The Seattle Storm captured their fourth title, tying the record for most titles in league history – concluding a season built on emotion and perseverance.
The Storm handled the Las Vegas Aces through three games, claiming the WNBA title with a 92-59 victory in Game 3 over the Las Vegas Aces. The dominating display captured the franchise’s fourth titles, tying the Minnesota Lynx and Houston Comets for the most titles in WNBA history.
This WNBA season was unlike any other, as it was marked by the global pandemic, forcing the women of the W to enter a bubble format in Bradenton, Florida. To add to the COVID-19 experience, the WNBA also used their platform to speak out against social injustice, with the competitors dedicating the season to the Say Her Name campaign, particularly Breonna Taylor. On top of all of that, the league was also shaken after the death of WNBA ambassador Kobe Bryant and his daughter, who aspired to play in the W, Gianna “GiGi” Bryant.
Despite the unprecedented nature that 2020 presented, the Seattle Storm dominated the regular season and kicked that domination to second gear once the playoffs arrived.
“The best version of this team is in the playoffs and now in the Finals,” Storm head coach Dan Hughes said in a video posted to the league’s Twitter account. “We’re a team and an organization that appreciates winning the day-to-day with our culture until we find ourselves on the doorstep of more championships.”
The Storm swept their semi-finals matchup against the Minnesota Lynx and continued their onslaught in the Finals — winning each game by an average of 20 points.
In the deciding Game 3 of the WNBA Finals, they won by a 33 point margin led by Finals MVP Breanna Stewart. The game, however, wasn’t a route from the jump. The Aces hopped out on the Storm 11-2 to open the game, forcing the Storm to rally back and take a nine-point lead going into halftime.
The second half was all Seattle. The offense posted a game-high 32 points in the third quarter, also clamping down on the defensive end. In the first quarter, they allowed 21 points. In the second and third quarter combined, they allowed just 27.
The Storm found a way to limit the Aces’ only consistent offensive source, A’ja Wilson. Wilson provided the Aces with two strong performances in their opening losses and continued that streak to start Game 3 — scoring 12 points in the opening six minutes. From that point on, the Storm upped the defensive ante, holding Wilson to six more points after the first half.
Wilson finished the game with 18 points on 7/15 shooting, serving as one of only three Aces to finish with double-digits. Jackie Young added 11 points off the bench, and Carolyn Swords tallied 10 rebounds for Vegas.
Stewie joins elite company
Breanna Stewart brought home her second WNBA Finals MVP honor in three years. Last year around this time, Stewart was rehabbing from an Achilles injury that forced her to miss the 2019 WNBA season after winning her first Finals MVP and regular season MVP in 2018.
In her return season, Stewart quickly emerged herself into the MVP conversation, finishing second in voting behind the Aces’ A’ja Wilson. In the playoffs, particularly in the Finals, Stewart showed that she is not the same player that dominated the league in 2018 — she was better.
Stewart had 26 points and four rebounds in the final game of the WNBA Finals — leading Seattle to a 33-point route that marked the largest margin in WNBA Finals history.
Stewart was the unanimous choice for Finals MVP, joining Cynthia Cooper, Lisa Leslie, Diana Taurasi and Sylvia Fowles as the only players to win two Finals MVPs.
Stewart’s 71% field goal display marked her sixth straight WNBA Finals game with at least 20 points, a mark that surpasses Cooper’s five straight from 1997 to 1999, and Angel McCoughtry’s five straight from 2010 to 2011.
Sue Bird adds to her iconic stature
Seattle joined Houston, now defunct, and Minnesota as the most decorated franchises in the WNBA. The Storm’s previous titles come in different decades, the first in 2004, the next in 2010 and 2018, and the latest now in 2020. Point guard Sue Bird started on each championship team, joining Tim Duncan and John Salley as the only players in basketball history to win a championship in three different decades. Bird is now the second oldest player to win a WNBA title.
In her postgame interview, the future Hall-of-Famer was all smiles, as she took in the confetti-filled scene of her team’s victory, while her teammates danced and popped champagne.
This season was sentimental for Bird, who was drafted first overall in 2002. Aside from the enormity of winning a WNBA title, Bird is also turning 40 years old on Oct. 16. In the 2016 Olympics, there were calls for Bird to step down from the team, with doubters citing her age and believing that she had lost a step. In May 2019, Bird was forced to miss the entire WNBA season behind knee surgery. This season, Bird was limited to 11 of 22 games behind a knee bruise to the same knee.
Despite all of that, the WNBA Finals and Seattle’s triumph was great because of the play of Bird, who broke the WNBA’s record for most assists in a single game posting 16 assists in Game 1.
Bird’s career is one that is synonymous with winning — and she expected such. During the postgame celebrations of her first title with the Storm, Bird was days away from her 24th birthday. Here we are, days away from her 40th birthday, and Bird is still winning.
But winning doesn’t come easy. Bird has had long layovers in between championships. After their initial title in 2004, the Storm didn’t get back to the big stage until 2010, the last impressive year of then-Finals MVP Lauren Jackson.
It would take eight more years for the Storm to get back to the Finals. Only this time, Bird was in her mid-thirties, and her running mate being a second-year stand-out in Breanna Stewart.
After missing the 2013 season due to injury, the game took a physical and mental toll on Bird. Longtime Seattle coach Anne Donovan left, and Bird was approaching her 34th birthday. With many thinking she may have been washed, Bird took it upon herself to get into the best shape possible.
