On Wednesday night, the leading edge of a Storm front arrives in Everett.
The Seattle Storm, the reigning WNBA champions, make their Angel of the Winds Arena debut at 7 p.m. when they host the Phoenix Mercury in a preseason game, giving sports fans in Snohomish County their first opportunity to see the best women’s basketball in the world up close and personal.
The Storm have been displaced for the 2019 and 2020 seasons by the demolition of KeyArena in Seattle and construction of a new arena that will eventually be the team’s home court. Therefore, Angel of the Winds is serving as one of the Storm’s temporary homes this season, with Hec Edmundson Pavilion on the campus of the University of Washington being the other. Angel of the Winds will host five regular-season games, including the season opener on May 25.
But Wednesday’s preseason opener is the trial run to see how the team adapts to playing without a permanent home.
“I think what they’re trying to do with KeyArena is something special, and you kind of want to sacrifice that home because you know it’s going to be worth it at the end,” Storm all-star guard Jewell Lloyd said following practice last Friday at Seattle Pacific University. “We’re excited about it, I think it’s good for Seattle, good for us, and now we have a chance to go play somewhere else and maybe gain some more fans.”
There are logistical challenges involved with the Storm playing in Everett. With the team being based at SPU it was a short jump to KeyArena for games. But traveling to Everett not only increases the travel distance, it brings the I-5 traffic into play.
This affects the team’s game day itinerary. When the Storm were playing in Seattle the team would hold a morning shootaround at the KeyArena, then allow the players to disperse and do their own thing prior to the game. For games in Everett, Storm general manager Alisha Valavanis is experimenting with having the players travel to Everett for the morning shootaround, then arranging a place for them to stay in Everett until game time.
Then there are the logistical issues at the arena. Ryan Hart, director of marketing for Angel of the Winds Arena, said the last time a basketball court was laid down there was when the Harlem Globetrotters last performed in 2017. Hart said the process for installing the floor takes between two and three hours, which is less time than it takes to set up a stage for a concert. But it also means the operations staff is dealing with a surface it’s unfamiliar with — Monday’s installation had to be stopped and restarted because of this.
The good news for the Storm, however, is that the floor is going to be familiar. The team had the floor it played on at KeyArena trucked to Everett, meaning the games will be played on a court that includes all the Storm branding. The floor pieces will be stored under the stands in the west end of Angel of the Winds when it’s not being used, as the Storm will play on the University of Washington’s basketball floor for games at Hec Ed.
“Everyone we’ve worked with from the Storm side has been super enthusiastic about playing games here in Everett,” Hart said. “We’re seeing a definite buzz in the community for the team to be playing here. The early feedback we’ve gotten about the effort to draw more north-end fans has been very successful.
“We’re anticipating the home opener on the 25th to be sold out or close to it, and we think the rest of the games over the summer should be very well attended.”
Valavanis concurred, saying the response from the Everett and Snohomish County communities has been positive. The team held a meet-and-greet session with coach Dan Hughes at Scuttlebutt Brewing in Everett two weeks ago, which Valavanis said was well attended. Valavanis also said ticket sales in the county have been strong, particularly for group sales for the games in Everett, as well as the team’s five-game Angel of the Winds package.
And Everett will play host to one of the team’s biggest moments this season, as the Storm will hold their ring ceremony and banner unveiling for their 2018 WNBA championship at the season opener on May 25.
“I would encourage all families and all of Everett to come check out a game this summer,” Valavanis said. “It’s exciting entertainment, the best 144 female basketball players in the world compete in the WNBA. So it’s excellent entertainment, it’s very family focused, and it’s a lot of fun. I really hope the Everett community comes out to check out Storm basketball.”