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Two health blows, other challenges for Seattle Storm ahead of 2019 season

Elaine Thompson
AP Photo
Seattle Storm head coach Dan Hughes directs his team during a time out against the Phoenix Mercury in a playoff semifinal Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2018, in Seattle. Hughes and star Breanna Stewart, left, have suffered major health blows recently.

The Seattle Storm's season doesn't start until next month, but the team already has suffered a few setbacks. At the top of the list: the loss of star player Breanna Stewart. It's the topic of this week's conversation between KNKX sports commentator Art Thiel and Morning Edition host Kirsten Kendrick.


"It's been a real rough offseason for the defending WNBA champs," Thiel said.

He was mainly referring to the Achilles tear suffered by star forward Breanna Stewart, an injury she suffered while playing in Europe. The surgery to repair the tendon was successful, but Thiel said it's going to take a while to heal, keeping her out of the 2019 season.

"She will (recover), I think, because Richard Sherman had the same sort of injury that ended his Seahawks career and he's back playing with the 49ers. And there have been a number of WNBA stars who've recovered from an Achilles tear to return. So, it's not altogether dire.

"But she is the most valuable player in the league as well as in the postseason, top player for the Storm and really a dynamic figure so her loss is a real blow."


Shortly after Stewart's injury, Storm fans learned that head coach Dan Hughes was going to undergo cancer surgery. He announced it in a video and appeared upbeat but didn't give any details or say how long he will be out.

The team said in a news release that a doctor who specializes in colon and rectal surgery at Swedish Medical Center is expected to perform the surgery before the Storm’s May 25 regular-season opener.

Thiel said it was another big blow for the team.

"He was at the top of his game, just as Stewart was at the top of her game," he said. "He was a first-year coach last year and took them to the title."


The latest delay for the opening of a renovated KeyArena in Seattle, announced last week, likely means the Storm will have to play two whole seasons away from home and maybe a few games into the 2021 season.

The team will play most of its home games during that time at Alaska Airlines Arena on the University of Washington campus as well as some games at the Angel of the Winds Arena in Everett.

"When you're away from home that long it does tend to cut into the fan base," Thiel said.


The Storm is hoping its fan base will grow even more with the announcement this week that CBS Sports Network will bring 40 WNBA games before a nationally televised audience this season as part of a multi-year deal. That's in addition to 16 games that will be broadcast on ESPN. The Storm will make six appearances on CBS Sports Network this season.

"The issue here is revenue generation," Thiel said.

"The WNBA has struggled with that throughout its 23-year existence. It's never made money in that time and the NBA has subsidized it.

"The key to growing these salaries is television revenues. Breanna Stewart was playing overseas because most WNBA stars have to play overseas to make money.

"It's a year-round enterprise because they don't make enough money in the WNBA home season. Their window for athletic excellence is much shorter than (the career) of a teacher or a fireman or a policeman.

"They've got to make money while they can and so these kinds of injuries, due to fatigue, are going to be part of the WNBA experience for a while and I don't see any real quick solition.

"But the CBS contract is at least the start of something that could be a little bit better and grow into something a lot better down the road."

Never miss an episode again. Subscribe to Sports With Art Thiel with iTunes or Google Play now. You can find Art Thiel's work at Sportspress Northwest and

Kirsten Kendrick has been hosting Morning Edition on KNKX/KPLU since 2006. She has worked in news radio for more than 30 years. Kirsten is also a sports lover. She handles most sports coverage at the station, including helping produce a two-part series on the 50th anniversary of Title IX and the ongoing series "Going Deep."
Art Thiel is a co-founder and writer for the rising sports website Sportspress Northwest. In 2003 Thiel wrote the definitive book about the Seattle Mariners, “Out of Left Field,” which became a regional bestseller. In 2009, along with Steve Rudman and KJR 950 afternoon host Mike Gastineau, Thiel authored “The Great Book of Seattle Sports Lists,” a cross between and Mad Magazine that has become mandatory reading for any sports fan who has an indoor bathroom.
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