ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

The Women's National Basketball Association started its 14th season this past weekend. It still can't touch the NBA when it comes to money and prestige, but its fans are fiercely loyal. And for pro basketball fans in one former NBA city, the women's game is all they have left.

NPR's Martin Kaste reports from Seattle.

MARTIN KASTE: It's been two years since Seattle lost the SuperSonics. Two years since the team's new owners pressured public officials for a new arena, and when that failed, moved the team to Oklahoma City.

(Soundbite of YouTube video)

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified People: (Singing) SuperSonics, we're missing you. SuperSonics, we're missing you.

KASTE: Two years for grown men to bare their broken hearts on YouTube.

(Soundbite of YouTube video)

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified People: (Singing) SuperSonics, we're missing you. We're missing you.

KASTE: But broken hearts can heal if a guy is willing to take a chance on somebody new.

(Soundbite of cheering)

Unidentified Man: Please welcome out for the first time in 2010, your Seattle Storm.

KASTE: The WNBA Storm is still here. It almost left for Oklahoma along with its sibling team the Sonics, but it was saved by four season ticket holders four women who ponied up $10 million to buy it and keep it here.

(Soundbite of basketball game)

KASTE: The new owners also kept Karen Bryant, a former college player and now team CEO.

(Soundbite of basketball game)

Ms. KAREN BRYANT (CEO, Seattle Storm): Get her, Lauren. No...

KASTE: Courtside at the home opener, Bryant can barely stay in her seat. In a break in the action, she says it was sad to see the Sonics go, but she doesn't seem to miss sharing the same owners.

Ms. BRYANT: I think for us it's about being in control of our own destiny. And, you know, there's something to be said when you're in control of your future, for better or worse, and there's no position you'd rather be in.

KASTE: The atmosphere in the arena is nothing like the NBA. Instead of cheerleaders in spandex, the Storm has a dance troupe made up of grade school kids. The place is filled with families. And the courtside seats seem to be occupied by a lot of prosperous-looking women executive types, not to mention on opening night, U.S. Senator Patty Murray. The few Sonics fans in the crowd are careful to show proper respects.

(Soundbite of basketball arena)

Mr. KELLY REMBOLDT: L.A. versus Seattle, for women's basketball, this is a coup de gras.

KASTE: Kelly Remboldt means that as a compliment. He was comped some excellent seats as an enticement to convert him from dedicated Sonics fan to dedicated Storm fan. Enjoying a beer, Remboldt's buddy David Soberg(ph) praises the game's physicality.

Mr. DAVID SOBERG: I mean, I didn't realize how rough the WNBA was. I mean, it's pretty rough.

KASTE: Still, the guys say it's just not the same.

Mr. REMBOLDT: Nothing will fill the void until we get NBA back in Seattle.

Mr. SOBERG: Totally. I mean, this is badass, but Sonics - no.

KASTE: Storm fans are used to attitudes like this. Patty Squires is a radio reporter who's covered pro women's basketball in Seattle since the early days.

Ms. PATTY SQUIRE (Reporter): A lot of people don't see the WNBA as real basketball. Personally, I think it's better basketball. It's team basketball rather than hotdog basketball.

KASTE: And if Sonics fans aren't ready to commit, the Storm isn't going to beg. In the locker room after the game, co-captain Sue Bird says the team already has solid fan support.

Ms. SUE BIRD (Co-Captain, Seattle Storm): I mean, if you ask players from opposing teams, they do not like coming here to play. It's loud, it's rowdy, even when we're not sold out like we were tonight.

KASTE: Outside the players' entrance, autograph hound Ryan Phillips(ph) still wears his Sonics T-shirt, which sets him apart from the crowd of girls and parents. He'd rather be hunting Kevin Durant's signature, but he admits that he's warming to the idea of women's basketball.

Mr. RYAN PHILLIPS: This is my, I think, third game.

KASTE: So, you like them?

Mr. PHILLIPS: Sure. They're fun, yeah. They're fun, yeah.

KASTE: Despite this lukewarm affection, Phillips will have to wait for those autographs because the players are taking their time in the locker room celebrating their win over the L.A. Sparks with a giant box of cupcakes.

Martin Kaste, NPR News, Seattle.

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