SEATTLE — It wasn't until Friday, two days after the moment of his greatest professional triumph, that Seattle Storm coach Dan Hughes was able to fully savor his team's WNBA title.
During a walk through the streets of Seattle, finally removed from the raucous celebration and the onslaught of well-wishers, Hughes allowed himself a moment of quiet reflection. And realized just how great it felt.
"I wish this is something everyone could go through," he beamed.
Sue Bird, meanwhile, found that whenever it momentarily slipped her mind the Storm had, indeed, completed a three-game sweep of the Washington Mystics in the WNBA Finals, "all of a sudden it comes rushing back, and you remember you just won a title, and that warm feeling kind of rushes over you again."
Those observations came Friday as Storm players cleaned out their lockers and, one by one, met with the media to reflect on a magical season.
All, that is, but Breanna Stewart, who was in Los Angeles doing a series of ESPN appearances and other national media.
It's only fitting, though. While a recurring theme Friday was how this Seattle title was a total team effort, there's absolutely no doubt Stewart is emerging as a prominent voice of not just the Storm, but the WNBA. Her national profile is growing rapidly.
Bird, who has filled that role admirably for more than a decade, is delighted with Stewart's increasing visibility. She lists all the obvious factors Stewart possesses as the reigning MVP of both the league and the Finals — her youth, her talent, her versatility on the court.
But beyond that, Bird says, is a certain "it" factor Stewart possesses.
"There's something about her personality," Bird said. "She's got this youthful kind of innocence and sweetness about her, but then she's like a killer on the court.
"The combination of that, plus what she shared about her personal life and being vocal in those ways. She's got the full package and is definitely becoming one of the faces of the league."
Bird was referring to Stewart's increasing social activism. Stewart wrote an article in The Players' Tribune last year revealing she was molested as a child for two years by her aunt's husband. Afterward, Stewart said she felt a burden had been lifted from her with the revelation of a secret she had carried so long.
Three weeks ago, when Stewart won the MVP award, she advocated for voter registration. Stewart has shown support publicly for Black Lives Matter and gay rights, and she wore a shirt that said, "Wild Feminist" to the Nickelodeon Kids Choice sports award ceremony.
Last year, Stewart joined in a protest at Los Angeles International Airport over President Trump's immigration policy. And in 2016, in her acceptance speech after winning an ESPY as the Best Female Athlete, Stewart pushed for more attention for WNBA athletes.
"Equality for all takes each of us making an effort," she said. "Together, let's be better."
Storm forward Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, who played with Stewart in college at Connecticut and her first three years in Seattle, sees "Stewie," as she is universally known, growing comfortably into her role as superstar and advocate.
"Stewie is pretty low key, but I think she realizes the platform she has, the positive influence she can be for everyone," Mosqueda-Lewis said. "So if she can help, she's more than willing to do that.
"I think there is a lot to be said for the personality Stewie has. She's very blunt, very to the point, says how she feels, and I think we need that. … I think a lot of things she's been speaking out against, and speaking out about, it's something everyone can relate to, whether you're a basketball fan or not.
"She for sure can be the face of the (league), and point it in a positive direction."
Of course, it is her transcendent talent on the court that makes Stewart stand out. In a 17-year WNBA coaching career that dates to 1999, Hughes says Stewart is at the top of the list of great players he's seen.
"I'm not saying she's the best player right now, but her impact — I have not been around a player I think will impact the game any greater than Stewie," Hughes said.
Like Bird, Hughes said it goes beyond talent and touches upon what he called "the culture of her."
"How she's been coached. How she's been raised. How she has got an understanding of the right basketball play. So many talented people can take you to their strength, but she can take you to the best basketball play at the appropriate moment. Which is astounding, because there's different ways she could interpret her talent.
"I think it has a lot to do with how she's been coached, I think it has a lot to do with how she's been raised, and it has a lot to do with the person inside her."
Hughes said that as he got to know various members of Stewart's family, "the more I understood why this special person also has a philosophy of life that is very, very grounded."
Above all, Stewart always has been a winner, which is why she bristled when the Storm finished under .500 in her first two seasons. That was unacceptable to a four-time NCAA champion.
This year, with Stewart leading the way, the Storm landed in more familiar territory — the trophy ceremony. And at age 24, with her peak years presumably still ahead, it's not likely to be the last one.
"Now that she's got a taste of it … you saw in college; she didn't win just one year. She won every single year," Storm veteran Noelle Quinn said.
"That's going to drive her even more, and playing overseas and USA basketball, all these things, it's just going to improve her game and her mental side. The sky's the limit for her."
And the higher Breanna Stewart soars, the more prominent a voice she's likely to become in the sports world.
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