The story of a championship series can't often be told in a single sentence, but one fan's sign at Seattle's Key Arena last week came awfully close: they may have sales, but we got the money. "Money" is the nickname bestowed upon Betty Lennox, the 5'8" Storm guard who outdueled Connecticut forward Nykesha Sales and the rest of the Sun to lead Seattle to its first WNBA title, earn herself an unlikely Finals MVP award and offer basketball fans in Latte Land the tantalizing possibility of a hoops dynasty.
Before this year Seattle had been swept in its only playoff appearance, a two-game smackdown by eventual champion Los Angeles in the 2002 conference semifinals. Knowing that she needed help for point guard Sue Bird and power forward Lauren Jackson--the franchise's marquee players and a pair of first-team All-WNBA selections--Storm coach Anne Donovan acquired forward Sheri Sam (an '02 All-Star), center Janell Burse and Lennox, who became the first player in WNBA history to go through a dispersal draft in two consecutive seasons. Lennox was selected by Cleveland in the '03 draft after the Miami franchise folded. When the Cleveland organization disbanded, she was chosen by Seattle last January.
Though she was the WNBA rookie of the year in 2000, Lennox had struggled to regain her form after an '01 hip injury. She was also tagged as a selfish, shoot-first player. But Donovan, who had gotten to know Lennox a little when Lennox tried out for the U.S. team that competed in the 2000 world championships, thought she could fit in with the Storm. "We felt that if we put her with two great players, there's not this big canvas where she would feel compelled to do her own thing," says Donovan, who became the first female coach to win an WNBA title in the league's eight-year history.
After the Storm dropped the opening game of the best-of-three final, Lennox, thankfully, did do her own thing. She turned Game 2 into a can-you-top-this battle with Sales and torched the Sun for 27 points on 11-for16 shooting. Sales set a Finals record with 32 points in a 67--65 loss, but she missed a wide-open three-pointer at the buzzer. Lennox followed her Game 2 highlight reel with a game-high 23 points in the finale. She averaged 22.3 points in the Finals, nearly doubling her regular-season scoring average (11.2), but was still incredulous when told she'd been named the Finals MVP. "Me? After everything that I've been through, and how many teams I've been on," she said, "I'm speechless."
Donovan, however, had no shortage of praise for Lennox. "She has a chip on her shoulder; that's the difference with this team this year," the coach said. "We had her and Sheri, and they had that kind of chip on their shoulder that should the other team put their worst defender on either one of them, both took great offense to that."
Assuming the Storm ponies up the cash to sign Money (the 27-year-old Lennox is a restricted free agent, but Donovan told SI she expects her to return), Seattle figures to be even better in 2005. "Lauren's and Sue's games keep expanding, and now that they have better players around them, you're going to see more growth from them," says Donovan. "This is a great young team that wants to be coached. They're not looking to settle for just one championship."
Who's Got Next?
Here's the early line on who'll challenge Seattle for the 2005 title
DetroitThe 2003 champs lost U.S. Olympian Swin Cash (right) late in the year, finished a disappointing 17--17 in the regular season and bowed out in the first round of the playoffs. With a healthy Cash (16.4 points, 6.5 rebounds a game) and young stars in forward Cheryl Ford, shooting guard Deanna Nolan and center Ruth Riley, it won't Shock anyone if Detroit is back in the Finals in '05.Odds: 3--2
Sacramento The Monarchs have a dominant inside game with All-Star Yolanda Griffith and frontcourt standouts Tangela Smith and DeMya Walker, but they need young shooting guard Kara Lawson (8.6 points) to emerge as a star if they're to advance to their first Finals. Odds: 4--1
Los Angeles Regular-season MVP Lisa Leslie led the Sparks to a WNBA-best 25--9 record but averaged just 11.3 points in a three-game playoff loss to Sacramento. She'll have plenty of motivation in '05. Odds: 5--1
Connecticut Fluke or postseason fixture? With five rookies from the 2004 roster likely to return, including emerging point guard Lindsay Whalen, the Sun should rise again next season. Odds: 8--1
ELAINE THOMPSEN/AP (LENNOX)
Lennox (22) was worth her weight in gold for Donovan (inset) and Seattle.
JOHN FROSCHAUER/AP (INSET)