Essays — November 7, 2018 18:25 — 0 Comments

A Changing Of The Guards

Below is a story that appeared in Alaska Beyond Magazine in May 2018

In the final home game of the 2017 season, the WNBA Seattle Storm caught a promising glimpse of its future. Although the Storm lost that game to the Phoenix Mercury, the Storm’s young star guard, Jewell Loyd, scored a career-high 33 points and raised many eyebrows, including those belonging to teammate and shoo-in Hall of Fame point guard Sue Bird.

“Jewell had an epic game that night,” recalls Bird, a two-time WNBA champion and the league’s all-time assists leader. “There were times when she had these moves that left the crowd shaking their heads,” Bird says, indicating that she was equally amazed and excited: “I was like, ‘Whooo!’ ”

The Storm finished with a 15–19 record last year and made it to the first round of the playoffs. And the team’s 2018 prospects are bright. With a core group that features three outstanding players—the veteran Bird, and young stars Loyd and forward Breanna Stewart—the team’s foundation is as good as any. This year, the franchise has a new coach, Dan Hughes, and other new players to bolster the front line. Yet the Storm’s chemistry, which begins with Bird, is perhaps their greatest asset.

“Sue is a calming influence for everyone,” says Loyd. “We could be up five or down 10 in the third quarter, and Sue is the same. We’re like: ‘Oh, Sue’s good? Then we’re good.’ ”

Bird’s leadership, says Loyd, goes beyond giving directions and keeping an even temperament between the lines. “Two years ago, Sue got everyone on the team a T-shirt that said, ‘Squad Goals,’ and had the Golden Girls on the front,” says Loyd of the shirt that drew on a meme to suggest a tight-knit group to aspire to. “I don’t know any other teammate who’d do that! Now, it’s like our off-court jersey.”

Bird, who was drafted No. 1 by the Storm in 2002, hasn’t set a retirement date, but the other players know time is limited to help her be a champion again. “We always try to get better,” says Loyd, who averaged a solid 17.7 points per game last year. “I need to work harder, so Sue’s job is easier.”

Loyd, herself a No. 1 draft pick, in 2015, remembers how Bird helped her get settled in Seattle: “Sue taught me everything,” Loyd says. “From where to get groceries to how to hook up Wi-Fi. Without her, I’d be a full mess.”

Bird, who has spent her entire professional career in the Emerald City, believes that building trust between teammates is supremely important. “Right off the bat, I’m big on giving any player the benefit of the doubt,” she says. “As things happen, we can work the kinks out from there.”

There may be very few kinks this season. With Bird at the helm, Loyd on the wing and Stewart driving the lane, the Storm may regain the winning ways to make a deep run.

“I’m constantly talking to Jewell and Breanna, making sure they understand what this team is built on,” Bird says. “We are a championship franchise. We’ve won twice. I want to make sure they are never satisfied with anything else.”

Alaska Airlines is a sponsor of the Seattle Storm, which starts its season this month. Visit stormbasketball.com.

Bio:

Jake Uitti is a founding editor of The Monarch Review.

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