The Seattle Storm came into 2020 with a mission to reclaim their perch atop the WNBA. They weren’t technically the defending champions, but they had been the league’s top team in their last season at full strength. With Breanna Stewart and Sue Bird both returning from injuries that caused them to miss all of 2019, the Storm expected to be champions once again.
But their path to a second title in three years wasn’t so simple. The coronavirus pandemic threatened to cancel the 2020 season before it even started, and then the deaths Breonna Taylor and other Black Americans at the hands of the police sparked a social justice movement that made basketball seem secondary at best.
So the players of the Seattle Storm and the WNBA at large did what they do best: they took control of the conversation regarding police brutality, specifically for Black women, and framed their 2020 season around social justice and the Say Her Name movement. Stewart, the league’s best player, suggested putting Black Lives Matter on the court itself. Not only did that come to fruition, but the players also wore Taylor’s name on their jerseys all season, an idea developed by Angel McCoughtry.
Playing during the pandemic meant that the Storm would be without head coach Dan Hughes, but otherwise, their entire roster made the trip to Bradenton to compete in the WNBA bubble and make a statement both on and off the court.
The basketball component of their mission was almost too easy. The season started with Seattle routing New York — led by no. 1 pick Sabrina Ionescu — on opening day and winning nine of their first 10 games by an average of 22.6 points. They capped off that stretch with a 41-point win over those same Liberty.
they just want a challenge lmfao pic.twitter.com/9XE9acAodE— Matt Ellentuck (@mellentuck) August 15, 2020
Stewart wasn’t at her MVP best, but that just meant she averaged 19.7 points and 8.3 rebounds per game — both top-10 marks — while still being a defensive menace; her defensive rating was second-best in the WNBA for 2020. Seattle also had the player with the best defensive rating in Natasha Howard, and the league leader in offensive rating in Alysha Clark, who happened to top the WNBA in true-shooting percentage. The Storm were so comfortably able to secure a first-round bye that Bird sat out half of the regular season to be in peak shape for the playoffs.
In addition to their dominant wins, the Storm found a way to sprinkle in some theatrics as well. They won what had to have been the game of the year over the Sparks in September on a Jewell Loyd 3-pointer with 0.8 seconds, the crowning highlight of their season to that point.
Seattle managed to top that moment in the WNBA semifinals with another buzzer-beater in Game 1, as the always-efficient Clark put back a miss by Sami Whitcomb to break a tie with Minnesota give the Storm the series lead. They went on to sweep the Lynx in the semifinals and the Aces in the Finals, winning each game by double digits and never trailing in the fourth quarter, culminating in a 33-point win in the decisive Game 3 to secure their title.
The Storm kept their foot on the gas off the court as well with their social justice advocacy throughout the season. Bird had a large hand in one of the loudest statements as the players organized to support Reverend Raphael Warnock in the Georgia Senate race, even wearing “Vote Warnock” shirts before a nationally-televised game featuring the Atlanta Dream, the team his opponent co-owns.
On the night they won the title, it came as little surprise that Clark was able to put their victory in the proper perspective:
“We had a bigger purpose this season coming out here, and so when our team collectively had the discussion about coming down here, we knew it was much bigger than us, and we knew it was much bigger than tonight. I really mean that when I say, I hope all the Black women in this country and all the little Black girls that dream to be something really special in this country, like I hope you feel victorious tonight because this season was dedicated to you.”
The wins kept coming for the Storm even once the season ended. Whitcomb, who left the bubble before the Finals to be with her pregnant partner, welcomed a healthy baby boy to her family. Bird got engaged to Megan Rapinoe, further cementing their status as sports’ power couple.
Time and again, the players of the Storm managed to turn the challenges of 2020 into opportunities to grow and to push forward. Stewie overcame the Achilles tear and ended the year as one of SI’s Sportspersons of the Year; Loyd played through the grief of losing her mentor and friend Kobe Bryant and channeled it into her most consistent season; collectively, they all came together to win a championship while reaffirming the WNBA’s leadership in social justice activism.
This team represented the best of their league and the best of sports in 2020. The Storm were winners in every possible way.