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September 10, 2010 at 1:21 PM

Storm raises their flag atop Space Needle for WNBA Finals

DEAN RUTZ/THE SEATTLE TIMES

Storm guard Sue Bird mug for camera with her team’s flag flying atop the Space Needle.

Hall of Famer Cynthia Cooper had “Raise the Roof” when defunct Houston won its historic four consecutive championships. The Seattle Storm has “Raise the Flag” as 10 players climbed to the tippy-top of the Space Needle to adorn it with the organization’s symbol. On the flag are the Storm’s logo and the names of nearly 6,000 fans inscribed in gold on a green backdrop.
It’s the first time the iconic leftover from the 1962 World’s Fair has displayed a Storm flag, despite the team winning the WNBA championship in 2004. The Space Needle has flown flags for other events ranging from the Seahawks’ “12th Man” to Microsoft’s launch of software.
“When people think of Seattle, they think of the Needle,” Storm PG Sue Bird said. “Everybody when they come visit, that’s the first ting they ask about and that’s the first thing you see, almost. ‘Grey’s Anatomy,’ when they pan the city, what do you see? You see the needle. So, when Joe Schmo New York hears the flag is atop the Space Needle, they’ll understand the importance of that. Kind of like if someone put it at the top of the Empire State Building. That’s what’s really special about it.”
It was wild to be part of the ceremony. You have to climb steep, metal ladders I thought were only found on battleships. And you’re about 70-stories high, so for all of the players aside from three-time MVP Lauren Jackson to go through that dangerous experience two days before the Finals was admirable. Jackson remained on the observation deck.
“I didn’t think about it until you just mentioned it,” Storm coach Brian Agler said when I asked if he feared for his players’ safety in making such a climb before practice. His staff of Nancy Darsch and Jenny Boucek was part of the flag rising along with co-owners Ginny Gilder, Dawn Trudeau, and Anne Levinson. Storm president and CEO Karen Bryant, the franchise’s first hire in 1999, was among the first to tug on the rope to send the flag up the pole.
With the height and climb acting as a natural ice-breaker, players were playful before media in taking pictures and challenging their fears. C Ashley Robinson, F Le’coe Willingham and F Swin Cash are slightly scared of heights, so it took some time for them to roam around the small deck like G Svetlana Abrosimova, PG Alison Lacey, F Jana Vesela, and G Tanisha Wright.
Bird (with me in the far background acting like the peanut gallery) even clowned Cash, Willingham, Camille Little, and Robinson who took a picture at the base of the actual pole without a panoramic glimpse in the shot. Basically it could have been a back alley in Detroit on a cloudy morning. They later took shots on the edge, posting them on Twitter.
StorminTheNeedle.jpg
“This is more significant for our fans and the people of Seattle who’ve supported the team for so long,” Cash said. “You finally see the recognition to have a flag here for the first time. For our fans and our ownership, it’s great to see that support from the city.”
Gilder and Levinson have connections with the privately owned tourist hotspot, getting the idea going when the Space Needle decided to wave a giant Pride flag for the celebration of lesbians and gays in June. Once the Storm won the Western Conference championship, organizers jumped at the opportunity to wave the Storm banner.
The flag will be present on Friday and Sunday, which is the opener for the WNBA Finals best-of-five series at KeyArena. It’ll reappear on Tuesday for Game 2. It’s unknown what could happen for Game 5 since Seattle is expecting to win the title on the road, of course.

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