One historic team, three Storm players.
The Storm is one of the more successful WNBA franchises ever, but this feat is particularly distinct. To have one squad produce three members for what is universally considered the best women’s basketball team in the world is impressive. And it’s another feather in the cap for an organization that’s on the brink of becoming a WNBA dynasty.
On Monday it was announced that the Storm’s Sue Bird, Breanna Stewart and Jewell Loyd had been named to the U.S. Olympic women’s basketball team. It’s the first time the franchise has a trio of players on the U.S. team in the five-ringed games. The Storm’s Katie Lou Samuelson also will represent the U.S. in Tokyo on the women’s 3×3 team.
Is victory assured for the Americans this summer in Tokyo? Not necessarily … although they have won gold in their past six appearances. But this offers a chance to add to the legacies of women with three distinct careers.
First, there’s Bird — the 40-year-old who stands as the WNBA’s all-time leader in assists and games played. She may never be considered the best to have ever played, but she may end up with the most distinguished career.
Her body seems immune to wear and tear despite the miles she’s put in and injuries she’s endured. And if age has slowed her, she has made up for it by becoming perhaps the league’s finest outside shooter.
This year she is shooting 46.1% from three-point distance. Last year it was 46.9 and the year before that 44.8. Those are the three best percentages of her 20-year career.
In other words, Bird making her fifth Olympic team was by no means a legacy selection. And she is as geeked up for playing as she’s ever been.
“I don’t think the motivation ever really changes. It hasn’t for me,” Bird said via Zoom. “Even at this age, and everything I’ve accomplished I feel like I have something to prove.”
Then there’s Stewart — the 26-year-old who may end up going down as the greatest to ever play. Stewart already has one regular-season MVP and two Finals MVPs.
This goes with four national championships at the University of Connecticut — where she won the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player Award each year — and an Olympic gold medal in Rio in 2016. She is once again in this year’s MVP race, as she’s averaging 20.9 points and a career-high 10.0 rebounds.
In other words, even when joined by 11 of the best players in the world, Stewart will likely stand out in Tokyo. Not that she’s thinking about her individual output.
A year ago she had no idea when the Olympics would come around again. So just getting the chance to play? That’s enough to be grateful for … for now.
“I’m really looking forward to being back representing the United States and finally getting the opportunity to go to Tokyo,” Stewart said.
Finally, there’s Loyd — the 27-year-old who … well, it’s hard to describe. The former No. 1 overall pick has been among the game’s better players over her seven-year career — as her two All-Star nods would indicate. But what she’s doing now is unlike anything we’ve ever seen from her.
Her 19.1 points-per-game average is the highest of her career. Her 39.3 three-point percentage is the best of her career. Her 4.5 assists are the most she has averaged, and her .464 field-goal percentage is her best by far.
A third All-Star nod is inevitable for Loyd at this point. An MVP trophy is a possibility. The question is: Is she at the peak of her career, or is she in the midst of a breakthrough that will result in continuous improvement?
We’ll find out. In the meantime, she’s relishing her first Olympic opportunity, especially after the late Kobe Bryant pushed her to seize it.
“That was the last thing we (she and Kobe) talked about, how to make this team. How to get a gold medal,” Loyd said. “That’s the one thing that we have to get that’s on the list.”
One historic team, three Storm players. There’s a point guard with a chance to win her fifth gold medal, a power forward with a chance to add to what could end up as the greatest women’s basketball résumé ever, and a shooting guard ready to whet her international appetite.
Look out, Tokyo. A Storm is coming.