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Wednesday, October 13, 2004 - Page updated at 12:51 A.M.
By Jayda Evans
The mirage was faint at first.
A blurred image of a tall blond and a quick, high-scoring guard. Was it Jack Sikma and Gus Williams? But as the final 25 seconds of Game 3 of the WNBA Finals ticked off the clock like years on a calendar to the women on the basketball court, the picture became clear.
It was the Storm's Lauren Jackson and Betty Lennox celebrating Seattle's first major professional championship since Sikma, Williams and the rest of the Sonics brought the city one 25 years ago in the form of an NBA title.
Back then it was Williams, dubbed "Wizard," who electrified basketball fans. Well, Wizard, meet "Lightning" Lennox, the energy bolt who scored a game-high 23 to help Seattle defeat Connecticut 74-60, winning its first WNBA championship in front of its second consecutive sellout crowd of 17,072 last night at KeyArena.
It was Lennox, a 5-foot-9 guard, who helped materialize the Storm's championship dream. She struggled in the first half, shooting 2 for 9. But after glancing down at her white sneakers, Lennox said she received the inspiration she needed in black ink. It's a Biblical verse she's had written on her shoes since the beginning of the season.
Then Lennox looked up and her game was on.
She scored nine consecutive points in the closing minutes, screaming, "That's what I'm talkin' about" to the crowd after being fouled on a fadeaway jump shot. When the final buzzer sounded, she had scored 14 in the half and helped hold noted Sun shooter Katie Douglas to a 0-for-11 shooting game.
"I've been on a long journey," she said. "I've been on too many different teams. I have to thank everybody on this team because that's what brought us here."
More composed after she left the court, and soaking in celebratory champagne dunked on her by teammates, Lennox was more eloquent in her feelings. She was rookie of the year when she entered the league as a star player from Louisiana Tech in 2000. And she was also named to the all-WNBA second team that season with Minnesota.
But Lennox said last night is the memory she'll cherish forever.
"When I leave this world, I'll ask to have my trophy in my casket and my ring on my finger," said Lennox, who'll be part of the Storm's championship rally at 11:30 a.m. Friday at Westlake Center. "But I give all credit to the man up above."
Lennox, 27, also gave credit to coach Anne Donovan, who selected her sixth in the dispersal draft when Cleveland folded the second franchise to fold on Lennox's watch.
After Lennox spoke in the postgame celebration, the crowd roared again when Jackson heaved the silver trophy into the air. It's been an emotional year for Jackson, who lost her maternal grandmother the day before the playoffs began in September and lost the gold medal to Team USA in the Athens Olympics in August. She said a WNBA title would "make it all worth it."
Jackson, 23, was drained afterward, but carried a bottle of champagne and wore a big smile as she mingled in the championship ecstasy. She finished with 13 points and seven rebounds.
"This is the best thing that's ever happened to me," said Jackson, who's won four titles before much smaller crowds in her Australian home. "I'm done. I feel like I could sit back and watch for a year. This is the happiest I've been in my life."
"It's icing on the cake that I'm a woman," said Donovan, who gave high-fives to anyone willing to reach up to her 6-8 height.
"By the time we got down to two and three minutes, we realized that we didn't have enough," said Sun forward Nykesha Sales, who led her team with 18 points.
"This just wasn't our destiny this year."
Connecticut conceded at the 1:32 mark, putting bench players into the game. Fans chanted "Bring it home" until it was official.
It was only fitting that center Kamila Vodichkova scored several of the Storm's opening points.
The redhead everyone calls "Big Czech" because she's a native of Czech Republic, Vodichkova is Seattle's original pick from the 2000 draft (ninth overall). She started out shooting 4 for 4 from the field for 11 points in the opening seven minutes, 12 in the half.
"That was huge," Donovan said of Vodichkova's start. "It really changed the pace of the game."
Vodichkova finished with 14 points.
"We're not a one-person team or a two-person team," Storm guard Sue Bird said. "That's why we won tonight. They tried to take Lauren and myself away, and you saw what you saw."
The Storm won its first title in its fifth season. The Storm was 6-26 in 2000 and made its playoff debut in 2002, but was swept 2-0 by Los Angeles.
"We were still calling ourselves an expansion team three years ago," said Karen Bryant, the team's chief operating officer.
Now you can just call them champions. Jayda Evans: 206-464-2067 or firstname.lastname@example.org; Times staff reporter Bob Condotta contributed to this article.
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