From downtown Seattle to Sydney, Australia, the Storm celebrated its fourth WNBA title with a flag-raising ceremony on top of the Space Needle and a virtual rally with teammates spread out around the country and abroad.
The celebrations began early Friday morning with Breanna Stewart, Jewell Loyd and Mercedes Russell ascending to the rooftop of the iconic Seattle landmark with the championship trophy to hoist the team’s flag.
“Winning doesn’t get old,” Stewart said while standing next to Jewell Loyd and Mercedes Russell. “Especially for us, we’re still early in our years in Seattle. We’ve had successful years, but we’ve also gone through it a little bit.
“We want to continue to put on for the city.”
Stewart has been a frequent visitor to the Space Needle in recent years.
Following the Storm’s championship run in 2018, the MVP accompanied a large contingent of players and coaches during a flag-raising ceremony amid a chilly and blustery downpour.
This time the skies were mostly clear when the trio of Storm players was joined by part-owner Ginny Gilder, assistant coach Ryan Webb and a few staffers while the rest of the players and coaches who spent three months inside the WNBA’s bubble returned to their homes across the country.
“It’s just the three of us up here right now, but those guys are with us and we’re thinking about them,” Loyd said while holding the WNBA championship trophy. “It’s only been a few days, but I miss them already. I don’t miss the wubble (WNBA bubble) so much, but definitely missing being around the team because we’re like a family more than anything else.
“And this season, this experience made me realize that more and more. We really came together, and I’m just really proud of what we accomplished.”
Later in the day, the team reconvened virtually to reminisce and relive the strangest season in WNBA history that was played entirely at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The Storm finished the shortened 22-game regular-season schedule with an 18-4 record and entered the playoffs as the No. 2 seed. Led by Stewart, Loyd and Sue Bird, the Storm eliminated No. 4 Minnesota in the semifinals and crushed No. 1 Las Vegas during a 3-0 sweep of the WNBA Finals.
“It’s incredible, I’m just elated and proud of this team and what they’ve accomplished this year,” Storm coach Gary Kloppenburg said. “The dedication and their single-mindedness and mental toughness to get all the way. It’s just an incredible group of women.”
Kloppenburg, a longtime Storm assistant, stepped in for coach Dan Hughes, a 65-year-old cancer survivor who did not receive medical clearance by the WNBA to coach inside the league’s bubble.
“You look a the reality of what can be accomplished when nobody really cares who gets the credit and this group has proved that time and time again,” Hughes said from his home in Beavercreek, Ohio. “The staff was so special they way they worked together. The owners and the organization were behind it. Even in my isolation, I could feel Seattle being involved with this basketball team.”
Admittedly, several players were less than enthusiastic about celebrating remotely as opposed to partying with fans in a downtown parade as they did in 2018.
The online event allowed the Storm to re-connect with backup point guard Sami Whitcomb, who is quarantined in Australia after leaving the WNBA bubble last week to return home and be with her wife who is pregnant with their first child.
“It was awful,” Whitcomb said smiling when asked how it felt to watch the Finals. “No, Game 3 was really exciting because they took care of business. They played so well. Games 1 and 2 were much more of an emotional roller coaster. So that was tougher at times. I was screaming in my room and yelling and pacing a lot and pretending to be busy because I was very anxious.
“It’s a different level of zero control from being on the bench where you can at least feel like you’re there for your teammates and then being in a room a world away. That was difficult, but super proud of everyone and how well they played.”
The 75-minute virtual rally included a highlight video and heartfelt praise from owners Lisa Brummel, Dawn Trudeau, Gilder as well as Alisha Valavanis, the team’s CEO and general manager.
There were also tributes from Gov. Jay Inslee and King County Executive Dow Constantine.
“This is a group of people that has done as much for racial and social justice as you have for the game of basketball, and I want to thank you for that,” Inslee said. “I don’t know any other group of athletes who have ever been so unified to a cause. And you have lifted our spirits and aspirations.”
The virtual rally displayed several players and coaches in various stages of comfort in their homes.
Sue Bird and Alysha Clark sipped glasses of wine, Russell dumped makeshift confetti on Loyd and assistant Noelle Quinn flashed the championship ring she won with the Storm in 2018.
Moderator Elise Woodward conducted a series of interviews, including an engaging exchange with Bird, who talked about her 19-year relationship with Seattle and Storm fans.
“When I say that I grew up here, it’s not just me saying it, it’s actually real,” Bird said. “I literally spent all of my adult years here. This is actually where I’ve become the person that I am. I have a deep, deep connection with the city and with the fans.
“There are literally 14- and 15-year-olds I saw when their parents were pregnant. … Fans are watching us, but they went through it with us. They’ve been there when I had all of my injuries. They’ve seen me on the sidelines. They’ve seen me come back. They’ve seen us win and they’ve also seen us fail, so we’ve all kind of gone through this together.”
Clark talked about her personal growth and finding the confidence to speak up about difficult topics.
“This season I’ve had to learn how to find that voice,” she said. “I’ve never been one to be really outspoken about a lot of things. … But now having a platform and not being afraid to do that publicly was really big for me this year.”
Earlier in the day, Stewart made similar remarks while highlighting a season that included her second WNBA Finals MVP award.
Rather than the championship hardware, the 26-year-old star drew greater satisfaction from the WNBA’s push for social-justice reform, a leaguewide voter registration drive and efforts to raise awareness to Breonna Taylor and the “Say Her Name” campaign.
“Looking back at this season, obviously we are very happy that we won and we came into the bubble knowing that’s what we wanted to do, but I think what we’re most proud of is the fact that we were able to come together as a league,” Stewart said. “All 12 teams and 144 players, we were able to make an impact. And it was hard to make an impact when you’re in a bubble, but we did that.
“Whether it was Zoom calls, players-only meetings, the vigil we had that one night, the day of reflection, not playing those games for two days, and just really focusing on what we were trying to spread to the rest of the country and to the world to help create a better world.”