Perfect Storm

On Oct. 12, 2004 a five-year-old WNBA franchise delivers first sports championship to Seattle in 25 years. Kudos to stars Sue Bird, Lauren Jackson and surprise star Betty Lennox

By: Art Thiel

 

Five years after being awarded a Women’s National Basketball Association expansion franchise, the city of Seattle stood gloriously and triumphantly at the national epicenter of women’s pro hoops.

Featuring young stars Lauren Jackson and Sue Bird, the Seattle Storm blew open a tight game in the second half of the decisive WNBA finals game to defeat the Connecticut Sun 74-60 at a raucous, sold-out KeyArena. It marked Seattle’s first pro sports team championship since the Sonics’ NBA title in 1979. That’s 25 years in between pro sports titles.

Betty Lennox, a newcomer to the team in 2004, sparked the decisive Game 3 victory.  She scored 16 of her game-high 23 points in the second half. Lennox was named the series most valuable player of the WNBA playoffs.

Just before the finals, Jackson and Bird were named to the All-WNBA first team, underscoring their value as the most formidable tandem in the league. In the finals, Sun coach Mike Thibault directed his squad to form double-teams to each of the pair, which worked. Until it didn’t.

“There’s a reason we won tonight, and that’s because other people stepped up,” an exuberant Bird said after the final game. “They tried to take me and Lauren away, and you saw what happened: Betty Lennox. I can’t say anything else.”

After the Storm’s 68-64 loss in Game 1 in Connecticut, the series came to Seattle, where Lennox had 27 points in a dramatic, noisily supportive 67-65 Storm win in Game 2. Lennox was overshadowed a bit by the Sun’s top player, Nykesha Sales, who scored 32 points, a WNBA finals single-game record. But Sales’s shot to tie the game at the buzzer misfired, hitting the side of the backboard, forcing Game 3 and one of the greatest sports nights at Seattle Center.

In the decider, Lennox scored 16 points in the second half as the Storm concluded a 5-0 playoff mark at home.

“We proved it tonight — it’s a team sport, and you’ve got to play like a team,” said Jackson, an Australian and three-time WNBA Most Valuable Player who went on to become the Storm’s all-time leader in points, rebounds and blocked shots before her retirement in 2012.

The victory produced a gender milestone: Anne Donovan became the first female coach to win a WNBA title.

“I’m glad that there’s a woman that’s won a championship — very glad,” Donovan  said later. “No better candidate than me.”

The victory established the Storm’s credibility locally and nationally. The franchise went on to win titles on the Seattle Center campus in 2010 and 2018, with Bird leading all three teams. In addition, Bird has won four Olympic gold medals, two NCAA champiohships at UConn, and four FIBA World Cups, one of only 11 women to accomplish the feats.