 82 – one last reminder on a season that won’t soon be forgotten.