By Matthew Roberson
The city of Seattle has been a pillar of the WNBA since the Storm’s inception in 2000. In those 17 years, the city has played home to two WNBA champions, three Rookie of the Year honorees and countless exciting moments on the KeyArena hardwood. The one thing the city was lacking – at least until Saturday – was a WNBA All-Star Game.
After nearly two decades of waiting, the Emerald City did not disappoint in its first hosting duties. Basketball legends Bill Russell and Lenny Wilkens, Tacoma native and former Washington Husky Isaiah Thomas, Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman as well as thousands of fired up fans were in the building to witness the West beat the East by a final score of 130-121.
Of course, having 15-year Storm veteran Sue Bird headlining the West team certainly added to the already frenzied environment that is typical of games in the Pacific Northwest. For Bird, the All-Star festivities elicited feelings both old and new. Sitting in the Western Conference locker room for the 10th time, Bird reflected on playing in the game for the first time on her home court.
“The community just loves basketball,” Bird said. “They’re true basketball fans, and it’s only right that they get to see the best play.”
Off the court, Bird had served as the de facto ambassador to Seattle during the weekend. On the court, her performance did not disappoint. Seattle’s beloved point guard finished with eight points and an All-Star league record 11 assists, captivating fans by putting her trademark flair on some of the flashier dimes of the afternoon.
While the motions and energy of the All-Star Game have become old hat for Bird, being able to put on a show for her devoted supporters, many of whom were taking in their first All-Star Game, is something Bird says she’ll cherish for life.
“I’m not even going to sugarcoat it,” Bird said. “This one is definitely going to be the most memorable. The city’s been amazing. The Storm did a great job. The game went well, I’ve got no complaints.”
Apart from starting in the game, Bird was pegged as one of five sharpshooters to compete in the Three-Point Contest during halftime. A 38.6 percent career shooter from downtown, and fourth in WNBA history in three pointers, Bird didn’t make it past the first round of the contest. Allie Quigley of the Chicago Sky won the event, and in turn $10,000 for the Patrick Quigley Memorial Scholarship fund.
Breanna Stewart, Seattle’s other representative on the West roster, showed fans and opponents alike why she is worthy of a spot amongst the league’s elite. The second-year forward, sporting an All-Star jersey for the first time, came off the bench to notch nine points and six rebounds in 18 minutes. Stewart had been one of the most involved players in the series of events leading up to Saturday’s game.
She attended the Seattle Mariners game on Thursday and took the field with a handful of her peers, receiving a warm ovation from the Safeco Field crowd. She climbed atop the Space Needle on Friday morning alongside fellow All-Stars, WNBA President Lisa Borders and others to raise a WNBA flag high above the city. She shared the orange carpet later that night at Chihuly Garden and Glass, greeting the public and getting a chance to interact with the other All-Stars in a swanky, social setting.
When it came time to hit the court on Saturday, Stewart said that she was just trying to enjoy herself.
“It was fun getting the opportunity to play with players that we don’t normally get to and competing against the best,” Stewart said. “We’re just here to celebrate our successes and how hard we’ve all worked this season. You don’t want to go too crazy because we still have to get back to our jobs.”
Stewart teamed up with Bird to provide one of the more memorable moments of the game, albeit one that left Stewart a little embarrassed. In the second quarter, Bird razzled and dazzled her way through the East defense with some behind the back dribbles. She looked left and passed right, hitting Stewart right underneath the basket for what looked like a picturesque assist to add to Bird’s highlight reel. Instead, Stewart flubbed the layup, causing fans to erupt in laughter and Bird to stand incredulously, arms crossed, staring at her Storm sister who just failed to place the cherry atop the proverbial sundae.
“She first said, ‘When I catch my breath I have some words for you’,” Stewart said of her teammate’s reaction. “She was just joking around obviously. It was a great pass, and I messed it up.”
Aside from the local stars with the Storm, other marquee names shone in their showcase for the Seattle fans. Jonquel Jones had 24 points for the East, and Nneka Ogwumike led all reserves, shooting her way to 22 points.
The first half was characterized by high scoring and three pointers. Both teams scored 64 points and combined to shoot 40 percent (20-for-50) from deep. The free-flowing, offensive-minded nature continued into the second half. The first free throws were not attempted until the end of the third quarter, and the West had eclipsed 90 points with 10 minutes still left to play. Jones provided a punctuation mark for the afternoon by slamming home a dunk as time ticked away in the fourth quarter.
The West maintained a comfortable lead for most of the second half en route to the victory. Maya Moore took home the Most Valuable Player trophy after posting 23 points and hitting five three pointers. After the game, both Storm players shared their thoughts on the game.
“From a city standpoint, it’s a beautiful city,” Bird said. “The city supports basketball. They did their job out there in the stadium today. It was amazing, really couldn’t have asked for more in terms of the entire weekend, in terms of the fan support we got out there. It really just felt good. You feel like you’re representing the fans, and to hear them cheer you on right back is awesome.”
“It was great and I think everyone involved in this weekend did an amazing job, from the event on Thursday to this game, and everything in between,” Stewart said. “It was really well prepared and really well set up. Hopefully All-Star Weekend will be back in Seattle”
While the result of the game ultimately does not matter, fans and players alike will tell you that the 2017 WNBA All-Star Game was a rousing success, marked by fun and excitement as well as an outpour of support from one of the league’s most vibrant cities.