Editor’s note: During a three-part series, we’re examining the Storm. On Tuesday, we took a look at what went wrong. Today, we’ll take a look at what went right and tomorrow we’ll explore what’s ahead.
Regardless of who claims the WNBA title, the big winner in the WNBA this year is the Storm – both historically and monetarily.
Seattle fell woefully short of defending its 2020 league championship, but the season wasn’t a total loss considering the Storm demolished the Connecticut Sun 79-57 on Aug. 12 to win the WNBA’s inaugural Commissioner’s Cup at Footprint Center in Phoenix.
At the time, the Storm had a league-best 16-5 record with 11 games remaining. However, Seattle went 5-6 over during the final six weeks to finish 21-11 and slipped to fourth place in the standings.
In many ways, the Storm peaked too soon – or at just the right time depending on your perspective.
Winning the Commissioner’s Cup earned the Storm a spot in the record books as the first team to claim the in-season tournament title.
And then there’s the hullabaloo with the prize money.
“This is going to become a pretty touchy subject,” Sue Bird said smiling during a Zoom interview on Monday. “It is interesting that you win the Commissioner’s Cup … and from a financial standpoint you end up being the big winner on the year.”
The WNBA dangled $500,000 in bonuses to generate buzz and interest from fans and players who were unfamiliar with the concept of an in-season tournament.
Most Storm players received a $30,000 Commissioner Cup bonus, which is nearly three times more than what players receive for winning a WNBA title.
“It’s a little backwards, but we’re not in the Finals so we don’t have a chance to win any money so personally I don’t really care,” Storm star Jewell Loyd said. “Winning a championship is way harder than winning a midseason competition. Obviously, both are great. But you probably should get paid a little more going into the Finals. But I’m just a player in this league. I don’t make the decisions.”
Players on the league-championship team collect $11,356 and the runner-up receives $5,678. The semifinal losers take home $2,839 while a loss in the second round nets $1,803 and bowing out in the first round garners $1,136.
“It probably needs to shift,” Bird said. “The WNBA champion should probably have the bigger bonus. That is the harder championship to win, but I don’t think that needs to take away from the Commissioner’s Cup.
“We were one of the teams early that really put an emphasis on those games. We knew when they were. We knew when we were playing one. We talked about it in the locker room and we celebrated it after games. So we were on a mission to try to be the first Commissioner’s Cup winner. And it’s huge that we were because we set out to do that. So I feel proud about that. … Obviously, the season ended so we’re not happy, but that was one bright spot to it all.”
It can be argued that the Storm lost focus following its Commissioner’s Cup victory, considering Seattle lost five of its next seven games and never really got back on track.
And Breanna Stewart disagrees with critics who say Seattle prioritized the Commissioner’s Cup over a WNBA title.
“Our goal is to always be contending for a championship and win a championship,” said Stewart, who collected an additional $5,000 for earning the Commissioner’s Cup MVP. “To be able to say we won the Commissioner’s Cup, I mean really who cares.
“It’s nice to walk away with some extra money that’s for sure and to help some of our teammates get that. But I think that if you ask any of us, we really don’t … that wasn’t our priority and that wasn’t our goal. That was something that was on the road along our journey to get to where we wanted to be.”
Bird added: “Nobody has talked about it (like) ‘Hey, guys, we lost (in the playoffs), but don’t worry about it because we were Commissioner’s Cup champs.’ Nobody is really saying that. But I think when it’s all said and done, it’s something to be proud of. It’s something that we achieved this season and the money doesn’t hurt. It’s a lot of money per person.”
Especially for the eight players on the Storm’s 12-player roster who earn $70,000 or less this season.
“WNBA players are underpaid, I think we can all agree to that,” said Storm backup forward Cierra Burdick, who joined the team July 1 and earned $24,330 this season, according to Her Hoops Stats. “And it just amplifies just how much that Commissioner’s Cup is worth. It’s an extra $30K and the government gets their piece so it’s about $21K that you’re going home with. That’s huge. That’s a lot of months of mortgage payments (and) a lot of car notes.
“The Commissioner’s Cup definitely adds more incentive throughout the year. Playing at a high level, especially those Commissioner’s Cup games. Wanting to finish No. 1 in the East or West so you have the opportunity to play in the game. And then when that game comes around, it’s all out for 40 minutes. And may the best team win. And then you’re going home with some extra money that adds to the savings or maybe adds to the vacation at the end of the season. So it’s a really cool incentive.
Burdick noted she received a prorated amount of $15,000 in prize money considering she played in just four of the 10 Cup regular-season games.
“Hey, that was more than I expected,” she said. “I’m always grateful for a little extra change that I wasn’t expecting to drop into the bank account.”
And don’t ask the Storm players to feel bad about the disparity in prize money between the Commissioner’s Cup and WNBA championship.
“My opinion, I’m happy about it because I’m not going to be able to win a championship,” Stewart said, smiling. “So, it sounds great to me.”