A group of Seattle women, led by former Seattle Deputy Mayor Anne Levinson, is buying the Storm of the WNBA from the Sonics ownership group for $10 million and saving the team from moving to Oklahoma City.

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A group of Seattle women, led by former Seattle Deputy Mayor Anne Levinson, is buying the Storm of the WNBA from the Sonics ownership group for $10 million and saving the team from moving to Oklahoma City.

“Today is a great day for Storm fans,” said WNBA president Donna Orender, in Seattle for the announcement. “Seattle is a terrific WNBA city and I’m thrilled for Storm fans who have been so supportive of their team over the years. What this group of women is doing is yet another example of that famous Seattle civic leadership. I have no doubt that this group of women, with support from the public, business community and elected officials, will be able to make a strong case for this sale to be approved by the Board of Governors.”

Levinson, along with Lisa Brummel, Dawn Trudeau and Ginny Gilder, were announced as members of Force 10 Hoops LLC, the franchise’s new owners. The group has until the end of February to close the sale. Levinson served more than two decades as a public official and was instrumental in the creation of the Seattle Reign of the now defunct American Basketball League.

Brummel is senior vice president of human resources at Microsoft, and Trudeau heads Microsoft’s database division.

Gilder owns an investment business and was the founding executive director of Washington Works, a local nonprofit dedicated to supporting welfare recipients in obtaining and retaining livable-wage employment. A rower, she won a silver medal at the Los Angeles Olympic Games in 1984.

“We are pleased to be able to step forward to ensure that Seattle will be the Storm’s home,” said Levinson.

“This is something we wanted to be able to do for Storm fans and the community. I want to thank Clay Bennett for working with us on this.”

Bennett, who still owns the NBA’s Sonics and intends to move them to Oklahoma City, issued a statement this morning.

“In the time we have been a part of the WNBA we have consistently been impressed by the very loyal fan base and broad community support the Storm enjoys,” Bennett said. “We believe the Storm can continue to be successful in KeyArena. We are pleased we have been able to negotiate a transaction with an extraordinary group of highly accomplished women. Through our extensive negotiations we have become convinced that their commitment to the community and passion for the game will result in a secure and promising future for the Seattle Storm.

“We knew the right thing to do for Seattle was to work with Anne’s group to see if we could make this happen. We will assist them in any way we can to ensure a smooth transition and wish them the very best.”

Gov. Christine Gregoire expressed her support for the purchase.

“As Governor and as a Storm fan, I think this is a terrific result,” she said. “This group of accomplished women has made this possible because of their strong commitment to the community. They also know first-hand that being able to compete in the top echelon of sports provides women with opportunities generations who came before us never had.”

Sen. Patty Murray agreed: “The Storm is one of the things that make our state special, providing a great family experience for fans throughout the Northwest. This is good news for the community, the league and the players who have made this region their home.”

Yelps of joy and expressions of shock were common reactions when Storm season-ticket holders heard the news. Susie Jarosch, who is Storm star Lauren Jackson’s agent, said the news “made my day.”

“I’m happy for the Storm,” said Brian Robinson, co-founder of Save Our Sonics and Storm. “But I don’t think people should be content. You always knew there would be a strong likelihood the Storm would stay. It’s good for the city. It’s good for fans of women’s basketball. And it ends a lot of uncertainty.”

Bennett and a group of Oklahoma buyers purchased the Storm and Sonics franchises in July 2006 for a combined $350 million. But Bennett, the teams’ chairman, filed to relocate the Sonics last fall after failing to secure funding for a new facility. Bennett wants to move the Sonics to Oklahoma City, but his lease with KeyArena runs through the 2010 season.

At a September news conference, Bennett said he would explore other options for the WNBA team, and that he was open to the idea of the Storm staying in Seattle even if the Sonics left. He also said the Storm’s strong fan base in Seattle, formed after the team’s inception in 2000, could not be replicated quickly in Oklahoma City. The Storm averaged 7,974 fans last season and had about 2,400 season-ticket holders.

Bennett had previously said many times he would not separate the franchises and sell the Storm, but potential local, private ownership groups continued to approach him in order to buy the team and keep it in Seattle. He has not identified those groups.

The Storm’s WNBA championship in 2004 was Seattle’s first major title since the Sonics won the NBA championship in 1979.

The Storm joins Los Angeles, Connecticut, Houston, Chicago, Washington and the expansion Atlanta as independently owned teams in the 14-team league. The Los Angeles, Houston and Washington teams each still play at the NBA arenas in their cities. Los Angeles and Houston receive discounted rents at their arenas.

Now that the Storm will be independent, it will have to pay its own rent to continue to play at KeyArena. The Storm’s lease expires after the 2008 season.

Initiative 91, passed in November 2006, prohibits Seattle from supporting teams with city tax dollars unless such investments yield a profit on par with a 30-year U.S. Treasury bond.

The Storm also has to pay for its own marketing and front-office support, which were once handled under the Sonics umbrella.

“They already got rid of a lot of the fan rewards anyway, and the true fans stuck right by their side,” said Ann Brown of Big Bear, Calif., who travels to see the Storm around the country. “It was about the love of the team and this [sale] is something else. The fans deserve this. We were all worried about who the coach would be and had come to terms that this would be the last year because we hadn’t heard a sniff of this. This is good stuff.”

The Storm will name a coach on Wednesday. Anne Donovan resigned as coach and director of player personnel on Nov. 30. The team also lost an assistant coach, community-programs coordinator and athletic trainer.

Jayda Evans: 206-464-2067 or jevans@seattletimes.com