On September 16, 2010, the Seattle Storm defeats the Atlanta Dream 87-84 in Atlanta's Phillips Arena to win the Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA) championship. It is the franchise's second league championship and caps a record-setting season. The Storm's Brian Agler (b. 1958) and forward Lauren Jackson (b. 1981) take top regular-season honors, Agler as WNBA Coach of the Year, and Jackson as the league's Most Valuable Player (MVP) for the third time. The championship is won with an unprecedented sweep of seven playoff games. Thousands of fans come out in a downpour the next day to celebrate the triumph.
The Storm thus takes its place as the most successful professional team in Seattle’s sports history. When it won the WNBA title in 2004, it became the city’s third championship squad, joining the Seattle Metropolitans, who won hockey’s Stanley Cup in 1917, and the Seattle SuperSonics, who won the National Basketball Association title in 1979. With its dominating performance in 2010, the Storm stands alone as Seattle’s only two-time champ.
Rebuilding the Roster
Reclaiming the WNBA’s top spot was far from easy. Although Seattle had two of the league’s top talents -- Jackson and point guard Sue Bird (b. 1980) -- the Storm had struggled to repeat its 2004 championship season. For five straight years after winning the title, the team made the playoffs, only to be eliminated in the first round. In the middle of that frustrating stretch, shortly after the 2007 season, Anne Donovan (b. 1961) resigned after five years as head coach.
The team was in danger of leaving town until four local women bought it in a deal announced on January 8, 2008. The next day, Agler was introduced as head coach and director of player personnel. He was a former Coach of the Year in the defunct American Basketball League who also had worked for three WNBA teams.
Agler set to work acquiring talent to complement Jackson and Bird. On February 19, he completed a trade for forward Swin Cash (b. 1979), a two-time WNBA champion and two-time All-Star with the Detroit Shock. Later that spring he signed two highly decorated free agents -- three-time league MVP Sheryl Swoopes (b. 1971) and 1999 MVP Yolanda Griffith (b. 1970). The team looked loaded. But Swoopes and Griffith were past their prime and Cash had a back injury. Although the celebrity-heavy Storm led the league in 2008 and 2009 in regular-season victories (42), both seasons ended with first-round playoff elimination.
But new talent was developing. Tanisha Wright (b. 1983), a reserve guard when Agler arrived, was developing into a standout defender and someone capable of sharing ball-handling duties with Bird. And Camille Little (b. 1985), a forward acquired by trade from Atlanta in June 2008, proved herself as a solid scorer and rebounder. They both worked their way to the starting lineup. After the 2009 season, Agler beefed up the bench, the key additions being Le’Coe Willingham (b. 1981), a rugged forward with two WNBA championships, and Svetlana Abrosimova (b. 1980), a quick forward with a deadly outside shot.
Importantly, the team entered the 2010 season in better health. Jackson, who had been injured for the final 13 games plus the playoffs in 2009, decided to take a break from her customary year-round play and spent the off-season letting her body recover. Cash, after being limited by back problems for two seasons, had successful corrective surgery.
Hot From Start to Finish
The starting lineup of Bird, Wright, Cash, Little, and Jackson meshed from the start. The Storm won 22 of its first 24 games, often roaring from behind in the fourth quarter. By July 27 -- with 11 games remaining -- the Storm had clinched home-court advantage for the playoffs. After that, Agler gave more playing time to reserves. The team lost four of its last 10 regular season games and still finished with 28 wins, tying the league-record. By beating the Los Angeles Sparks 76-75 in the regular-season finale, the Storm became the first WNBA team to win all 17 of its home games.
Cash was an All-Star again. Wright was named one of the league’s top five defenders. Jackson, healthy all season for the first time in three years, was a unanimous choice for league MVP. Bird ran the offense, sacrificing personal statistics for team success. Agler gave her special credit when he was named Coach of the Year. "It's the one individual award that's impacted by multiple people (and not) just the person who receives it," he said. "What are we going to do without Lauren? What are we going to do without Swin Cash? But when all of this shakes out, the one person that has impacted this all the most, especially Coach of the Year, is Sue Bird. Sue makes your team operate at an extremely high level" (Evans, The Seattle Times, September 2, 2010).
Back on Top
In the playoffs, the Storm overpowered the Sparks in two games and then swept the Phoenix Mercury, scoring the final 15 points of the second game to win by 3 and capture the Western Conference championship. The first-round failures of the previous five years were all but forgotten by the time the fourth-seeded Atlanta Dream emerged as the surprise Eastern Conference champion. Atlanta was hot, coming off a two-game sweep of the favored New York Liberty. Its star was Angel McCoughtry (b. 1986), who put an exclamation point on the Eastern Conference series with a 42-point outburst in the final game.
The Finals were a best-of-five series and the Storm, by virtue of its top seeding, would get to play the first two at KeyArena, where it had not lost all year. The team issued white towels with the slogan "Bring It" and its fans twirled them furiously overhead. More than 15,000 showed up for Game One and nearly 14,000 for Game Two, keeping up a steady roar. Both teams rose to the occasion, battling to frantic finishes. In the first game, Bird hit an 18-foot shot with 2.6 seconds remaining and McCoughtry missed a three-pointer at the buzzer: Seattle 79-77. In the second game, even though the Storm made six free throws in the final 30 seconds, Atlanta still was within a three-pointer of tying at the end: Seattle 87-84.
The deciding game, in Atlanta, had the same kind of intensity and suspense. The Dream missed two three-pointers in the final seconds and Seattle won 87-84 again -- and was WNBA champion again. The Storm’s balance was remarkable, with all five starters scoring between 13 and 18 points. Jackson, who averaged 22 points and 8 rebounds for the series, was the unanimous choice as Finals MVP.
Celebrating in the Rain
The Storm’s plane landed at SeaTac International Airport the next afternoon, greeted by sign-waving fans who reached across barriers to touch the players and the league championship trophy. That night’s victory parade was staged in a drenching rain, so the traditional convertibles were out of the question. Instead, Agler and the players waved from under the open back doors of sport utility vehicles. Thousands of cheering fans -- and nearly as many umbrellas -- lined the route from the Space Needle to the west side of KeyArena. The players, coaches and owners assembled inside, along with about 5,000 supporters. They had much to celebrate. Not only did the Storm have a second championship and a record number of victories, it also was the first team to go undefeated at home (21-0 including the post-season).
Six of the Storm’s players would be leaving within days to play for their national teams at the world championships in the Czech Republic. After that, most would spend the off-season playing for professional teams overseas. Five, including Cash, were unsigned for the next WNBA season, leaving many of the celebrants in KeyArena that night to wonder if they would ever see such a talented team again. Agler indicated he would do everything he could to keep the Storm together, but acknowledged that a repeat performance would be difficult. "What we did this year," he said, "will be extremely hard to be repeated by anybody" (Evans, The Seattle Times, September 19, 2010).