SPU and the Storm, Seattle’s WNBA franchise, are in their seventh year of sharing facilities, an arrangement that benefits both parties.
“It’s a pretty unique opportunity; I don’t know of too many other arrangements like this around the country,” SPU Athletic Director Jackson Stava remarked.
According to the WNBA Seattle Storm website, in 2008 the local NBA franchise, the Supersonics, departed for Oklahoma City. After them went the Storm’s practice and training facilities, which the team shared with the Sonics. They were no longer an option after 2010 when the Storm’s contract to use the facilities expired.
For two transition years, The Gates Foundation allowed the Storm to continue to use the Furtado Center while searching the area for other arrangements.
The Storm decided to settle at SPU, which happens to be located near Key Arena and only a few blocks away from Storm headquarters.
Now, the Storm are two years into their second five-year deal with SPU (2010-2015; 2015-2020).
“[There are] A lot of cool things that have come from that and will continue,” Stava said. “It is unique to have a professional team sharing the facilities with us, and we make sure to comply with NCAA regulations on those pieces.”
Once the Storm moved in, SPU had a benefactor who was willing to pay to retrofit the lower gym — hanging up banners, installing glass WNBA-approved backboards on all six baskets and arrangements to have a wood floor brought in.
The floor, which disassembles into pieces and is stored below Royal Brougham Pavilion during the off-season, usually comes in toward the beginning of Spring Quarter, about a month before the WNBA season begins and goes out somewhere between November and January, depending on how long the Storm season goes.
There is about a three and a half month stretch where the floor is out so that SPU track and field can practice indoors.
The contract gives the Storm use of SPU facilities and provides them with space downstairs — they have office space for their coaches during the WNBA season, locker room space and access to SPU athletic training rooms.
“A great opportunity for us as a DII institution is to share space and have a professional team in our building,” Stava said.
The arrangement also has many non-financial benefits for SPU. It allows for SPU athletics staff and players, the SPU women’s basketball team in particular, to learn from professionals.
The players get to see the best in the world train; the coaches get to see the highest level drills and practices; the SPU trainers get to see the highest-level trainers at work; and it can be a helpful recruiting tool.
SPU’s Assistant Basketball Coach Mike Simonson says this relationship gives his team the opportunity to see what it’s like to be a professional basketball player and what it really takes to improve their game.
“[Coaches] see what drills they do at the highest level that we can kind of incorporate with our team … the Storm are so well known in the area, you have players like Brianna Stewart, Sue Bird,” Simonson said. “Those big names, here in our building, they kind of can attract local kids that grow up watching them … So there are a lot of benefits to having them for sure.”
Many of the SPU women’s basketball players have hopes of playing at the next level; if not the WNBA, they hope to play somewhere in Europe like most of the WNBA players do in the offseason.
“We go in and watch their practices, and it’s really cool to see how it is at the next level, how much more intense it is … it’s like a taste of what they can expect over there [in Europe]” sophomore guard and sports reporter for the Falcon Riley Evans said.
Not only are all these benefits in play, but the SPU women’s basketball team gets even more perks. They have permission to use the Storm’s top-of-the-line equipment that they brought in, and maybe the greatest benefit is that they also get to use the Storm’s chiropractor.
“We are extremely lucky to have resources available to us when the Storm are here,” redshirt first-year center Jane Grisley said. “For example, there is a laser machine in the training room that is worth about $30,000, and when it isn’t being used by the Storm, our trainers are allowed to treat us using it. We wouldn’t have the ability to have this machine since it carries such a heavy price tag.”
The Storm and SPU seem to be a great fit. Both sides are grateful for the arrangement, even though, as the fifth-year forward Alysha Clark for the Storm noted, “we know it’s a college campus when we come to find parking.”
“SPU has helped us a lot by giving us the space to work and become better as the WNBA season progresses,” second-year forward for the Storm Breanna Stewart said.
There can be the issue of overcrowding and time conflicts, but for the most part, SPU and the Storm work together well ahead of time to make sure that this issue doesn’t come up.
During Spring Quarter, there is men’s and women’s basketball, volleyball, fitness classes, HHP courses and the Storm to schedule together.
“There are a lot of moving parts, and it is very coordinated and very scheduled,” Stava said. “We have staff in athletics that oversee the master calendar for all those locations; we always know who’s supposed to be in the upper gym, in the lower gym, in the weight room, all those places … [all the time] we have to be intentional and creative about scheduling.”
“They work with us really well and kind of help give us priority a little bit so that’s always really sweet of them because they don’t have to and they do, so we appreciate that a lot,” Clark said.
With the WNBA All-Star Game being hosted in Seattle this year on July 22, SPU will host the Overseas Combine where athletes that are trying to get in or back into the WNBA will be measured.
The combine will take place July 20-21, 2017 at Royal Brougham Pavilion.
Until the city of Seattle is able to get the Supersonics back, SPU will have the pleasure of hosting the Storm for the foreseeable future. Currently, SPU and the Storm are under contract together until 2020.
“I love the fact that we are constantly being reminded that not only do we have our athletes, but we have professional athletes in the building and that our level of professionalism should match that, and I would hope that positively impacts our student-athletes as well,” Stava said.