Jackson, Bird make Storm near perfect
In Seattle, they don’t take their sports for granted. In the case of the Seattle Storm, the superstars take nothing for granted, either.
Forward Lauren Jackson and point guard Sue Bird have been wowing fans in the Pacific Northwest and across the WNBA for nearly a decade. In their third year together, 2004, the Storm won a championship and seemed destined to become a dynasty.
But it took six long years for the team to win another postseason series.
The fans kept coming. The stars stayed together. Their reward has been an unbeaten 2010 at home.
“There is something gratifying about this year because in most cases, it’s harder to do it the second time, the third time, if you’re lucky enough, than it is the first,” Bird said. “The first, you get there, and at times you can forget how hard it was to get back. For us, it was hard to get back here.
“But this year we have a completely different roster. There’s really only three of us who were here in 2005, when we first lost in the first round after we won. The other girls don’t even know what we’re talking about half the time.”
But Seattle fans do. In an underrated sports city where the NFL’s loudest outdoor fans cheer, where fans flock to Safeco Field to witness what Ichiro Suzuki will do next, where the SuperSonics called home for two generations and the Sounders now draw the best crowds in MLS, fans always have made a place for the Storm.
Jackson, who won a third MVP award this season, has felt the love since long before the Sonics left for Oklahoma City two years ago.
“We’ve always had a really good support network in Seattle,” Jackson said. “The season-ticket holders and the fans who come to every single game, they’ve always been there. The more success that we’ve had during the season, the more people want to come and be a part of it, which I think is great.
“The more awareness they have about women’s basketball, the better. It is a really great sport, and in Seattle we’re really fortunate to be in a community where they acknowledge that.”
This season, the Storm have made it look easy. Their 28 wins tied a league record and nearly doubled the West runner-up, the two-time champion Phoenix Mercury. Throw in the four postseason home games, and Seattle went 21-0 at KeyArena.
Bird insists such dominance isn’t as routine as it looks.
“Especially in this league, as competitive as it is, you can’t anticipate getting to the Finals,” Bird said. “We’re just a team that was pretty much relentless. A lot of games, we’ve been down and we’ve had to come back.”
That never was more apparent than in Seattle’s past two games. Bird’s late 3-pointer broke a tie and capped a 15-0 game-closing run that finished off the Mercury in the conference finals, and her straightaway jumper – aided by a Jackson screen – snapped a late tie in Game 1 against the Dream.
Despite Bird’s penchant for late-game heroics, she credits Jackson as the force behind the Storm’s success.
“The things Lauren does at 6-5, I don’t think you find anybody in the world doing those things,” Bird said. “She’s our go-to player. She’s definitely the franchise. I’ve also never met anybody as intense as her. When it comes game time, her game face is serious. We rally around her.”
The media agree. Jackson pocketed a third WNBA MVP award this year. She has carried Australia to three Olympic silver medals and is regarded by many as the world’s best player.
As for Bird? The league announced the all-WNBA teams Monday, and for the fifth straight year the first team did not include the former UConn standout.
Maybe the experts overlook her steadiness. Her longtime sidekick does not.
“I would never have achieved anything that I’ve achieved without her in the WNBA, that’s for sure,” Jackson said. “The success I’ve had and that the team’s had, it wouldn’t have been anything without her.
“I think she’s the best point guard in the league, in the world.”