by Maggie Mertens
I hadn’t actually seen Climate Pledge Arena (CPA) until the first Storm preseason game at the end of April. I used to live in Lower Queen Anne and was used to the “old” Key Arena: dark, cavernous, sterile, and cold from the outside.
Sue Bird was used to it, too.
The first time she walked into CPA for a Kraken game, “there was a little part of me that was sad,” she said. Sad because Key Arena had been Bird’s home court since she was drafted into the WNBA two decades ago.
But then, Bird told me during an interview, “once I walked around … I realized we had the best arena in the country.”
And, truly, it doesn’t take long to come to this conclusion. What used to be a hulking concrete slab in the middle of Seattle Center is now an airy, glass-walled beacon to basketball fans. As we were all told when the plans for this arena were announced in June 2017, the Storm is the flagship team for this arena. Those in charge haven’t always acted like it, but this season gives the Storm the chance to prove they are the headliners of Seattle’s sports scene.
The fans who showed up for the first preseason game to cheer on the most successful sports team in Seattle’s history. They felt it, too: the momentousness of this season.
For some, the new arena was an inspiration to finally jump on season tickets for our WNBA team. Cindy Jo Garrett and her wife, Charlie Spencer, bought season tickets to the Storm for the first time this year.
“We couldn’t pass it up in the Climate Pledge,” Garett told me on their way into the game.
The couple attended games in Everett last year while the arena was being renovated and were in the stands when chants of “one more year,” directed at Bird, broke out. The Storm’s season had just ended abruptly after a loss to the Phoenix Mercury in a one-game playoff while Breanna Stewart was out with an injury, and it was as though the entire basketball world collectively realized this might have been the last time we saw one of the greatest to ever play the game on the court.
By January, however, Bird had announced her decision to return (thanks in part to those fan chants).
Jewell Loyd, a free agent this year, had been noncommittal when it came to declaring whether she would stay in Seattle. By mid-month, the Storm designated Loyd a “core player,” automatically securing her return to Seattle for at least a year. She ended up signing on for two. Finally, Stewart put fans on edge by reminding everyone she was a free agent, too, and reportedly met with the New York Liberty before signing a one-year supermax deal with Seattle.
Even though the band is back together, so to speak, the teams’ main attractions reminded all of us just how special it is to have The Big Three playing in yellow and green, likely for the very last time. Bird is 41. Stewart signed a one-year deal (and there was that meeting with the Liberty). And Loyd, a shooting guard with a killer offensive and defensive game, will certainly be a hot commodity on the WNBA free agency market in two years.
That fact just adds to the excitement for what this current Storm roster could bring to Seattle — ideally a fifth championship — for some fans. Kevin Tshilombo, 24, entered Climate Pledge Arena sporting an Ezi Magbegor jersey, the Storm’s 22-year-old Australian center who revealed herself to be a rising star over the past two seasons with Seattle.
Tshilombo says he’s always been a basketball fan, and when the Sonics left in 2008, he didn’t have to think twice about whether to follow the Storm closely.
“It’s still basketball, and I love it,” he said.
He hopes other jilted Sonics fans can get on board with the Storm, especially now that they have an arena befitting their success.
“Basketball never left Seattle,” he said. “Now we got a home.”
For South Seattle resident Megan Knight, getting to Storm games while they were away from Key Arena the last few years during the renovation was tough.
“We hardly made it,” she told me. So she’s thrilled they’re back in Seattle Center. And, she says the beautiful, world-class arena is a home worth waiting for. “I mean, they’re the most successful team in the city, right? Like by a lot. So they deserve the best that we have. And this is it.”
Walking around Climate Pledge Arena, the cherry blossoms at Seattle Center in bloom, I couldn’t help but feel a thrill of excitement in the air before that preseason game. Basketball is back. The city has finally built our champions an arena they deserve. I can’t wait to see how Seattle shows up for them Friday at the Storm’s home opener against the Minnesota Lynx and for the rest of what is sure to be an historic season.
Maggie Mertens is a Seattle-based writer who covers the intersection of gender, sport, and culture. Her work has appeared in The Atlantic, espnW, Glamour, VICE, and other publications.
Featured image: Climate Pledge Arena floor prepped for the Storm’s season opener. (Photo: Jeff Scott Shaw)
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