Thursday July 20th
As I settled into my seat on the flight from Minneapolis to Seattle, I was excited to be traveling across the country to cover the WNBA All-Star game. Then, Maya Moore sat down next to me. Yes, even WNBA All-Star starters fly coach. We exchanged pleasantries, and she recognized me as the guy with the mustache from the local media that covers the Lynx. She watched the 2010 Disney horse racing biopic Secretariat while I played The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild on my Nintendo Switch.
Upon landing in Seattle and exiting the plane, I encountered another professional basketball player in the SEATAC airport concourse. It was none other than Seattle native and new Timberwolf Jamal Crawford. I approached him, pointed to the Wolves hat I was wearing and said “Go Wolves.” He was super nice and made sure that I knew that the team would be finally returning to the playoffs this season and would be “real good this year ... really good.”
The ride into downtown Seattle from the airport was literally illuminating. Seattle, typically known as the “Emerald City,” was sporting a different color this weekend. Many of the city’s most iconic landmarks from the Great Wheel to Seattle’s tallest building, the Columbia Center, were lit up in orange, the color of the WNBA all weekend. Even the space needle flew a 20’ x 30’ orange WNBA flag. The stage was set for a special weekend.
Friday July 21st
As a self-proclaimed basketball junkie, I love visiting hoops venues of any type, especially older spaces that have a history of supporting WNBA and NBA franchises. Built at the feet of the Seattle Space Needle in 1965, Key Arena hosted Seattle SuperSonics games from 1985 to 2008 and has been the home to the Seattle Storm since 2000. It was awesome to spend all weekend in a historic gym, the epicenter of hoops in this great basketball city.
After exploring a nearly empty Key Arena for awhile, it was time for a media brunch where I was able to meet many women’s basketball writers whom I admire greatly. Howard Megdal from The Summit and his amazing staff of writers were very friendly and welcoming. I was also excited to meet Mechelle Voepel from ESPNW, fresh off writing what many are calling the women’s basketball piece of the year on Sue Bird. The people who cover the WNBA are a small but passionate group. Often unpaid and overlooked, these journalists are driven to alter the way women’s sports are covered and viewed today.
Friday afternoon featured practices for both the East and West All Star teams. Each squad took the court for 45 minutes. The practices were open to the public and each team spent more time appealing to the thousands of fans there by playing shooting games and having dance contests than walking through actual basketball plays. The West All Stars were coached by Minnesota Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve and her staff. Reeve was mic’d up for the entire arena to hear during the practice and kept things fun and lighthearted. During a shooting contest she joked, “I’m paying attention! I get to see where each of you are making and missing these shots.” The practices ended with players launching half court shots in order to win a one hundred dollar bill that Reeve held in her hand.
Following the practices, the All Stars transformed into evening wear and prepared to walk the “orange carpet” before a players-only dinner and welcome reception. The orange carpet event was a lot of fun and showcased the players’ style and individualism. It was great to see another side of the athletes and coaches as well as bring an element of prestige and glamour to the weekend’s festivities.
Yours truly capped off the evening by catching a street festival headlining set by rappers Run the Jewels. They’re one of the best live hip hop acts in the world right now. Go see them if you can.
Saturday July 22nd
After all the excitement and lead up, the day of the 2017 WNBA All Star game was finally here. Seattle is a fantastic WNBA market. Basketball fans from the area as well as those traveling from around the country lined up to enter the arena hours before tip-off. The Seattle Storm were represented by All Stars Breanna Stewart and Sue Bird. They were excellent ambassadors for the city and helped create and incubate much of the excitement felt throughout Seattle this weekend.
Over 15,000 people attended the game on Saturday afternoon and it sounded like every single one of them were screaming at the top of their lungs when Sue Bird was introduced as a starter for the West team. Making her record-tying 10th WNBA All Star appearance, Bird is a hall of famer and the best player in Storm franchise history. The locals let their appreciation for her be heard loud and clear.
One of the more surreal moments for me took place a few minutes before the national anthem as the teams were warming up. Suddenly the crowd on my side of the arena started murmuring and cheering as if someone notable had walked into the building. I looked up from my iPad to see 11-time NBA champion and basketball legend Bill Russell taking his seat two rows in front of me. WNBA players approached him throughout the game to shake his hand and greet him. Other notable people in attendance were Boston Celtics All Star Isaiah Thomas, USA Soccer Women’s National Team midfielder Megan Rapinoe, NFL Pro bowler Richard Sherman and former SuperSonics head coach Lenny Wilkens.
The game itself played out as many All Star basketball games do. It was a loose, free-flowing contest. Defense was optional until the fourth quarter as players danced into the lane for layups and spread out for wide open threes. The game set WNBA All Star records for most combined points (258) and three point shot attempts (93). Players were all smiles as they moved the ball around, got everyone involved and seemed to be having some legitimate fun.
Halftime of the game featured the return of the WNBA Three Point Contest. After an eight year hiatus, the shooting competition worked really well as a halftime show. Five WNBA stars faced off in the event, including Lynx forward Maya Moore. Unfortunately she did not make enough shots in the first round to advance. The head-to-head championship round featured Chicago guard Allie Quigley and New York guard Sugar Rodgers. Quigley eventually took the title by making 19 of her 25 shots in the final round.
The second half of the game was more of the same, with both teams scoring at an incredible pace. The West was able to push the lead to double digits and stay ahead for the entire half, eventually winning 130-121. My former airplane acquaintance Maya Moore made five threes and lead the West with 23 points. The game’s MVP award (typically given to the leading scorer on the winning team) went to Moore, who also won MVP honors in the last All Star game in 2015. She joins Lisa Leslie (‘01 and ‘02) and Swin Cash (‘09 and ‘11) as the only players to win the award in back-to-back years. Moore’s Lynx teamate Sylvia Fowles told me after the game that Moore’s goals on Saturday were well known.
“I’m just happy she’s my teammate. We knew Maya was going for that. She’s very competitive. Maya wants what she wants. We knew she was going for the MVP today.”
The WNBA is a growing league. Seattle’s rich basketball culture and beautiful setting was a near-perfect situation to showcase the best women’s basketball players in the world. The Minnesota Lynx have submitted a bid to host the 2018 edition of the game. While I had a wonderful time this weekend in the Pacific Northwest, I’m excited at the possibility of hosting the next WNBA All Star Weekend in Minneapolis.