Jewell Loyd (24) of the Seattle Storm is introduced before a game against the Phoenix Mercury on May 8 in Seattle. (Steph Chambers / Getty Images, file)

Jewell Loyd (24) of the Seattle Storm is introduced before a game against the Phoenix Mercury on May 8 in Seattle. (Steph Chambers / Getty Images, file)

As WNBA exposure grows, Storm content to quietly stack wins

Amid the Caitlin Clark-fueled buzz, Seattle has won seven of its past eight.

  • Mike Vorel, The Seattle Times
  • Wednesday, June 12, 2024 5:00pm
  • SportsStorm

During a preseason practice on May 6, Storm coach Noelle Quinn wore a black wristband, featuring her team’s two-word rallying cry:

Dangerously disciplined.

That mantra won’t sell tickets — but it might seal wins. It’s not a promise of pretty two-way play, of logo threes and fast break flurries and seismic star power. Discipline, however dangerous, doesn’t herald headlines.

But in a league suddenly basking in mainstream buzz, Quinn seems content to quietly conquer.

“It is our motto. It is a way of life,” she said more than a month ago. “It’s not just being dangerously disciplined on the court — from what we ask with the system and all that, what they do in the weight room. But it’s also off the court and how you handle yourself as a pro, how you take care of your mind and your body and how you show up in the community.

“The discipline is a culture. It is not just a cool wristband or a powerful statement or saying. We’re embodying that with everything we do and say.”

They’ve said it.

They’ve worn it.

They’re starting to show it.

After stumbling to a 1-3 start, the Storm ripped off six consecutive wins — including two victories over rookie sensation Caitlin Clark and the Indiana Fever, and a 78-65 road statement against the defending WNBA champion Las Vegas Aces. That streak was snapped by the Minnesota Lynx, who earned their third straight win (an 83-64 smothering) over Seattle on Sunday.

Still, the Storm appear to be chiseling a prophetically dogged identity. Heading into Tuesday’s 95-79 win over the Los Angeles Sparks, Seattle (8-4) led the WNBA in both rebounds (38.1) and blocks per game (6.1), while sitting second in opponent field goal percentage (40.2%). Fourth-year center Ezi Magbegor was tied for the league lead with three blocks per game.

These statistics rarely translate to YouTube highlight reels.

But Quinn, again, seems unconcerned.

“Blue collar, work hard, hang our hat on defense, first and foremost,” she said Tuesday of her team’s developing identity. “First 11 games, I think this team has really bought in to the defensive side of the basketball. Just like life and just like this league, certain things are pretty fluid. As it relates to an identity, we talk about being disciplined. We talk about being competitive. Those are two things we’ve been focusing on, and I think we do that at a high level.”

So, yes: the Storm continue to stack workwomanlike wins.

Nationally, will anyone notice?

This is a league, after all, that’s been swarmed with more inflammatory hot takes than cicadas every 17th summer. People are mad that Clark — who scored more points than any person in college basketball history, but has struggled somewhat as a WNBA rookie — was left off the U.S. Olympic team. Or they’re mad that Clark and fellow rookies Angel Reese (Chicago Sky) and Cameron Brink (LA Sparks), etc., have accepted a disproportionate spotlight. Or they’re mad that Sky guard Chennedy Carter hip-checked Clark to the court following a play this month, an unnecessary foul inflated into so much more.

The discourse has been dizzying, and often ridiculous.

But at the very least, people are paying attention.

To that end: The first month of this WNBA season featured its highest television ratings ever and its best attendance since 1998, the league announced Tuesday. Games airing across ABC, ESPN, ESPN2, CBS, ION and NBA TV are averaging 1.32 million viewers, nearly tripling the 2023 average of 462,000. Seattle’s average attendance of 10,958 sits third league wide, behind the Clark Show in Indiana and Breanna Stewart and Sabrina Ionescu’s New York Liberty.

“That’s news to me. That shows how much I care,” Storm forward Nneka Ogwumike said of the ratings spike and Seattle’s national spotlight. “I think we just do a really good job of keeping things in the locker room, keeping things with the Storm. It’s amazing that the ratings are up, but we just have to go out here and play and win some games.

“Today at halftime, [assistant coach Pokey Chatman] said, ‘We have big goals. Our goals are big.’ And that’s something that really resonated with me. That’s all I’m focused on, and that’s all we’re focused on.”

On Tuesday, 8,202 fans (including current/former Seahawks DK Metcalf, Doug Baldwin, Cliff Avril and Jermaine Kearse) crammed into Climate Pledge Arena to watch another workwomanlike win. They watched the “core four” — guards Jewell Loyd (21 points, 6 rebounds) and Skylar Diggins-Smith (19 points, six assists), forward Ogwumike (26 points, eight rebounds) and center Magbegor (eight points, 13 rebounds, three blocks) — individually and collectively carry the load. They watched Ogwumike and Diggins-Smith sink back-to-back threes in a game-ending 21-10 run that extinguished the Sparks.

They watched Seattle’s seventh win in its last eight games … even if not enough nationally know it.

This team doesn’t have a renowned rookie. It rarely attracts hot takes. But “dangerous discipline” doesn’t require a microphone.

Soon enough, they’ll see.

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