It should come as absolutely no surprise that Seattle Storm coach Brian Agler was pragmatic in his approach to the team's final appearance in KeyArena in front of the fans who have shown them unconditional love all season.
Rather than taking the Pat Riley approach of burdening his players with the promise of repeat, Agler explained to Storm fans in no uncertain terms what a repeat would require.
Previewing the work he had to do this off-season, he asked each of the key free agents he had to re-sign to stand up individually and let them hear how much the crowd wants them back, starting with All-Star unrestricted free agent Swin Cash.
"Let Swin know how much we want her in Seattle," said Agler, with the crowd of approximately 5000 fans showing as much exuberance as they had all season long in chanting ‘We want Swin!'
"Maybe you can save me a trip to Europe," said Agler, referring to key reserve and unrestricted free agent Svetlana Abrosimova. "Svetlana, stand up. Let Svetlana know how much you want her in Seattle."
After a humbled Abrosimova stood up and accepted her recognition, he moved on to a player who was arguably the x-factor throughout the WNBA Finals.
"You might save me a trip to Spain if you help me right now," said Agler of reserved free agent Jana Vesela.*
"Let Camille Little know how much you want her back," said Agler of restricted free agent Camille Little.
After Little, he moved to introduce his next unrestricted free agent as someone who has shown improvement over the course of the season, has been a glue player off the floor, and done things for the team that don't necessarily show up in the statistics.
"Let Ashley Robinson know," said Agler with the crowd jumping the gun a bit, having caught on to the pattern.
After such a dominant season, fans probably didn't need much encouragement to start thinking about what it takes to repeat. It's a unit that peaked around mid-season when most other teams were still trying to figure out their identity and ultimately coasted to a championship only incurring a few road losses while resting starters for the playoff run. For those that required numbers to put the season in perspective, play-by-play announcer Dick Fain gave a brief rundown.
21-0 at KeyArena. 10-0 to finish the season. An undefeated 7-0 through the playoffs, which Fain said was the best in sports since the 1976 Cincinnati Reds. The highest winning percentage in Seattle professional sports history.
Witnessing greatness of the magnitude that Seattle fans witnessed this season should be considered nothing less than a privilege, if not because it was a fun ride then because seasons like this don't come along often. They've maintained all season that it's hard to appreciate one's legacy when you're immersed in it. That could easily be true for fans as well who have come to expect seeing the Storm win in KeyArena.
But this season was particularly special. The Storm didn't just go undefeated at home. They repeatedly built upon that home court advantage by overcoming all sorts of deficits and challenging circumstances. The fact that you felt they would win regardless of the circumstances is what defines their greatness. Even if U.S. professional sports has seen plenty of talented teams, what has made this team great is that they are the most resilient unit in recent sports history. At some point through nearly 20 two possession games this season, one would assume that they'd lose more than one. That they didn't almost defies laws of probability.
After all that, a ceremony almost seems counterproductive, even if the team won their championship on the road depriving fans of their opportunity to cheer their team on in person. The skies rained on the Storm's parade of Subaru hatchbacks. The crowd sat in KeyArena for about 30 minutes after the parade before the players as well as state and local politicians filed onto the court.
The players looked exhausted, if not from the travel over the past few days, from the emotional exhaustion of winning an intense WNBA Finals series, even if it was a sweep. Through all the ceremonial proclamations of making September 17 "Seattle Storm Day" for all citizens in the state - and first-term Mayor Mike McGinn attempting to one-up everyone by proclaiming this "Storm season" - it started to seem that the ceremony would fall short of something befitting an historically good season. It's why I am normally reluctant to even attend these ceremonies: they often seem to be a form of detached appreciation, completely distinct for the rich experience that supposedly demanded a public display of affection to begin with.
But once things really got going, it truly did become what every ceremony of this nature.
There was a bit of nostalgia replaying footage from the historic 111-65 beating of the Tulsa Shock. There were occasionally reluctant final words from each of the rotation players. There was the dramatic effect of confetti falling from the rafters after they played the final moments of Game 3 in Atlanta, giving fans an opportunity to experience the championship moment that they had missed. There were autographed t-shirts thrown into the seats and photo opportunities with the trophy. Agler made good on his promise to do the Stany Legg at mid-court for one last time with his team.
Sitting in KeyArena last night legitimately unworried about the opponent - as the Storm have insisted they've done all season - fans got an opportunity to relive the greatest aspects of a great season however they saw fit. There was almost every point of resonance one could imagine, short of promising fans that they'd give us the same ride next season. Everyone walked away with something.
Yet when you start talking about what legacy this team will leave, there's a strange way of skewing the details and blurring the lines of what happened to bring into focus what makes a phenomenon particularly unique. The brief moment that I took away from last night will probably be footage they showed of Lauren Jackson in Game One of the Western Conference Finals against the Phoenix Mercury.
It wasn't more than 15 seconds of footage of Jackson, one of those turnaround mid-range jumpers that she pulls off almost nonchalantly followed by her pump-faking a shot from the three point line and calmly taking a dribble to the left to avoid the defender flying at her to stick a three. You just don't ever see skills like that from a "post player".
Someone once asked why she keeps taking so many of those turnaround jumpers when she would probably be more efficient just posting up and dominating players on the block. But why quibble? She makes fading turnaround jumpers over double teams look easy. Why stop?
Someone mentioned to me yesterday afternoon that he wouldn't have believed in 2008 with Candace Parker entering the league -- the primary reason I even began following the WNBA again -- that we would ever see a player better than her again. I don't think he's alone in that and it begins to frame the magnitude of Jackson's talent for those who don't follow the league closely.
For all my appreciation of team basketball and the dynamics and structure of units, what I will ultimately remember most about this season is having the opportunity to not only watch Jackson, but also listen to her constantly downplay the fact that she is the best player in the world. She's the type of player that you brag about having seen in person.
Basketball will never see another player like her and the risk of embellishing her individual greatness is mitigated by the fact that she routinely does things that make you shake your head even as you watch the ceremonial video with her sitting there. No matter how much she defers to her teammates as the reason this team was so great, it's hard to imagine that history won't look upon Jackson as the most prominent, if not defining, feature of this team. Fair or unfair, it's how legacies work.
That's why I'm honored that I got to experience this season first-hand - from pre-season practices to biding time in the mid-season in anticipation of the playoffs to the Finals -- in its entirety.
Something this great deserves some time to reflect upon before looking ahead. So having attained his goal for this season and gotten a little help from his friends in the crowd, that's exactly what a beaming Agler said he would do in preparation for a repeat.
"What it takes is for me to not worry about it for a while," said Agler, who smiled more last night than he had over the course of the season in its entirety. "Like I said, we like our team. I'm not saying we won't try to improve in some areas - we will probably try to do that and you're always looking for good players - but we like the chemistry we have and we think we have a real solid team."
*Correction 6:15 pm PST on 9/18/10: Earlier this piece suggested that Agler was referring to Camille Little as the player who would be in Spain. That should have been Jana Vesela. Camille Little has no overseas destination at this point.
For more, see SBN Seattle: Titles Are Titles: Seattle Teams Could Learn From The Storm.