For the past year, pro basketball in Seattle mostly has been about the Sonics and KeyArena, which was thoroughly renovated a decade ago but now is so hopelessly inadequate that you wouldn't let your dog play Frisbee there. New team owners were introduced Tuesday, July 18, and they profess a desire to keep the in-the-doghouse Sonics in Seattle—if, of course, a more-worthy venue can be found northwest of Oklahoma (see Buzz). It's the same talk we've heard before, though this time the newcomers and seller Howard Schultz (his faint smile possibly having to do with his group's estimated $90 million profit from the sale) fell all over themselves celebrating the other part of the Basketball Club of Seattle, the other tenant of the most wretched facility in the history of sports. The Seattle Storm of the WNBA draw a mere 8,000, but the owners present and future seem to know that a Storm gathering precipitates a livelier community atmosphere than the Sonics have generated since the Reign Man era.
For a team teetering near .500, it's a good thing that the peripheral spectacle on game dates is at least as entertaining as the Storm floor action. That much was evident Friday, July 14, when the 2004 World Champion wonder women thundered into the second half of their '06 campaign with a blowout of the woeful New York Liberty. Scoring was halted at 86-66, but only because Storm mentor Anne Donovan mercifully inserted subs for the final 10 minutes. Otherwise, the way Lauren Jackson (27 points) and Janell Burse (14 rebounds, 12 points) were going, it might've been 106-56.
Those of us who infrequently attend Storm games were reminded that night about the value of team loyalty. The love affair with the Storm will never extend to the point of packing the Key, but those who show up are some of the most passionate fans in the city. It would be a shame if the greed and stupidity that guide NBA owners and their insane pay scales jeopardize the destiny of the Storm, though, in truth, the future of the WNBA is tenuous for other reasons. At the recent WNBA All-Star game and the attendant celebration of the league's first decade, there was much brave talk about goals for the next 10 years. But league President Donna Orender had to concede that males haven't embraced women's basketball; without men watching, it's difficult to see how games would ever win TV audiences. A guy-gag rhetorical question in Seattle bars even as the Storm was winning the league championship in 2004: What would you like best—going to a Storm game or finding a $5 bill on the sidewalk?
As it happens, a few five-spots buy you a pretty damned good summer seat at the otherwise decrepit Key (where, ironically, the only people who can afford luxury boxes and courtside Sonics seats are NBA players). The competition is intense and some of the individual talent is spectacular. Obviously, there isn't any jamming, and put-back layups are hard to find. But the precision passing and outside shooting helps compensate for a lack of a power game. More to the point, the women appear to play hard all four quarters, an ethic seldom on display in the NBA.
The Storm, after losing Sunday night, July 16, 92-83 to Connecticut, was 11-10. Intense coach Donovan seems determined to repeat last year, when she made a languishing team finish strong enough to land in postseason. With Storm troupers Jackson, Burse, Sue Bird, and Betty Lennox, the starting team is solid. If bench players kick in, maybe the laughably outdated Key will host playoff games for deserving fans. It also would allow whining Sonics officials to stop in and see what postseason action is like.