The Storm’s All-Decade Team Ceremony: Are Storm Fans Really the Best in the WNBA?

. Sunday, August 2, 2009
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At the end of the Seattle Storm’s 10th anniversary All-Decade Team ceremony at halftime of their 85-82 overtime victory last night, an oversized #6 Storm jersey was raised to the rafters of Key Arena in honor of the Storm’s dedicated fans, complete with a triumphant score that seemed to accentuate the significance of the moment.

As the jersey was halfway to its permanent place above the court, the woman next to me – tears streaming down her face – looked over and said in a pleasantly derisive tone, “Well, the music is a bit much.”

However, it’s hard to do too much for a group of fans who seem to put 110% of their energy into the Storm every night they show up. And that dedication, exuberance, and passion for their team has led people in Key Arena to claim repeatedly that Seattle’s fans are the best in the WNBA.

“Raising the banner there for the fans, I mean, that’s very worthy,” said Storm coach Brian Agler after the game. “You know, because we have probably the best fans in the league. I’ve been to all of the arenas, I’ve coached in four or five different places and there’s no comparison. No comparison.”
“No comparison”? Whoa – dem’s fightin’ words!

And therein lies a challenge to the WNBA fans in the other 12 cities across the U.S.:

Where you at?

I mean, seriously…are you gonna take that?

If you believe what people in Key Arena say, the fans in the rest of the league are straight-up slackin’.

But the thing is, I don’t think this is just a matter of a coach, owner, players, past-players, and announcers laying platitudes on the fans who pay the bills. I haven’t been to every arena in the league as Agler has, but I have to say that Storm games are by far one of the best sporting events I’ve ever been to in the U.S. (see Transition Points for my top 5). And the fans are a big part of it.

I’ve said repeatedly that I’m not a “Storm fan” per se in that I'm not particularly emotionally invested in whether they win or lose... but it’s hard to be in that building and not get caught up in the exciting narrative they’re putting together this year. And it doesn’t hurt to have someone next to you to bring you into the rich historical narrative that’s being celebrated this season.

As an “outsider”, I can appreciate good basketball. I can appreciate that Storm forward Lauren Jackson and Storm guard Sue Bird are among the best in the world at their respective positions. And yes, I can appreciate the statistics during the game.

However, during both the ceremony and the presentation of the 4th installment of the Storm history documentary, the woman next to me (we’ll call her “D”) tried to help me appreciate Storm basketball on a level of depth that goes beyond individual performance, statistics, and an exuberant crowd. And having someone there to contextualize where the Storm are now within a longer historical trajectory helped me gain a deeper appreciation for the entire 10th anniversary celebration.

During the presentation of the documentary on Storm Vision at the end of the first quarter, she described what it was like to be at the games in Key Arena as every game came down to the wire. “Every single game almost made my heart stop,” she commented. “So in the end, when we won, it was just a huge relief.”

During the halftime ceremony, as tears started rolling down her face, she talked a little about Simone Edwards’ shimmy shake and how much she loved Kamila Vodichkova.

I guess even as I’m writing this I’m realizing that my words aren’t really capturing the magic of the moment and the excitement in her voice that seemed just oozed with passion for her Seattle Storm. This was a woman that I’ve only met 2-3 times previously and there she was in tears as she relived her experience as a Storm fan over the last ten years. On a human level, there was something special happening for her at that moment and it was quite moving, even for someone who really hadn’t had the same set of experiences to draw upon.

There are plenty of devout fans in sports across the U.S. but there’s something different about the way Seattle fans engage their Storm. In Key Arena, the passion for their team rarely manifests itself in the form of hostility for the opposing team. Rarely do I hear people deriding their own players. Perhaps it’s just that people direct so much hostility toward the referees that there just isn’t any leftover to direct at players.

But the atmosphere in Key Arena seems to be more of a “love-will-never-do-without-you” relationship than “what-have-you-done-for-me-lately”. Perhaps not unconditional love, but definitely a supportive and inspired relationship in which the fans are willing to take the risk of putting their all into the team, even at the risk of disappointment in the end. Storm fans just care about their team in a different way than any other pro sports environment I’ve been around.

What’s ironic about the whole thing is that Seattle is known among "outsiders" for the Seattle Freeze phenomenon – a social atmosphere in which people are warm on the surface, but ultimately never get beyond surface level politeness, which can create a sense of isolation among outsiders. But maybe that isn’t really that ironic – nobody really gets “close” to the professional athletes they root for; they know them from a distance and don’t necessarily have to engage the human flaws that might emerge during the course of a real relationship. Maybe the fervor for the Storm is yet another manifestation of this broader phenomenon rather than a diversion from it.

Either way, basketball in Key Arena is something special. And if you live anywhere near Seattle and haven’t yet been, it’s worth it… just because it is among the most unique sporting experiences in the country.

Perhaps my reaction to the whole thing is “a bit much.”

But it’s hard to believe that when you see the stranger next to you tearing up and expressing something she’s passionate about.

Relevant Links:

Storm’s Fans Invaluable the Last 10 Years

Storm marks 10th anniversary

Transition Points:

Here are my top 5 favorite U.S. sporting events/venues (no event can match even the lowest levels of “soccer”/football elsewhere in the world):

1. University of Michigan men’s ice hockey @ Yost Arena
2. Seattle Sounders FC soccer at Quest Field
3. University of Michigan football @ “The Big House
4. Seattle Storm basketball @ Key Arena
5. American University women’s basketball @ Bender Arena (ok, this is a sentimental pick, but I saw Ticha Penicheiro play there in 1997-98 and that was great)

Other candidates: Detroit Pistons basketball, DC United soccer, Oakland A's baseball, San Francisco Giants baseball (at "Pac Bell", not necessarily Candlestick).