WNBA's Seattle Storm ends city's trophy famine

Maybe the whole city wasn't watching, but a sold-out stadium showed up to collect Seattle's third professional championship.

Since April, by about the third week of the baseball season, this city's sports pages had been dominated by news, mostly bad, of the Seattle Mariners.

Though it took more than 20 years, the people here came to love their baseball club, and its unexpected failure this season left fans in agony. So complete was everyone's focus on the team's descent into the Western Division's cellar that residents were practically blindsided by a steamrolling basketball team that brought the city its first professional sports championship in 25 years.

Tuesday night the Seattle Storm won the Women's National Basketball Association Championship, outscrapping the Connecticut Sun, 74-60. The victory also awarded coach Anne Donovan the distinction of becoming the first female coach to win a WNBA title.

In 1979, the Seattle SuperSonics won the NBA Championship. Between then and now, the Mariners, the NFL Seahawks, even the Sonics again came close - but never brought home a trophy. How odd then that a major-market professional sports team - in only its fifth season - blitzing relentlessly toward victory, went almost unnoticed.

An hour before tip-off and three blocks north of Key Arena in T.S. Hugh's sports bar, Gabriel Newton sat groaning. On the television, the Yankee's Mike Mussina had just dispatched the first three hitters in the Boston Red Sox lineup. Mr. Newton had tickets to the Storm-Sun Championship game, and had plans to meet his girlfriend there, but the Seattle native had hurried to be with his first love.

"I think it would be remiss for me to miss this basketball game, but my heart really is here," he said, pointing to his Red Sox baseball hat.

Nearby, Eric Mangelsen watched as the Yankees scored their first two runs; he had no tickets to the basketball game but knew Seattle was playing for the title. What would it take for Mr. Mangelsen to follow women's basketball? He smiled, and said it would depend on whether the team won. "This is Seattle. We're fair-weather fans."

Maybe Mangelsen. But not the several thousand Storm season-ticket holders, for whom win-loss records have little to do with their passion for the team. Many rattle off player names and statistics with as much rigor as any zealot in the hot-stove leagues. Yet the followers are different from typical NBA fans. At season games, perhaps 70 percent are female. Many are young boys and girls. Affordable ticket prices mean families can buy the good seats.

Season-ticket holders Py Bateman and Glenda West met before Tuesday's game at a Mexican restaurant. Though neither says so directly, the possibility of a Storm championship seems to represent a chance for respect and recognition.

"When I go home from a game and stay up to watch the TV news, I never know which station is going to give us good coverage - or any coverage." says Ms. Bateman.

Ms. West was particularly outraged Friday when ESPN preempted broadcast of the championship series to show the Yankees-Minnesota Twins game, continuing the basketball broadcast only in the Connecticut and Seattle markets.

"Here you've got professional women playing for the championship and they go to the Yankees game?" says Ms. West.

Some 17,000 fans packed the sold out Key Arena Tuesday. One of these was Dwight Pelz, a King County Council member and a former youth basketball coach. Like others, Mr. Pelz was wild with enthusiasm as the Storm built a 12-point lead, then let it dwindle to 1 at halftime.

"You get just as excited about this as you do men's basketball, don't you? It's amazing," he shouted above the cacophony.

The Storm's Betty Lennox slipped past two defenders for a lay-up, then hit a three-pointer. The outcome of this game - and Seattle's claim to the trophy - was secure before the clock ran out.

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