Surrounded by green and yellow confetti, Seattle Storm guard Jewell Loyd looked overjoyed on Tuesday night. Her team had just finished a 92-59 demolition of the Las Vegas Aces to sweep the WNBA Finals and close out this unorthodox wubble season as champions. But the moment was still bittersweet. “This year has been a lot for me,” Loyd said, fighting through tears. “This is for Kobe, Gigi, and the Bryant family, and for Breonna Taylor.”
Even in a moment when the “Gold Mamba” was supposed to be celebrating this monumental accomplishment, she couldn’t help but be reminded of this emotionally taxing year: the tragic loss of her mentor; the outcries around the country from the Black Lives Matter movement; the WNBA dedicating its season to Breonna Taylor and the Say Her Name campaign; a global pandemic forcing this season to be played in a secluded campus in Bradenton, Florida. It’s been … a lot.
But for now, the Storm can take a deep sigh of relief. “There’s plenty of alcohol in the bubble,” Breanna Stewart said in a postgame interview, donning Nike goggles and sipping champagne straight from the bottle. “That’s how we’re going to celebrate.”
After Tuesday’s victory, the Seattle Storm have entered rarefied air. The group will join the Houston Comets and Minnesota Lynx as the only WNBA franchises with four championships; and, with sweeps of both the Lynx and the Aces under their belts, they became the first team to go undefeated in the playoffs since 2013.
But Seattle’s in-sync play didn’t start in the postseason; the Storm have been putting on a clinic since Day 1. They got off to a blazing-hot start this season, opening with an 11-1 record and then soon after going on a seven-game win streak. Out of their 18 regular-season wins, Seattle won 13 by 10 or more points.
Then, once the playoffs began, the calculus became pretty simple: The Storm had Breanna Stewart, and the other teams did not. Stewart was basically synonymous with a cheat code throughout the playoffs, averaging 25.7 points and four assists per game, which included her 37-point human-highlight-reel performance in Game 1 of the Finals. (By the way, she’s also scored at least 20 points in her past six Finals games, the longest streak in WNBA Finals history.)
This run from Stewart looks especially ridiculous when you remember what the past 18 months have looked like for the 26-year-old:
- Ruptured her Achilles while playing in Russia in April 2019
- Rehabbed said Achilles
- Missed the 2019 WNBA season (the Storm went 18-16 without her)
- Played the 2020 WNBA season
- Averaged 19.7 points and 8.3 rebounds per game in the regular season
- Came in second in MVP voting
- Won the 2020 WNBA championship
- Won Finals MVP
I am also 26 years old. The standout from my past 18 months was finding a $5 bill on the sidewalk. Stewart is a once-in-a-generation player who diffused any naysayers with this impressive comeback tour. And what if this is only the beginning? An MVP award, two rings, and two Finals MVPs in four seasons is an incredible feat. It’s getting harder to imagine a world where she doesn’t finish her career as the most decorated player of all time.
Before that’s etched in stone, though, Sue Bird would like a word. A week before her 40th birthday, Bird earned her fourth WNBA championship, 16 years after getting her first. Remember when Aaliyah sang the words, “Age ain’t nothin’ but a number”? Well, Bird exemplified that perfectly in these playoffs—she tallied 16 assists in Game 1, breaking the Finals record. She’s still breaking records in her 17th season, people!
Someone who wishes Bird would share that fountain of youth is Aces guard Angel McCoughtry. In her 11th season, McCoughtry showed spurts of her vintage Atlanta Dream days, but it wasn’t enough to make this a series. Tuesday’s loss brought McCoughtry’s career Finals record to 0-12, a stubborn stain on an overall untainted legacy. Fans could see the frustration brewing for McCoughtry in Game 3 as she went only 2-for-7 from the field. Her early foul trouble didn’t allow her to get into a real rhythm offensively, and the Aces suffered while she was glued to the bench.
But the Aces struggled pretty mightily overall against the Storm. The first two games resulted in 13-point losses, while Game 3 finished in a deflating 33-point blowout. Las Vegas became careless with the ball—a constant theme throughout the Finals—and frankly didn’t give the season’s MVP enough touches. A’ja Wilson erupted for 14 points in the first quarter but had [checks notes] four points for the rest of the game. Seattle played excellent defense in this series, but if you’re Las Vegas, that’s unacceptable. On the bright side, this was only Wilson’s third year in the WNBA, and she’s already been Rookie of the Year, a two-time All-Star, league MVP, and made it to the Finals. If this battle between Stewart and Wilson is an indicator of the next 15 years of the league, I’m sold.
Next season, the Aces will try to run it back with a full squad, featuring a healthy Liz Cambage, Kelsey Plum, and Dearica Hamby. But, like the other 11 teams around the league, they will have to once again go through this dominant Storm roster. The majority of Seattle’s team is extended for at least another season, with the exception of one pretty important member. When Bird was asked whether she was going to return to try to compete for the Storm’s third championship in four years (and her fifth overall), she said she’s “cautiously optimistic,” but she’ll have to wait to see how training goes.
In the meantime, let’s allow her to savor this moment. After WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert officially named the Storm champions, confetti completely engulfed our TV screens. If you squinted through the raining slits of paper, you could witness Seattle hoisting up the silver trophy in triumph over all the adversity that stood in its way this year. The amount of sacrifice that went into putting his season together was monumental, and basketball fans should be forever grateful. Now, there’s just about 230 days until the estimated 2021 season tip—but who’s counting?