JOHN CURLEY AND SHARI ELLIKER

Sue Bird on KeyArena: There is something about that building

Dec 15, 2016, 2:48 PM | Updated: 2:51 pm
Sue Bird says there is a different "energy" during Storm games at KeyArena. (AP)...
Sue Bird says there is a different "energy" during Storm games at KeyArena. (AP)
(AP)
LISTEN: Sue Bird on WNBA All-Star game coming to Seattle

While many debate the future of Seattle basketball and KeyArena, one of the city’s most decorated stars has high praise for the atmosphere the venerable building creates. Most notably by how much the opposition despite coming here.

“They hate it. It’s their least favorite place to play, it’s the toughest,” Seattle Storm guard Sue Bird told KIRO Radio’s Tom and Curley on Thursday. “I can’t even tell you how many times we’ve upset teams that were probably much better than us but there is something about the building. To ask me why is tough. I don’t know. There is just an energy there and it is something about the Seattle fan base.”

KeyArena developer: NBA doesn’t need huge stadiums anymore

That energy will be on display around the world as KeyArena was picked Wednesday to host the 2017 WNBA All-Star Game in July 22, 2017, televised at 12:30 p.m. PT on ABC, to more than 200 countries and territories. It’s the first time Seattle has hosted WNBA’s midseason showcase.

The Storm, which finished with a 16-18 record last season, have at least three potential All-Stars on the squad, including Bird – a nine-time WNBA All-Star, as well as Breanna Stewart and Jewell Loyd, who have won the last two Rookie of the Year awards.

Despite the team’s great young talent – and a pair of WNBA Championships since 2004 – the team remains under the radar for most of the city.

According to a May article in the Seattle Times, crowds at KeyArena had declined in each of the previous six years, bottoming out to an average of 6,516 in 2014. However, Stewart and the Storm captured the top spot on the list of best-selling jerseys and team merchandise on the WNBA Store in 2016, and, as a whole, the WNBA registered its highest attendance (1,561,530) since 2011 and the highest average attendance (7,655) over the same time period. That is still markedly lower than the more than 17,000 average attendance for an NBA game.

John Curley, a long-time Storm season-ticket holder, agreed that there is a different kind of atmosphere for Storm games.

“Dollar for dollar, there is no better entertainment than a Seattle Storm,” Curley said.

Tom Tangney said that there is a “prejudice” against women in sports, which Bird said “might be true.” She explained the criticisms as she sees it.

“There’s something about women’s basketball …” she said. “Like, I don’t like hockey. I don’t go out there and like poopoo all over it every chance I get it. But there’s something about women’s sports, particularly women’s basketball where they do that.”

“I don’t know if it’s animosity,” she added. “I think a lot of people think they can play and so they watch us and they go, ‘Oh, I could do that,’ when they have no idea what they are talking about. And usually it takes one time in a game for people to see and understand but they won’t even walk in the arena. That’s the weird part. There’s like a weird disconnect there.”

KeyArena future

The future of KeyArena is in flux as the Mayor and the Seattle City Council considers its options for adding an NBA and/or NHL team. Chris Hansen from the Seattle Arena Group has expressed aims to build a new arena for new basketball and hockey teams.

KeyArena was also home to the Sonics before the franchise was moved to Oklahoma City. It could be in line for a “complete rebuild” if Tim Leiweke and Oak View group develop a feasible plan to build the venue into one that could host the Sonics and/or a hockey team while also being a world-class music venue. The future for the arena is even murkier if entrepreneur Chris Hansen’s Seattle Arena Group wins out instead, building a new arena in SoDo.

No matter where the Storm ends up, Bird said the Seattle fan base for women’s basketball is special.

“It’s palpable. You can feel it,” she said. “I have been on teams that have been extremely successful here, we have won championships. I’ve been on some teams that didn’t win the playoffs, but no matter what the case there is an energy in that building.”

John Curley and Shari Elliker on KIRO Newsradio 97.3 FM
  • listen to tom and curleyTune in to KIRO Newsradio weekdays at 3pm for John Curley and Shari Elliker.

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Sue Bird on KeyArena: There is something about that building