Thursday night will mark the end of an era for the Queen of Hardwood in Seattle. Seattle Storm CEO Karen Bryant is leaving after nearly two decades on the job.

Bryant has been the flag bearer for women's professional basketball in the Northwest.

The year is 1984; it's the 3A state title game between Edmonds-Woodway and North Kitsap.

I just remember the energy and it came down to the last play, said Bryant. We had kind of a busted play. It went off the backboard, we got the rebound, and a gal by the name Barb Wade put it in. You can see the expressions on our faces. When you win it all, there's just nothing like it.

That was Bryant's first championship, but not her last.

There's just something about basketball. I fell in love with it at a young age, Bryant said.

Bryant went on to play at the University of Washington, but once college ended, so too did basketball. For young women in the 1980s, there was no professional league to strive for.

I think sometimes it's hard to dream about things if you can't see them in front of you, said Bryant.

But others were dreaming. In 1996, the ABL was formed and Bryant was called upon to become the Chief Operating Officer of the Seattle Reign.

And it moved quickly from there. I think I was hired in May and we played in October, she said.

Over a decade after her high school team won the title in Mercer Arena, a women's professional team was now playing there. However, the good times would not last long.

That was actually probably the only dark period in my life. That sounds heavy, but I was really depressed, said Bryant.

In 1998, the ABL went under.

We folded in December of what was our third year, on my birthday, Bryant said.

Women's professional basketball seemed done in Seattle, but actually it was just beginning.

In 2000, the Storm rolled into Seattle when the WNBA awarded the city a franchise. Two years after that dark period, Bryant was back as the head of the Storm.

In just four years, rising stars Sue Bird and Lauren Jackson brought Seattle their first title in over two decades.

The momentum and the buzz in the city was palpable, said Bryant. I mean it really felt like we had arrived.

Bryant was on top of the world and her duties doubled after being named senior vice president for the Sonics.

Then, another bombshell, one she still has trouble talking about.

Probably one of the toughest days of my career. It was the day we made the announcement that we were selling the team, she said.

Bryant feared the worst when the Sonics left, but on Bryant's birthday, the day she was told the ABL was folding 10 years earlier, it was better news.

Clay Bennett called and said the Storm would be staying in Seattle. The team had been sold to a group of Seattle women called Force 10 Hoops.

There's been a lot of ups and downs, and way more ups than downs, said Bryant.

The 2010 season marked another title, another trip to the White House, another moment for Bryant.

Success and adversity, the extremes of that bond you with people in ways that you can't manufacture, she said.

Forty-six-year-old Bryant has devoted her life to women's basketball, but says it's now time to move on.

It's an all-in endeavor. When you have a chance to -- this is a passion, said Bryant.

Her daughter, 6-year-old Lindsey, will love having more of her mom's attention -- a mom that reshaped the landscape of women's basketball in the Northwest.

July 31st is going to be hard. I'm not going to kid myself. But it's going to be a celebration, a celebration of 15 years of an amazing franchise and I just got to be a part of it. But it's going to live on and do great things. I just got to be chapter one, said Bryant.

Read or Share this story: