Sports Guy

Storm Troupers

In writing about sorrows, Shakespeare once penned that they come "not like spies, but in battalions." Could anyone have coined a better phrase to describe this past weekend in Seattle sports? First, as predicted in this column, the shameful Mariners dropped two of three to the New York Yankees, enabling Anaheim to pull within percentage points of the lead in the American League West. Next, the sad-sack Seahawks lost again, leaving them winless this preseason, making one wonder if backup quarterback Matt Hasselbeck could complete passes against the varsity defense at Ballard High. Finally, the lovable Seattle Storm was eliminated from the WNBA playoffs with two consecutive and heartbreaking losses to the defending champion Los Angeles Sparks, the Lakers of women's hoops.

As I see it, the most intriguing of these losses was this last one. In case you're one of those testosterone types who thinks women's sports are lame, let me set you straight—these women are, without a doubt, the most exciting professional sports team in town. Point guard Sue Bird dishes the rock better than Gary Payton. Center Lauren Jackson plays the post like Bill Walton used to do it. And forward Adia Barnes, my personal hero, hustles in a way that makes Jerome Kersey seem lazy. The women capped a late-season run with an electrifying win over the rival Portland Fire to earn the last playoff spot in the West. They didn't, however, leave enough in the tank to handle the Sparks, who outmatched, outran, and simply outplayed them en route to the Western Conference title and, most likely, another championship.

More than 12,000 fans turned out for that regular-season game against the Fire—a Storm single-game record. At the home game against the Sparks, there was an equally large crowd, and homemade signs outnumbered beers by at least 10 to one. Fans hooted and hollered like savages, displaying passions I never thought possible here in the Northwest. They chanted "Beat L.A." incessantly, even when their team fell behind by as many as 20 points. Supporters even cheered spontaneously—not only when the Jumbotron told them to. It was the kind of energy that makes journalists want to leap from the media table and join in. It was, in a word, awesome.

And it meant something. Because the Storm plays in a summer league that's fighting to survive, Storm fans truly feel like they make a difference, that their support for one team directly impacts the development of the league as a whole. Storm players, in turn, take nothing for granted, tossing souvenirs into the crowd after home games, hanging around for dozens of postgame interviews, priding themselves on accessibility and appreciation. These players don't make huge money; the average Storm salary is about $45,000. They're just like us, struggling to promote their livelihood, simply trying to get by.

While Rashard Lewis and the greedy millionaire Mariners sputter farther out of touch with their fans, these women play their hearts out, embrace those who support them, and give back whenever and whatever they can. They put in the season of their lives, earned the franchise's first-ever trip to the playoffs, and not once asked for anything more. You go, girls. And thanks.

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