On Sept. 12, Jewell Loyd joined the elite company of former NFL running back Rashard Mendenhall and major-league pitcher George Kontos.
Loyd, a starting guard for the Seattle Storm, won her first WNBA championship when Seattle swept the Washington Mystics.
Loyd joined Mendenhall and Kontos as Niles West graduates to win a major American team sports championship. Mendenhall won Super Bowl XLIII with the Pittsburgh Steelers, and Kontos won the 2012 World Series with the San Francisco Giants.
Loyd, a Lincolnwood native, said claiming her first WNBA title was a physical and mental feat. The Storm won their third championship, and their first since 2010.
“It was definitely challenging. We’ve had two good series that tested us,” Loyd said. “The leadership from our veterans helped us down the stretch. Mentally, it was a challenge for me and I definitely got better during the series.”
Loyd graduated from Niles West in 2012 and later starred at Notre Dame. She celebrated with her team on Sept. 16 during a championship parade in Seattle.
“Hanging out with our fans at the parade,” Loyd said when asked about the highlight of the celebration. “That was super special. The city of Seattle has been wanting a championship from us for a long time. I’m glad to do it and celebrate with them.”
In the waning seconds of Game 3, Loyd and her teammates only had one difficult decision to make. They sorted out the logistics of the post-game celebration.
“Pretty much figuring out who I was going to tackle first,” Loyd said. “That was our biggest thing on the bench: ‘Who do you have, who do you have?’ ”
Loyd has heard from supporters all over the country since claiming the title. She has been in touch with Lincoln Hall Middle School and Niles West, as well as plenty of family members and friends.
She said she’s also heard from Los Angeles Lakers legend Kobe Bryant and Boston Celtics guard Kyrie Irving.
“They were just happy that we won,” Loyd said of her basketball mentors. “(They said) to keep pushing and getting better and get another one.”
It was a season of firsts for the 5-foot-10 guard. In addition to winning her first ring, she was named to her first WNBA All-Star team. In eight postseason games, she averaged 12.1 points, 5.0 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game.
“I think Jewell embodied what this team did,” coach Dan Hughes said. “Jewell became a really well-rounded player this year. Her defense, her passing, her rebounding all encapsulated her look at the game. I think that represented a lot of what our team did, the different facets. She led the way in that regard.”
Loyd, 24, was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 WNBA draft. She played the third-most minutes among all Storm players in the postseason.
“I thought she handled herself beautifully,” Hughes said. “I think she realized the challenge of it. She had some superior moments and had some moments where she gave to the team. She took on whatever role was needed.
“For a young player, in that kind of pressure situation, she really understood the totality of how to help us get a championship.”