Q&A with CT native, Seattle Storm cowner Lisa Brummel: 'Connecticut synonymous with great basketball'

The WNBA celebrates its 25th season as the 2021 campaign begins Friday.

The reigning champion Seattle Storm have a significant local connection beyond UConn greats Breanna Stewart and Sue Bird on the court — Westpost native and Yale graduate Lisa Brummel is part of the ownership group of the four-time champion.

Hearst Connecticut Media spoke to Brummel ahead of the league’s milestone season, talking about her upbringing in Connecticut that included standout basketball careers at Staples High School and Yale along with her passion behind owning one of the WNBA’s most prominent franchises.

In her high school basketball career at Staples, Brummel earned MVP FCIAC Frist-Team honors all three years and became the first Staples player to surpass 1,000 career points. She was named to the All-State Team in 1977.

Brummel was a four-sport athlete at Yale from 1977-81. In basketball, she was twice named to the All-Ivy League First Team and named a team MVP all four years. She helped Yale win the 1979 Ivy League Championship and was named a Third-Team Academic All-American in 1981 as a senior captain. She currently ranks on the Bulldogs’ All-Time record lists for career points (No. 8 with 1,361) and single-season scoring average (No. 3 with 18.2 points per game). She was drafted in 1981 by the WBL’s Dallas Diamonds, but chose to pursue her work career instead of playing professionally.

Brummel also lettered in softball, volleyball and track and field at Yale. As an alumna, she was awarded the George H. Bush Lifetime Achievement Award in 2003, and in 2018 inducted into the Legends of Ivy League Basketball.

In 2007, Brummel and three other women (Ginny Gilder, Dawn Trudeau and Anne Levinson) purchased the Storm after then-owner Clay Bennett proposed moving the franchise and the NBA’s Seattle SuperSonics to Oklahoma City. Brummel, a former Microsoft executive, and the other women were fans of the Storm and came together to form Force 10 Hoops LLC to purchase the team.

Since then, the Storm have won three WNBA Championships, most recently winning the title in 2020 during the “Wubble” season.

How did growing up in Connecticut prepare you for co-owning the Storm?

“When I was growing up it was just around the Title IX era, so when I was young we really didn’t have the same opportunities that we have today, but as I got into junior high and high school there were opportunities for girls to play similar to the way boys played in terms of organized sports.

“I think the thing about my growing up is I guess I always felt like there were possibilities. I always felt like it was possible to do anything. I’m not sure where that came from. Whether it came from my parents or whether it came from just Westwood [Brummel earned her MBA at UCLA] or Yale or whenever, but I always felt like there was a chance to do anything I wanted to do. If I couldn’t play organized sports, then I was going to go play on the school yard or play during the summer or I knew enough people who were friends who we could get together and we could play. The idea that I couldn’t do something didn’t really occur to me. … I think that whole foundation led me to having this opportunity to own a team and again it’s pretty extraordinary to think about.”

What ultimately convinced the core group of women to buy the Storm?

“It came down to feeling like we had an amazing asset for our community. Feeling like we had the opportunity to keep that here or at least make it heard to keep it here. And then I think we loved the challenge of trying to make it grow. And none of that is grounded in any sort of reality. We’ve never managed a team before. Nobody has ever owned a team. Amongst us we had good business experience, but we didn’t know what we were doing. But yet, we somehow all felt like this was a great thing to do.”

How do you reflect on that moment to now, three WNBA Championships later?

“We had a great foundation which sort of helped us get going. It helped us get to that first championship, but interestingly ... most teams are like, ‘Yeah, let’s win a championship. That would be amazing.’ Well for us it’s like, ‘No, let’s not win a championship. Let’s be a dynasty. And then not just be a dynasty, but let’s be a dynasty that people role model from, meaning we not only win games, but we really do contribute back to our community.’… I mean we’ve won four championships, Houston [Comets] did, Minnesota’s done it, I mean there is a couple of teams, but let’s do five, six, seven, eight, but let’s also come back and make Seattle a better place for youth, for women, for basketball.”

Where do you see room for growth in the WNBA?

“There has been phenomenal progress in the past couple years just getting the visibility and letting people see the players and see who the players are. Not just on the court, but off the court and I think that connection has been amazing, so the way the league has begun to market themselves has been terrific. ... I think the key thing we really need is media. We need to get more media behind us. And it’s starting. More games are on ESPN, more games are on CBS Sports Network, but really it’s so different between men’s and women’s sports and getting our share of viewership and our share of visibility.”

In your dream world, what would the WNBA look like?

“For the league, I’d like to see us really just grow. I’d like to see us double or triple in size. I’d like to see us expand, like to see us have the footprint that a major’s men’s league would have, like the NBA. I’d like to be all over the U.S., not just in smaller pockets.”

What does it mean to you to see college players want to be drafted into the league by the Storm compared to when you were drafted by the WBL?

“I’m really proud of what we’ve done. I mean part of it is the league just continuing to push forward and part of it is us having pride in what we’re trying to develop here and us sticking to what we believe is most important. And having players coming out of college recognize what we’re about and what our culture is about. I’m so happy that I was able to be a part of that and I’m so proud that people can look at our team and say, ‘Yeah, that’s a team I want to play for.’ And players say, ‘This is a team I’m excited to have be a part of my career.’

“Take Sue Bird. Sue Bird wants to stay in Seattle. Sue Bird could go anywhere. Sue Bird could make a choice to go back to New York or Connecticut if she wanted to, but she’s chosen to stay in Seattle and she chose that through our tenure as owners.”

How has the state of Connecticut embraced and helped grow the sport of women’s basketball?

“The state of Connecticut is wonderful. They have rallied around UConn and frankly Hartford had a good program for a while when Jen Rizzotti was running it. It’s really a place where basketball is valued.”

“They’ve [UConn] really put Connecticut on the map. And certainly, Connecticut Sun have done a really nice job of building a fan base around there, both playing off UConn and having their own fan base. Connecticut has become synonymous with great basketball and you gotta credit UConn for that. Honestly, there is great high school programs in Connecticut as well.”

maggie.vanoni@hearstmediact.com