'We had a bigger purpose this season'
The Seattle Storm are champions, but their work is just beginning
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The Seattle Storm celebrate after defeating the Las Vegas Aces and winning the 2020 WNBA Championship in Game Three of the WNBA Finals against the Las Vegas Aces on October 6, 2020 at Feld EntertainmentCenter in Palmetto, Florida. (Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via GettyImages)
The Seattle Storm are WNBA champions for the second time in three years. This championship elevates them into a three-way tie for most titles for one franchise. Although many expected this title, the Storm embraced their destiny.
For players like Sue Bird, Breanna Stewart, Jewell Loyd and others, this could easily be just another award in the trophy case. That might be true without the #wubble and the unique environment these circumstances created.
A season unlike any other
Watching from home, the viewing experience is much different. Players pick up on and feed off in-arena fan energy. There was none of that this time and teams had to rely on good old-fashioned intrinsic motivation for that extra lift. Sure, there were virtual fans but that’s not quite the same as playing in front of thousands of raucous people.
As time expired in deciding Game 3, this absence of energy stood out as Stewart and her teammates stared up at the scoreboard before rushing the court. The energy and excitement of the players felt the same, but the atmosphere was noticeably different.
Should these factors cause us to view this championship as lesser? No.
Sure, various players opted out of the season and some of those absences could have altered the final standings. However, this was still a good field and you had to be at your best to rise to the top.
Among the greatest challenges was playing nearly every other day. The Storm played 22 games in 50 days. Bird missed half the season with a bone bruise while Stewart missed two games with foot pain. Health played a key role in this season and in a shortened season, the margin for error was smaller than usual.
Bird spoke after the game about the team rolling with adversity and felt the Storm had the right temperament. She described the team as a group that never got too high or low on themselves. That disposition seems helpful for times like the postponement of their playoff game against Minnesota over COVID test results. Athletes often have routines and things like this bend them.
Just as a traditional WNBA season has its challenges like travel, this one posed different challenges like these.
Focusing on more than championships
Of course, this season is inextricably linked to the players’ emphasis on social justice. Whether the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others moved players to pursue other endeavors or dedicate their play to them, there was no right or wrong answer. “Black Lives Matter,” “Say Her Name” and other messages adorned the sidelines.
Storm forward Alysha Clark spoke after the Finals about the league’s current and ongoing messaging.
“When we decided to come down here to Bradenton, we knew the message that we wanted to put out, and we knew -- we knew the reason for this season. You know, I'm going to continue to give Angel [McCoughtry] the credit, because it was her idea to get Breonna Taylor's name on the back of our jerseys to play this season,” said Clark. “You know, so we had a bigger purpose this season coming out here, and so when our team collectively had the discussion about coming down here, we knew it was much bigger than us and we knew it was much bigger than tonight.
“I really mean that when I say, I hope all the Black women in this country and all the little Black girls that dream to be something really special in this country, like I hope you feel victorious tonight because this season was dedicated to you.”
Clark and Bird added that their dedication to fighting injustice didn’t end with the final buzzer. This season was a beginning, not a blip on the radar. Clark and countless other WNBA players know the power of their platform and the awareness they raise with their visibility.
The players reinforced their dedication when they boycotted a late-August game after the police shooting of Jacob Blake and a white supremacist murdered two protestors in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Clark and others are ready to continue the fight.
“Using our social media platform and platforms that we have like this, even just speaking to raise awareness of the importance of voting and what comes after this, is going to be a continuous fight, and we are ready for it. We are built for it. That's what the women of this league are made of,” said Clark. “We are built to fight. We are built to stand up for what is right in this world, and we are going to continue to do that, whether it's here winning championships or being in-market and overseas in these next few months.”
This season was a unique one given the circumstances of navigating the pandemic. We’ll also remember it for the historical significance of the players raising their voices and asserting their power in the name of greater causes.
It’s impossible to talk about the 2020 Storm without mentioning their activism pushing them to play. Their greatness on the court allowed them to spread their message further. To properly remember this team, you have to consider what they did on and off the court.