ARLINGTON, TX - AUGUST 24: Fans hold a sign supporting the Dallas Wings during the game against the Connecticut Sun during Round 1 Game 3 of the 2022 WNBA Playoffs on August 24, 2022 at the College Park Center in Arlington, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photo by Tim Heitman/NBAE via Getty Images)

ARLINGTON, Texas — Even before the final buzzer sounded in the Dallas Wings’ 73-58 Game 3 loss to the Connecticut Sun on Wednesday, fans started to gather around the tunnel leading to the Wings locker room at College Park Center. They jostled politely to get in position.

Dallas was unable to keep pace with the Sun’s many All-Stars. But the fans still wanted to say thank you to the team that brought a playoff game to Dallas for the first time since the franchise relocated in 2016.

So they crowded at the tunnel, with hands outstretched, yelling, “Thank you!” to the players and coaches as they walked by. Wings coach Vickie Johnson stopped and mouthed “thank you” to the fans, touching her heart before raising her hand to wave.

For Wings fans like Becca Brese, a WNBA team in Dallas was a dream come true. She had followed the league from its founding and cheered on the Houston Comets and San Antonio Stars before the Comets were dissolved and the Stars moved to Las Vegas. She said she was second in line to buy season tickets when the team moved from Tulsa.

When the Wings beat Connecticut 89-69 in Game 2 on the road to send their first-round series to Texas, Brese realized she was finally going to see her team in a playoff game at home, and she cried.

“I'm trying not to get too emotional, but it's awesome. So many years and cheering them on, and it's so well-deserved,” Brese said. “I love how the team is coming together, and the teamwork. Man, that (Game 2), I'm getting goosebumps just talking about it because they played their hearts out.

“We are loud and proud here in Dallas, and we support our team.”

Attending games isn’t just about watching basketball and cheering on the Wings. Season-ticket holders get to know the people around them. Getting to see each other at least one more time because of a playoff game meant something special to them.

“The people that sit next to me and all, we’re just like a little family for all these years, so it's just amazing,” said Tracy Thurmond, who also has been a season-ticket holder since the Wings’ arrival. “Such a family orientation. It’s so up close and personal, and I just love it.”

The Wings hired Johnson before the 2021 season, and the team’s results have been on an upward trajectory ever since, including attendance. In 2021, Dallas averaged 2,101 fans per game. In 2022, the number jumped to 3,787. On Wednesday, 3,445 fans showed up for a game they had only a few days notice, including a group of 250 elementary school students. Shereka Wright, the women’s basketball coach at UT-Arlington, bought tickets for the kids. Memphis Grizzlies star Ja Morant was on the sidelines for the game, too.

“You hear playoffs and people want to get on the bandwagon, which has been fun,” said Amber Cox, the Wings’ chief operating officer. “And we've had support from a lot of the local teams — Ezekiel Elliott from the Cowboys, the Rangers. So it's just been great, and the cool thing has been since Sunday, when we knew we had the game, it's really been building. And the last 48 hours, we can feel it, which just makes us want to have more of these.”

Hosting more playoff games is an important goal for the Wings. Johnson has big dreams about what the Wings can become.

“I want us to get so big. I want the fans' support to be so big this game, that next time when we play a playoff game here (Dallas Mavericks owner) Mark Cuban has to open up the American Airlines Center,” Johnson said.

The team didn’t quite hit those goals this year, but this season was one of growth and progress for the Wings. They didn’t win a playoff series, but they did show the fans that they can win important games.

And for fans like Brese, this was a moment where they could show players their gratitude.

“I just want them to feel our energy and feel our pride and feel that we are there for them,” she said. “We got their backs.”

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