Storm players (from left) Breanna Stewart, Jewell Loyd, and Mercedes Russell pose for photos with the WNBA championship trophy after they raised their team flag on the roof of the Space Needle on Friday in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Storm players (from left) Breanna Stewart, Jewell Loyd, and Mercedes Russell pose for photos with the WNBA championship trophy after they raised their team flag on the roof of the Space Needle on Friday in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

WNBA-champion Storm have sustaining success down to an art

Seattle’s four league championships have spanned an impressive 16 seasons.

By Larry Stone / The Seattle Times

Savor this, Seattle. Soak it in. It’s time to fully appreciate the grandeur that is the Seattle Storm.

Because this doesn’t happen every day around here. Or every year. Or every decade. Or every century.

Oh, a flurry of four titles is not unprecedented for a sports team. See Patriots, New England, or Yankees, New York, in recent vintage. Or even for a WNBA team. The Houston Comets and Minnesota Lynx both won four crowns, in a much shorter stretch — four in a row for Houston from 1997-2000, and four in seven years (2011-17) for Minnesota.

But to spread the parades (virtual or otherwise) out over such a wide span? That isn’t normal. That speaks to an organization that knows how to build, and rebuild. The hardest thing to do in sports is sustain success, and the Storm have that down to an art. This is a golden era that is truly an era.

The Seahawks have learned how hard it is to clump titles, although it should be noted that they play in a 32-team league, compared with the 12-team WNBA. The Seahawks earned their first Super Bowl victory in the 2013 season, came a yard away from repeating the next season and are still waiting for a return trip.

The Sonics had one NBA championship before they left town. The Sounders have their own stellar streak going, with two MLS championships and one runner-up finish in a span of four years. The Mariners, infamously, have never even made it to the World Series in 44 seasons — or to the playoffs in the past 19.

The Storm, meanwhile, keep rolling on. They have won titles during three presidential administrations (Bush, Obama and Trump) and with four coaches (Anne Donovan, Brian Agler, Dan Hughes and Gary Kloppenburg).

The Storm’s titles can be divided into distinct halves — the two with Lauren Jackson as the catalyst (2004, 2010), and the two with Breanna Stewart as the driving force (2018, 2020).

The one constant tying them all together, of course, is Sue Bird — and let’s take a moment to reflect on her legacy. It’s not a stretch to call Bird the greatest winner in Seattle sports history. She belongs in the pantheon of the city’s all-time greats — among the Griffeys, the Paytons, the Wilsons.

To watch Bird this postseason, a year after missing the 2019 season because of a knee injury, and after a 2020 season in which the knee flared up at various times, was to see an athlete will herself to greatness. She set a WNBA assists record with 16 in the opener and orchestrated the Storm offense that won each game over Las Vegas by an average of 19.7 points.

Closing in on 40 (her birthday is Oct. 16), Bird was as essential to the Storm’s three-game sweep of Las Vegas last week as she was to its two-games-to-one triumph over the Connecticut Sun in 2004, its three-game sweep of the Atlanta Dream in 2010 and its three-game sweep of the Washington Mystics in 2018.

Speaking of which, the Storm don’t tiptoe to a title. They storm — yes, pun intended — right in. Since losing the opener in 2004, the Storm have won 11 consecutive Finals games and is 25-3 in the playoffs in its championship seasons. This year’s success came as the Storm, inside the WNBA’s bubble in Bradenton, Florida, advocated for social justice.

And who’s to say it’s over, even with challenges ahead? If not for the injuries to Bird and Stewart that sidelined both for the entirety of 2019, the Storm might be celebrating a three-peat. And it’s not unreasonable to think that they might soon get “one for the thumb,” to borrow the phrase originally used by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1981 when they sought a fifth NFL championship ring.

That’s because with Stewart healthy and in her prime at age 26, anything is possible — even after Bird retires, because she can’t play forever. Can she?

Stewart is the best player in the WNBA, even if the league’s MVP award (which went to Las Vegas’ A’ja Wilson) didn’t reflect it. She could well be in the early stages of a LeBron James or Michael Jordan type of roll where her team is a title favorite every season. In her past eight noninjury seasons, Stewart has four NCAA titles with Connecticut and two WNBA crowns, and she was named outstanding player or finals MVP each time.

In other words, the Storm’s golden era should continue to shine — so savor it.

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