Fate can be cruel at times, like adding salt to an open wound. Mere hours after learning a buyer from Oklahoma City had purchased the Sonics and Storm on Tuesday, Storm coach Anne Donovan boarded a flight to Charlotte, N.C. - site of another ownership debacle she’d endured four years before.
“It’s very ironic,” she said Wednesday. “To go through this not once, but twice, is disappointing.” In 2002, the sale of the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets thrust Donovan and the Charlotte Sting into a mire of uncertainty. While the Hornets relocated to New Orleans, the Sting endured rejection. “We were left not having any idea what our future was,” Donovan recalled. “This is different in that we’re included in the deal with the Sonics. That’s a good thing. It’s nice to be seen as a viable product.” But the future of the Storm remains very much in question. Will the turmoil sour negotiations with Sue Bird when the All-Star guard’s contract expires at the end of this year? Would Australian superstar Lauren Jackson honor the remainder of her deal through 2008 if the team moved from her beloved Seattle? Could Oklahoma City even support a WNBA franchise? The Storm (11-11) will seek to set aside such questions as it returns to the court today trying to reverse a slump of three losses in the past four games. Playing the Sting might well provide a measure of solace, proving that organizational mayhem does not necessitate team-wide dismantling or geographic relocation. Of course, since its ordeal in 2002, the Sting has a combined record of 46-80 and has lost one of the most decorated coaches in the history of women’s basketball. Donovan left because “nothing was in stone.” She said the situation in Seattle is too fresh to consider jumping ship, and her primary focus remains with collecting victories. Still, distractions will abound over the final three weeks of the regular season and into a potential playoff appearance. And no amount of winning will erase the difficult questions ahead. “It would be a very dark day if the teams were to leave Seattle,” Donovan said. “Oklahoma City supported the NBA very well with the Hornets playing some games there, but I don’t know if it’s viable to think they can support the women’s team.” Clay Bennett, leader of the new ownership group, said Tuesday that Oklahoma City would be thrilled to have a WNBA team. Should the Storm move, however, it would face considerable challenges retaining its two brightest stars. Bird and Jackson own their respective residences in Seattle and both have frequently dubbed the Emerald City a second home. “With Sue, this is where she wants to be,” Donovan said. “We’ll do our best to sign her for three years and put away the concerns.
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