Storm hopeful having own facility gives team 'edge' in WNBA

SEATTLE -- Shortly ahead of the April 28 start of training camp, the Seattle Storm unveiled their new center for basketball performance Thursday, inviting media to tour the practice facility and attached office space.

The Storm, who had spent the past 15 seasons practicing in a rented gym in Royal Brougham Pavilion on the campus of nearby Seattle Pacific University, join the Las Vegas Aces as the second WNBA team with a dedicated practice facility solely for their use. The Phoenix Mercury plan to open the third such facility later this year.

"Here, everyone who works for the Storm knows they're home," co-owner Ginny Gilder told ESPN. "There's a certain sense of belonging that brings that we never had before."

In contrast to the Aces and Mercury, who converted existing buildings for their use, the Storm's performance center is a new building across the street from the team's former business offices in Seattle's Interbay neighborhood. The Storm's design features natural light in the two practice courts, as well as a team dining room and the aquatic room for recovery.

Co-owner Lisa Brummel, who led a tour for media, emphasized the way the building highlights the Storm's history. Seattle has won four WNBA championships, tied for the most of any franchise, and the KeyArena court on which the Storm won the 2018 title was repurposed for the stairs that lead from the building's entry down to the practice courts.

Additionally, the players' lounge features artwork inspired by a photograph Gilder took during the team's most recent championship during the 2020 season on the IMG campus in Bradenton, Florida, with green and yellow confetti falling from the rafters.

The courts themselves are distinctly Seattle, with the city's skyline and the nearby Cascade Mountains silhouetted on the west wall of the building. The iconic Space Needle is painted in the team's "bolt green" color along with the lightning bolt that is part of the team's logo.

"Everything is overwhelming," Brummel told ESPN. "It's such a great space. I think we've looked at each of the individual parts of the buildings so many times. To be able to see it come together and to actually be able to tell a story throughout the whole building, to me, is the biggest point there is. ... It all tells a story as you walk through it, and I love that."

Team ownership hopes investing in a state-of-the-art facility will translate into continued success. The prospect of a dedicated home was a factor in All-Star guard Jewell Loyd, the WNBA's leading scorer last season, signing an extension in September ahead of possibly becoming an unrestricted free agent during the offseason.

"I told Noey from day one, I want to have an edge," Loyd said, referring to Storm head coach Noelle Quinn. "What's our edge? This is an edge. Other teams don't have this. They don't have the accessibility that we do. We're going to use that."

Beyond Loyd, All-Stars Skylar Diggins-Smith and Nneka Ogwumike cited the Storm's new home in their decisions to join the team as free agents in February. General manager Talisa Rhea said both players took "hard-hat tours" of the site during their visits to Seattle.

"I think they really trusted the vision that we had for this space," Rhea told ESPN. "You can talk about something, but to come and experience and see it and know that it's happening, it's on track, it really helped and was impactful at that time."

Beyond just attracting players, the Storm hope the facility helps them "maximize their time in Seattle," as Rhea put it. The team built new technology into the practice courts, including advanced shot tracking from Noah Basketball at each basket and automated practice video from PlaySight.

As much as Rhea envisions that helping the Storm during the upcoming season, it could become especially valuable when players stay in Seattle to develop during the offseason, as Jordan Horston did after her rookie campaign.

With the Storm's move, a handful of independent franchises remain that don't have or share a private practice facility. The Atlanta Dream, Chicago Sky, Connecticut Sun, Dallas Wings and Los Angeles Sparks continue to share space in public facilities. Loyd expects that list to continue to shrink.

"It's about time," she said. "I think this is one of many that will happen in the next few years. We're just lucky to be one of the first to have it built up from the ground. We know how long it took. We saw the process, everything that came into it, the people that were a part of it as well. For us, it's what we deserve."

Gilder, who experienced the impact of facilities first-hand as part of the 1976 "strip-in" at Yale University that earned women equal access to the school's boathouse mandated by then-new Title IX, agreed with Loyd.

"I know what it's like not to have a home as an athlete," Gilder said, "and they deserve what every top athlete deserves, which is a place where they can focus on doing what they need to do so they can be the best they can be -- the best they want to be."