Seattle Has a Winning Basketball Team. Good Luck Finding a Jersey.

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SEATTLE — What do I have to do all over below to get a cap that reps the best group in women’s basketball?

Which is what I was wondering very last 7 days as I walked the streets of downtown Seattle, property of the W.N.B.A. champions, the Storm.

In athletics paraphernalia retailers, I hunted for a green-and-gold Storm cap, a T-shirt, or probably a replica of the team’s new black jerseys, just about anything that would exhibit off my love for one of the leading teams in sports activities.

What I identified were being outlets crammed with Seahawks, Mariners and Washington Huskies swag. I noticed eager consumers buying caps affixed with the ice blue “S” that signifies the Kraken, the new N.H.L. workforce in city. The Kraken’s initial game is not until finally future month.

Every time I asked for Storm products, I was met with bewilderment and shock. A single salesperson prompt Storm equipment would absolutely sit untouched for the reason that of the desire for Russell Wilson jerseys. A different advised me she could sell me a Storm bumper sticker, but she was not sure where it was.

Upset, I drove to a nearby suburb and located a sporting products retail store in a mall. Listed here my question was answered with this:

“Who are the Storm?”

In their 21 several years of existence, the Storm have been remarkably regular. They hold 4 W.N.B.A. titles. The initial arrived in 2004. The past in 2020. As the league heads into this season’s playoffs, which start this week, they are once once more amid its top four teams and stand a good prospect of repeating as champions.

Foremost the reigning champions are three athletes of exceptional distinction. Jewell Loyd is an offensive spark plug with a sport fashioned after Kobe Bryant, who was a person of her mentors. Breanna Stewart, the league M.V.P. in 2018, is maybe the very best participant in the women’s game. Sue Chook, 1 of her sport’s couple of breakout stars, has expended her entire expert career in Seattle.

These 3 ladies assisted the United States gain the gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics. At the opening ceremony, Hen carried the American flag in the parade of athletes.

That is who the Storm are.

And nonetheless in the shops I visited very last week and on the streets of a town that touts alone as deeply progressive, I saw almost nothing to suggest that Seattle has a W.N.B.A. team, enable on your own enthusiasm for one.

Products is a metaphor, a signpost of anything else: cultural funds. They don’t simply call all people hats, shirts, jerseys and sweatshirts “swag” for very little, and the prevalence of it — or, in this case, the lack of it — speaks to a little something profound.

The signal sent when equipment is so hard to locate and so not often noticed? Women continue being an afterthought, which hits primarily really hard for a team sport performed predominantly by Black women of all ages.

The players detect.

“You never see us repped as considerably as we need to be,” Loyd instructed me, however sweating just after a difficult follow last week. “It is nearly difficult to discover a jersey. We are like a concealed gem. To place all of this operate into a thing and we are not viewed, what else do we have to do? We’ve received championships right here and brought worth to our town, and however you just cannot obtain a jersey?”

There is nuance to this story, however. True, in its 25th yr, the W.N.B.A continues to struggle for hearts and minds. But soon after last year, when the league burnished its reputation for excellence and solidified alone as a leader in the struggle for social justice, it is also building inroads.

Although viewership for most sports is declining in an period of cable tv cord-reducing, the W.N.B.A.’s countrywide broadcast scores are on the increase. Participant salaries are climbing, much too, and a number of of the league’s stars aspect in nationwide advertising strategies for large companies. Eight players signed offers not too long ago to represent Nike’s Jordan Brand name, a variety the moment unthinkable. In a first, 1 enduring star, the Chicago Sky’s Candace Parker, fronts the popular NBA 2K online video activity.

The league has also efficiently courted backing from organizations these types of as Google, Facebook, AT&T, Nike and Deloitte, the specialist expert services business helmed by Cathy Engelbert before she moved to the W.N.B.A. in 2019 to serve as its commissioner.

When I interviewed her previous 7 days, Engelbert spoke of the want to adjust and amplify the league’s narrative. She hailed the devoted, varied, youthful and socially progressive lover foundation. She wants the W.N.B.A. valued in new methods that go further than outdated metrics like Nielsen scores.

When I talked about I not often observed Storm equipment in Seattle, my hometown, she rarely appeared astonished.

“We want to do better” at marketing and telling the league’s tale, she explained. If that transpires, product sales of merchandise will rise, together with general popularity. “I necessarily mean, all people should really know who Sue Chicken is,” she explained. “She transpires to be a person of our family names, but we really do not have more than enough of them.”

The commissioner also singled out the great importance of promoting the activity by highlighting particular person stars and the extreme rivalries between gamers and teams, akin to how the N.B.A. grew when Magic Johnson and Larry Hen arrived to that league.

A person this sort of rivalry, among the Storm and the Phoenix Mercury, was on whole show on Friday evening.

It was Seattle’s final normal-period recreation. Both of those groups experienced qualified for the playoffs, but substantially was on the line, which includes bragging legal rights involving two corporations that have a history of epic clashes. More significant, the winner would also get to skip the postseason’s initially spherical.

At that video game — played 30 miles north of Seattle simply because the team’s typical arena is becoming renovated — I lastly identified rabid lovers wearing their Storm swag. Caps, T-shirts, socks, face masks, sweatbands. A handful of followers donned environmentally friendly-and-gold shoes with player autographs. Some wore the uniforms of Fowl, Loyd and Stewart from the Olympic workforce.

Just before 6,000 spectators instead of the 2,000 typically at the Storm’s momentary residence, the teams put on a showcase of flowing, quickly-paced basketball. In spite of staying without the need of Stewart, who is nursing a foot damage, Seattle came out firing. Loyd strike a barrage of midrange jump shots and deep 3-pointers. On her way to a job-significant 37 details, she scored 22 in the very first quarter.

The Storm gained, 94-85, delighting a boisterous, fun-loving group. It was easy to feel the team’s intensity and to see how its organization foundation of loyal and assorted supporters run the W.N.B.A.

But outdoors of these kinds of enthusiasts, absent from its arenas, the league mirrors culture and its inequities. All you need to have to do is walk the streets of Seattle and store for a Storm cap to see that.