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Wednesday, October 13, 2004 - Page updated at 12:53 A.M.

Blaine Newnham / Times associate editor
Donovan brings out team's best in finals


MARK HARRISON / THE SEATTLE TIMES
The Storm's Kamila Vodichkova is fouled by Le'Coe Willingham, left, as Katie Douglas defends. Vodichkova hit 5 of 8 shots and finished with 14 points for Seattle.
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This wasn't one for the ages, it was one for the new age, when women not only play basketball in front of large, adoring crowds, but women coach them.

Last night, Anne Donovan became the first woman to coach a team to a professional sports championship in the United States, as she intellectually and emotionally directed the Storm to an overwhelming 74-60 victory over the Connecticut Sun last night at KeyArena.

She made the trades that made Seattle more athletic. She oversaw the continuing development of the world's best player, Lauren Jackson. She gave the reins to Sue Bird, and in these WNBA Finals, she gave the green light to Betty Lennox.

"She brought more out of me than I knew I had in myself," said Lennox of Donovan. "I haven't been known as a defensive player. I haven't been known as a complete player. Anne Donovan made me into that. She made me believe in myself."

The Storm is a business by and for women. Chief operating officer Karen Bryant makes the fiscal decisions, Donovan makes all those that involve basketball as director of personnel as well as coach. Her two assistants are women.

The Storm didn't hire a former NBA player as Detroit did in hiring Bill Laimbeer, or Los Angeles did when Michael Cooper was coach. Laimbeer, Cooper and Van Chancellor were the only coaches to win WNBA championships.

The emphasis is, of course, on were.

To this day, eight of the 13 teams in the league are coached by men.

MARK HARRISON / THE SEATTLE TIMES
The Storm's Lauren Jackson makes a basket between the Sun's Katie Douglas and Lindsay Whalen.
"Definitely there has been a tendency to go to NBA coaches, people who have pro experience," said Bird. "To me, it doesn't matter, man or woman. Anne came in here and made Lauren Jackson the best player in the league. She established Lauren inside and built around it. She's done a fantastic job."

Lennox, the MVP of the WNBA Finals, knew there was a difference having Donovan.

"This is the first time I've played for a woman," she said. "I'll tell you, it is great to know she has been in my spot as a player before."

Every starter gave Donovan a huge hug as they left the court.

At first, she tried to downplay her place in history.

"It is just icing on the cake that I happen to be a woman," she told the crowd.

Later, dodging sprays of champagne, she said, "I am very happy that we finally have a woman coach win a WNBA championship, and obviously happy that it is me.

"Women need some credential to get the respect we deserve as coaches. This will give that credential. It shows there are great women coaches in the game. This will help us with the next barrier."

She made three Olympic teams as a player. The next barrier for her is to coach the U.S. team in the Beijing Olympics in 2008.

Donovan had lunch with her sister at a Lake Union restaurant before the game.

She couldn't hide, at 6 feet 8, even if she wanted to. And she didn't.

"People here in Seattle recognize me and identify me with Storm basketball," she said. "It's awesome."

Donovan can't believe what has happened to her this year, being an assistant coach for the American team that won the gold medal in the Athens Olympics. And now, in Seattle, being a part of what she considers the greatest days of basketball for women.

"I did a complete 360 of the building Sunday, looking at every seat on the top row to see if any were empty and they weren't," she said.

"It was a moment I had to take in. I've been in this game for a long time."

She was an assistant coach at her alma mater, Old Dominion, for six years before getting her first head-coaching job, at East Carolina, in 1995. Less than 10 years later, she is the best in the business.

ROD MAR / THE SEATTLE TIMES
Anne Donovan watches the Storm earn its first WNBA title.
"I had no dream of the WNBA or women playing professional basketball when I coached at Old Dominion," she said. "Once I got the opportunity, once I had the courage to throw in with the ABL, I knew that was where I wanted to be."

She coached the Philadelphia Rage of the ABL in 1998. Two years later, she took an interim head coaching job in the WNBA with the expansion Indiana Fever.

A year after that she had Charlotte in the WNBA finals.

"This is what I've worked for my whole career, what I've waited for," said Donovan. "As far as being a coach, this is the ultimate for me."

She's more than a coach. She signed Lennox as a free agent and made the trade to get Sheri Sam and Janell Burse.

"The NBA is a different world," said Donovan, "but in the WNBA we still have the ability to make those decisions as a coach. I wouldn't have come here without that ability. It is critical."

"She should have been coach of the year," said Jackson, who played brilliantly in a supporting role last night with 13 points and seven rebounds.

"She brought out the best in everyone. She is an unbelievable coach and a person. I'm proud to be a part of this. Most people never get a chance at something like this. I am so happy."

After the confetti quit falling from the ceiling and the Storm players quit dancing on stage, Donovan was still 6-8 and still the coach, and Bird and Jackson were still only 23.

A city was in love with a team that not only made history, but will continue to make it.

Blaine Newnham: 206-464-2364 or bnewnham@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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