“[Basketball]’s not just my job, but it’s really a lifestyle. It’s like part of my identity,” Bird told Elite Daily. “You’re just constantly trying to stay in shape, constantly trying to be in basketball shape. I have a performance coach, and I joke that I talk to her, like, literally more than I talk to Megan [Rapinoe], my girlfriend. Every day, we’re in contact, and she gives me what I’m gonna do for the day.”
Bird’s routine changed depending on the stage of the season, ranging from pool workouts to lifting to cycling. Game days are concentrating on fueling her system, stressing light meals and naps in between shootarounds, along with film. She takes blood tests to see foods that she may have mild allergies to and sticks with anti-inflammatory foods: veggies, eggs, chicken and fish.
Off the court, Bird had become a voice in the LGBTQ community, after publicly coming out as gay in 2017. Bird is very open about her now-public relationship with US National Soccer Team star Megan Rapinoe, who was there every step of the way for the 2020 WNBA bubble season.
Bird also made a point to be a voice in the Black Lives Matter movement. She was one of the driving forces in influencing the Vote Warnock movement, as the WNBA players urged voters to vote out Atlanta Dream’s owner Kelly Loeffler after Loeffler questioned the league’s support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Bird has emerged herself as an icon on and off the court. Whether she is leading the charge in social justice or leading the champs in assists, Bird has placed herself in sports history, now reaching a peak that many wish to rise to.
Seattle Storm guard Jewell Loyd is one of many players who were able to be mentored by the late Kobe Bryant. Loyd grew up idolizing Bryant and once she became an NCAA star with Notre Dame, Bryant personally took Loyd under his wing — nicknaming Loyd the “Gold Mamba.”
During the Strom’s undefeated postseason run, Loyd averaged 17.8 points, 5.2 rebounds and 3.8 assists. After the Storm’s victory, Loyd declared that her second title is dedicated to Bryant and his daughter GiGi, who were both killed in a helicopter crash in January.
“This year has been a lot for me,” Loyd told ESPN’s Holly Rowe while fighting back tears. “This is for Kobe, Gigi, the Bryant family and for Breonna Taylor. We had a lot of emotions coming into this game.”
And there were plenty of emotions among the entire league. Bryant was an ambassador for the league, as well as women’s basketball in general, as he hoped to one day see his daughter GiGi play in the league.
The WNBA named GiGi, and her teammates who also died in the crash, Alyssa Altobelli and Payton Chester, honorary draft picks.
“For me, this season, I had to pay [tribute] to him,” said Loyd, who was the No. 1 draft pick in 2015 and was also named Rookie of the Year in her first campaign. “This is my first season without him. I just focused in.”
Loyd wears No.24 because of Bryant, and she also wears different variations of Bryant’s signature Nike shoes, saying that the shoes remind her of him and his greatness.
“It’s the gold shoes, knowing that I’m unique. I’m special,” Loyd said. “I wore the shoes because of Kobe. His jersey number is everything. He’s the first person to ever believe in me before I got into the league. It’s special.”
Aside from the league still mourning the loss of Bryant and navigating through COVID-19, the WNBA used their platform to honor a different woman who has lost their life to racial injustice each week and used media calls and in-game interviews to speak on the matter.
From the opening tip to the final seconds of the season, each player in the WNBA wore Breonna Taylor’s name on the backs of their jerseys.
Storm defensive anchorwoman, Alysha Clark declares that their title is special because of the message behind it.
“This one is special, really special,” Clark said during a teleconference call from the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida. “This one is special just because of the reason that we were here in the beginning. We wanted to bring awareness and give a voice to the Black women that are often forgotten in this country. We are often overlooked and often unheard. This championship was for them and for us. To be able to come out here tonight and win this, it’s a championship for little Black girls and Black women across this country. I hope each and everyone one of them feel just as victorious in this moment as I do. Because you should. We see you. We hear you. We acknowledge you and your life matters. That is what this season was about. To be able to win a championship with that message and with that on our minds, it’s special and really historic. I’m so honored and so thankful to be a part of that.”
Next chapter for the Aces
It is worth noting that the Aces were without former MVP candidate, Liz Cambage, and their starting point guard Kelsey Plum. Cambage decided to forgo the WNBA season after coming down with what she believed was COVID-19 while playing in China. Plum tore her Achilles during the offseason.
The two starters combined for an average of 40 ppg and a usage of 48.4%.
Aside from the stat line, the presence of Liz Cambage forces teams to double down on the block. Standing at 6’9, Cambage is able to kick the ball out of the block when doubled, often finding Wilson at the high post and short corner, as well as shooters on the perimeter — a trait that makes Aces’ guard Kayla McBride’s game much easier.
That, along with her passing capabilities, makes Cambage a gifted scorer. She holds the record for most points scored in a WNBA game at 53 points. Wilson, the league reigning regular season MVP, and Cambage are a lethal duo on the offensive end and defensive end.
Plum was just coming into her own this past WNBA season, posting her best numbers in the 2019 season. Plum flourishes in the pick and roll, particularly with Wilson, and is a reliable three-point shooter, something that was missing for the Aces this season.
Plum and Cambage are the missing puzzle pieces that make McBride and Wilson even better. Add in Angel McCoughtry, who hasn’t gotten the chance to lace up with Cambage or Plum, and the Aces have a very good basketball team.
This year’s Aces team overachieved, and next year should be only better.