I’ve written this post a dozen times in my head, attempting to craft the perfect way to grab the reader’s attention. Finally I said screw it, and this was the best I could come up with.
Being open with my emotions isn’t something that comes easily for me. For whatever reason, I’ve considered stoicism a virtue and vulnerability a weakness, at least for the purposes of my internal psyche. Also, you can’t be hurt if you don’t allow yourself to feel things in the first place. (this is where I’d insert the guy pointing to his head meme)
Anybody who knows me would probably find a level of irony in me pouring my heart out to complete strangers, as I’m about to right now. Of course, if they saw the site’s analytics, they’d know nobody is going to read this anyway.
At least typing it all out feels cathartic on some level.
Note: This will eventually be about basketball, I promise.
Growing up I attained a level of perpetual cynicism, which I struggle to shake to this day. To quote the noted philosopher Vince McMahon, “Life sucks, and then you die.”
Along with that, I’m often crippled by self-doubt. There have been nights when I lie in bed questioning the purpose of waking up the next morning.
Because I’d rather not burden other people with my problems, nobody is any the wiser. And in my own head I don’t think anybody would care if they knew.
The state of my mental health probably stems partially from my parents’ divorce. I was too young to remember when it happened, but I learned to live with the consequences. They couldn’t communicate with one another, so I had to serve as the go-between. There was a period during which I had a folder that contained anything important that I would shuffle from one parent to another when I visited a different house.
One time while I was in high school my dad told me he rarely attended my sporting events because I didn’t personally hand-deliver him the schedule. Of course, he never told me that until after he had already missed years of baseball games and tennis matches. It was
To some extent, I think that eternally poisoned how I view interpersonal relationships. When you grow up attempting to please one parent while simultaneously agonizing over whether you’re alienating another parent, social interactions become a zero-sum game.
As if growing up in a broken home wasn’t enough to harm my fragile young brain, almost everybody in my immediate family is a rabid Ohio sports fan and thus I inherited the gene.
I was born in December 1988. Less than a month after my birth, I was either sitting or asleep in my mom’s lap as Joe Montana engineered a game-winning drive in the final minute of Super Bowl XXIII to beat the Cincinnati Bengals. Welcome to the real world, kid.
You merely adopted the heartache; I was born in it, molded by it.
Even the one thing that has gone right throughout my sports fandom was preceded by almost endless drama regarding the head coach, best player, second-best player, third-best player and team owner (did I forget anybody?). The Cleveland Cavaliers’ 2016 Finals run was the stuff of dreams, but the nearly two years before that were an absolute grind that made me wonder why I follow sports at all.
To make a pop culture parallel, as that’s what the hip, intellectual writers do, it was like attaining the Soul Stone. The reward was tremendous, but the cost was significant (my sanity).
Where am I getting with all of this? The 2018 Seattle goddamn Storm.
The funny thing is, I became a Storm fan largely by happenstance.
I was broadly aware of women’s basketball leading up to the 2016 season when I picked up the issue of ESPN The Magazine celebrating the WNBA’s 20th anniversary. It was a great issue that highlighted the best of the WNBA (Stefanie Dolson speaking frankly about her sexuality) while acknowledging how far the league needed to go.
Upon reading every article, I determined from that moment forward I couldn’t consider myself a basketball fan while ignoring the best women’s league in the world. I wanted to play a part, no matter how small, in giving the WNBA the audience it deserved.
Now that that was decided, I needed to find my team as I jumped headlong into my new passion.
Geography wasn’t a strong consideration. Indianapolis is roughly three hours from Columbus, and tack on another three hours to hit Chicago.
Plus, this was an opportunity to spoil myself, though I didn’t want to hitch my wagons to a perennial contender.
That’s why the Seattle Storm were the perfect fit. They won 22 games over the previous two seasons, and they had a bright future ahead with the reigning Rookie of the Year and the 2016 No. 1 overall draft pick in tow.
Little did I know how fortuitous this would prove to be.
I’ve only had one serious romantic relationship. We were together for six years. We adopted two dogs together, moved across the country twice, and bought a house. We were looking to spend the rest of our lives together. The wedding was set and mere months away.
Then she called it off.
To put it like that probably implies a level of suddenness that wouldn’t reflect reality. A few weeks earlier, she had laid out why she wasn’t happy and told me I needed to work on some things in order to salvage the relationship. I went about addressing those issues, but it was ultimately futile in my view. She had already made up her mind and was merely buying herself some time to grapple with the full ramifications.
To be honest, I couldn’t blame her for her decision, nor was I all that angry once I had time to digest everything. I mostly blamed myself for letting things deteriorate in the way they did. I hadn’t been pulling my weight and without knowing it at the time I had probably grown too distant.
For the most part, I had gotten by while half-assing most things, and I had finally run into something I couldn’t half-ass.
Still, my entire life had been turned upside down.
Whatever long-term plans I had envisioned were immediately tossed aside. My ex and I had planned to move to Seattle at some point after getting married. Maybe I’d get that dream job with the Storm down the line.
Now, all of that was off the table.
Because I wanted to become a full-on cliche, I’d stare off into the distance at random moments, wondering if I’d get to experience true happiness again.
The self-doubt inevitably crept in. In the event I reached a point of personal fulfillment, I’ll probably just screw it up again, right? What’s the point in even trying?
My fiancee told me the wedding was off on Aug. 24. Two days later, the Storm were scheduled to start their semifinal series with the Phoenix Mercury.
That championship run was a lifeline when I badly needed something. The mere prospect of watching a basketball game was enough to get me out of bed in the morning with a level of enthusiasm.
No matter what was happening to me personally, I still had the Storm.
It’s tough to explain why, but supporting the WNBA is intrinsically different. You get the feeling if you were to stop watching the NFL, NBA or MLB that nothing would fundamentally change. But with the WNBA, we’re all in this together and we all have opportunity to effect change.
So what if I had only been cheering for my favorite team for three years; the connection I built with those players, even from thousands of miles away, was unlike anything I had experienced in my adult life.
Perhaps the lack of sweat equity was a benefit in this case. I didn’t really have time to grow jaded. This remained something of a novelty, and Seattle boasted any number of storylines worthy of glossy features at legacy media outlets.
I saw Sami Whitcomb turn a training camp contract into a regular rotation spot in the WNBA, as a 28-year-old rookie no less. Breanna Stewart grew into the final boss from her UConn days. Alysha Clark completely rebuilt her game and emerged as one of the Storm’s most important players. It was more than just a basketball journey for her. Sue Bird, who stuck around through the rebuild when she could’ve left for greener pastures, became a WNBA champion for the third time after having put together one of the best postseason performances in recent memory. Finally Dan Hughes had that elusive title.
I witnessed all of this happening within the space of three years. Incredible. It was the perfect antithesis to that 2016 Cavaliers squad. Players could like each other? Sports could be fun?
I truly have no idea what would’ve happened to me without those eight playoff games in 2018, and I would’ve enjoyed none of it if I hadn’t picked up a magazine at Barnes and Noble. Life can be funny like that sometimes.
The night Seattle won the Finals I consumed an entire bottle of wine and probably didn’t fall asleep until 3 or 4 in the morning, lest the festivities—me celebrating by myself thousands of miles away—draw to a close.
Whenever you feel yourself going through a funk, at least one friend or family member will probably say something to the effect of “it gets better.” It’s the kind of vague platitude I normally would’ve dismissed as my personal life was in tatters. However, the Storm were there to show me things really do get better.
To every member of that team, I owe a debt of gratitude that is impossible to repay.
This is beautifully written and moving. Thank you for sharing it.