Storm fans give raucous welcome home for WNBA champs

Storm fans give raucous welcome home for WNBA champs »Play Video
Seattle Storm's Lauren Jackson high-fives fans upon arrival at Sea-Tac Airport, Sept. 17, 2010.
SEATTLE -- One day after sweeping the Atlanta Dream to win their second WNBA championship, the Seattle Storm arrived back in Seattle Friday in style.

The team arrived at Sea-Tac Airport just before 2 p.m. to a raucous crowd welcoming the champs back home. (View photos from the team's arrival and parade » )

"It's awesome, it's the best feeling ever," said forward Swin Cash. "They're the best fans that I've ever played for... I can't say enough about what they mean to us."

Sue Bird said the crowd size was incredible.

"This is amazing," Bird said. "They've been amazing for us all year and I'm not surprised they're here for us now.... they're just as much as part of this as we are, so it feels really good to have them here."

She said this championship is sweeter than the one she won with the Storm in 2004.

"It was really hard to get back... it took a lot of years, a lot of hard work, but we did get back and it feels really good."

Season and league MVP Lauren Jackson also expressed her gratitude for the fans' enthusiasm.

"Thank you for the season, it's just been unbelievable," Jackson said.

It was just the first of two celebratory events for the Storm. Friday evening, the city held a champions' parade for the Storm players around the Seattle Center.

Fans turned out in the pouring rain to celebrate the championship.

Some were dressed head to toe in Storm gear and storm gear, but one braved the rain in flip-flops.

"These are my lucky flip flops, because I wore them since the summer I had to wear them because we kept winning- we're undefeated in my flip flops."

It all culminated with a party in KeyArena where hundreds of fans cheered with the Storm players.

Seattle capped its nearly flawless season by winning the WNBA title on Thursday night with an 87-84 win over Atlanta in to sweep the best-of-five finals. It was Seattle's second title, but took far longer than most expected for No. 2 to arrive.

When Seattle won in 2004, with Sue Bird and Lauren Jackson still in the beginning stages of their careers, multiple titles seemed destined for the pair. Instead, six rough years later, the duo finally got the second title and the tribulations of the past made the success that much more fulfilling.

"They're completely different. I think the roads have been completely different, but after the last six years it's definitely taken us a long time to get back to where we were," Jackson said after Game 3. "I can't believe it's over. I'm actually kind of sad right now that it's all over."

Including the playoffs, Seattle finished the 2010 season 35-6, a winning percentage of .854. They tied the WNBA mark for most wins in the regular season with 28, then swept through the playoffs becoming the first team to sweep seven playoff wins since the league went to a best-of-five finals setup.

On top of being named the regular season league MVP, Jackson picked up MVP honors in the finals after averaging 21 points in the three games.

"I did not expect, like I said, to have this sort of season, but it was my teammates. I wouldn't have achieved any of it without the great players that we have on our team," Jackson said. "I don't think individually I had the best season I've ever had, but the reason I got the awards was because of my teammates and the people around me and the fact that we were winning games."

For Bird and Jackson, the celebration on Thursday night was extremely gratifying. They made a point to find each other immediately after Coco Miller's desperation 3-pointer bounced off the rim as the final buzzer sounded. After five straight first-round exits in the playoffs, Bird was frank afterward. Constantly hearing and reading about Seattle's playoff failures became a very personal cloud hanging over her WNBA career.

"I judge myself as a player based on winning, that's how I judge myself, and to not win in five years really, really hurt," Bird said. "So to be sitting here now and with the playoff disappointment and the ownership change everything that's gone on, coaching change, player change, to sit here right now, I mean, I can't even describe it. And I know this is going to last for a full year, so that's the best part, I don't have to think about this until next May."

For Jackson, 2010 became her first healthy season in quite a while. She was sidelined by ankle and back injuries the last two seasons during Seattle's playoff runs. Playing without nagging injuries, the Australian showed why she's considered by many the best player in the world.

Seattle was also remarkable good in close games. Between the regular season and playoffs, the Storm went 13-1 in games decided by five points or fewer; 21-4 in games decided by 10 points or fewer.

Additionally, Seattle became the first all-female ownership group to win a professional sports title. In January 2008, four season ticket holders stepped forward to purchase the franchise from Clay Bennett, who also owned the NBA's SuperSonics.

The purchase saved the franchise in Seattle. And now they can start looking ahead to see if it will take less than six years for another title to come to Seattle, especially with Bird and Jackson both saying they intend on playing out their entire WNBA careers in Seattle.

"We won't talk about down the road here, because it's too early, we need to celebrate," Seattle coach Brian Agler said. "But with them on the team we're going to be extremely competitive."