Sue Bird, Michael Jordan & the New Seattle Sports Paradigm"/>
It's a rare thing in sport when a crowd emits a high-pitched squeal of the sort heard at a Justin Bieber concert. This happened during the Seattle Storm's thrilling victory over the Atlanta Dream in the 2010 WNBA Finals' inaugural game Sunday afternoon--during the national anthem, multiple times. Pat Wright delivered a fine rendition, to be sure, but the KeyArena crowd was simply warming up its pipes in hopes of living up to its reputation as the rowdiest venue in the league. They delivered, and so did the Storm--Sue Bird in particular.
With the score knotted at 77 with 20 seconds to play, Bird dribbled the clock down to single digits near center court as Lauren Jackson positioned for a screen-and-roll scenario at the top of the key. When Bird reached her, Jackson seemed to swallow both defenders whole as Bird crossed over and nailed an 18-foot jumper with two-and-a-half seconds left, holding the follow-through for a Polaroid moment reminiscent of Michael Jordan's final shot in the 1998 NBA Finals. Such clutch shots have become old hat for the Storm point guard, who's recently drawn comparisons to Robert Horry, an otherwise pedestrian NBA power forward whose bloodstream seemed to be laden with Beta blockers come crunch time.
As with any Storm game, the crowd--15,000 strong--was dominated by women and children. But also in the house were several serious male ballers: Fred Brown, Bill Russell, Lenny Wilkens, Jeff Green, Jamal Crawford and Nate Robinson, who sat courtside and frequently joined the Storm's mascot, Doppler, to entertain the crowd during breaks in the action. Specifically, the presence of Brown, a member of the woebegone Sonics' lone championship team, injected a tinge of melancholy into the emotions of any former Supes fans in attendance, made all the more poignant by the raucous atmosphere, which served as a reminder that if the NBA embraced the likes of smaller, quirkier venues KeyArena, it could have been the league's Wrigley Field.
But by the time Bird's game-winner dropped through the net, it was really time to move on. In the Sonics' wake, the Storm and soccer's Sounders have captured the city's imagination in a more intellectually reconcilable way than the megabucks NBA ever could have. When Seattle looks in a mirror, it would prefer to get a gander at a worldly, scarfed Anglophile who slaps five with and fights for the rights of lesbians and their adoptive sons. In the Storm and Sounders, it's found a perfect pair, earning an unlikely reputation as a formidable 21st Century sports town almost in spite of itself.