Could the 2011 WNBA Champion Minnesota Lynx Become the Next Sports Dynasty?
There is a reason you haven’t read any Minnesota Lynx articles from me this year. It has nothing to do with the fact that it's a women’s sport, nor is it that I’m a bandwagoner coming out of the woodwork.
The reason I write my first article about the team post-championship celebration is that I didn’t want to risk jinxing them. In the past I’ve written articles with headlines such as, “Can We Just Give the Oakland A’s the AL West Division Title Now?” and they proceeded to finish in third place. I’ve wrote premature, arrogant articles about the Minnesota Vikings winning the Super Bowl in 2009, and we all know how that ended up.
Minnesota is championship deprived and I know I’m just one person, but I didn’t want to risk it this time. Ever since last spring's WNBA draft, when the Lynx won the lottery and used the top overall pick to draft UCONN’s Maya Moore, Lynx fans knew they had a chance. After WNBA analyst Carolyn Peck predicted Moore would win Rookie of the Year and possibly lead her team to the title as a legit contender, fans gained even more confidence.
Only in the WNBA can a rookie win both Rookie of the Year and a championship in the same season. It doesn’t happen in other sports because the best players usually go to the worst teams. With the WNBA, there is no rebuilding. The season is so short and, if you have a few star players, you can win in a hurry, just as the Lynx have.
I absolutely loved the way Cheryl Reeve and the Lynx coaching staff used Moore. She’d start and score a few baskets early and then you really wouldn’t hear from here until the fourth quarter when she’d make a three or two and silently knock down free throws. By the end of the night you’d look at her stat line and think: “Blah, she only made two shots on 2 of 7 shooting, what’d she finish with—eight points? The answer would almost exclusively be 13, since that is what she averaged, and the rest of her points would come from the line.
Another thing Moore would do consistently is make big defensive plays late in a games. Whether it be a tipped pass that turns into a turnover or a block such as the one on Angel McCoutrey in Game 2 of the WNBA Finals. Oh, and by the way, Angel, how’s that 'Atlanta Dream championship' celebration coming? For those who don't know, Angel had foolishly predicted a championship after beating the Indiana Fever to advance to the WNBA Finals.
Just like the 1991 World Series between the Minnesota Twins and the Atlanta Braves, however, Minnesota came out on top.
First Minnesota Championship Since 1991 Twins
When the WNBA playoffs started, with a 27-7 record, it would have been easy to write an article reading "When Does the Parade Down First Avenue North Start?"
However, fans saw that had it not been for Minnesota native Lindsay Whalen breaking up a late rally off an inbounds pass in Game 1 versus San Antonio, the Lynx would have blown that game at home, instead of winning by an eventual one point. Seeing as they lost the next game in San Antonio, and it was a best of three series, they would have gotten upset and swept in the first round.
All through the playoffs, and even towards the end of the regular season, I kept asking friends how Minnesota’s male-dominant media would react to a women’s team making a title run. Would they treat it as if it were the Twins or Vikings? We soon got our answer in increased blog coverage, articles written and television exposure.
In these articles it kept coming up that with the rest of Minnesota’s professional sports teams all losing, and losing badly, people simply had no choice but to rally around this team. That is exactly what they did, headlined by the media. While the Lynx only drew 11,000+ for that first home game vs the San Antonio Silver Stars, attendance slowly increased for the rest of the playoffs, finishing with two consecutive games of 15,000+ for the WNBA Finals hosted in Minneapolis.
In doing so, they were able to outdraw the Atlanta Dream, who could only muster 11,500 for their lone home game of the Finals, despite over twice the metro population of Minneapolis. Coach Reeve said before Game 3 in Atlanta that the team had a chance to do something for only the third time in Minnesota history, and that something is to win a championship (in a non-collegiate sport), following the 1987 and 1991 Twins.
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
No One Can Ever Take This Title Away
With an eight point lead with 3:56 left, ESPN started to foreshadow Minnesota’s bleak championship history, showing black-and-white pictures from the 1950’s Minneapolis Lakers and the two Twins' teams in a brief montage.
Now, no matter how long the WNBA lasts, Minnesota will always be able to claim that they won a title in this league. It's not much, but it's something and you can’t argue that the media did a fantastic job of absolutely milking this title for everything it's worth.
If you still need proof, check out the video I’ve included of the team’s arrival back at Minneapolis International Airport, where hundreds of fans showed up to greet them. One can only imagine what tomorrow’s parade is going to be like for the team the state has finally accepted and adopted as their own after 12 years of putridity and indifference. You’ll also notice the diversity of the crowd in terms of age and gender. During the waning moments of the Game 3 win last Friday on ESPN, a live shot was shown of a Lynx viewing party where thousands of rowdy Lynx fans celebrated in what I can only assume was Target Center (the location wasn’t revealed).
If you're wondering whether I’m simply caught up in the moment, or if I ever actually care, I have been a fan since Kristin Fokl was the inaugural allocated draft pick. We drafted her while our expansion cousins in 1999 got Shannon Johnson, Taj-McWilliams Franklen and Nykesha Sales.
I remember players such as Betty Lennox, Teresa Edwards, Sonja Tate, Svetlana Abrosimova, Michelle Van Gorp and Shaunzinski Gortman (and that’s just off the top of my head). And, of course, I remember the Katie Smith/Brian Agler coming over as a combo package from the Columbus Quest of the defunct American Basketball League, where Agler won Coach of the Year and Smith was a star.
For years I talked about this team to friends, who laughed at me saying they wouldn’t go to games if tickets were free, or that they’d rather "watch paint dry." But, in the last six months, I’ve talked more Lynx basketball than in any other year combined.
We know that the WNBA is a niche league that only exists because it is financially supported by NBA Commissioner David Stern. He knows most of the teams don’t make a profit, but it's an equal opportunity for women to showcase their skills and enjoy playing a sport they are good at.
For years, when WNBA teams were getting contracted or relocated, it never made sense why the lowly Lynx, who hadn’t made the playoffs since 2004 nor turned a profit since their second year in existence, were allowed to exist.
Well, the answer is obvious now: Lynx and Timberwolves' owner Glen Taylor is on the NBA Board of Governors (as an owner) and is in fact chairman of that body. In doing so, he simply had too much power and influence. Also, as the Lynx continued to win, the media spoke more and more about how big of a fan and supporter he was of this league, and he showed it by sitting courtside during the team’s run into and during the playoffs.
This WNBA title proved to me that as long as there is a WNBA, Minnesota will have a franchise. Even though we’ve seen other multi-time winners (Detroit Shock and Houston Comets) relocate or fold, I don’t see it happening with the Lynx because of one thing: attendance. Personally, I think attendance is about to skyrocket next year now that Minnesota knows they have at least one winner and a budding dynasty to boot.
Attendance boom next year?
This year, the Lynx drew the franchise's second highest average of 8,400 fans per game, easily eclipsing their previous average of 7,819 in 2002. This is not counting their 10,000+ inagural 1999 outlier year. We know other markets such as New York, Seattle and Washington historically have drawn much better than that, but aside from these safe markets, the league is still very much in flux.
However, I think the WNBA may have just saved a franchise with this title win. It is already being reported (on the news apparently) that the team is selling 50 season ticket packages a day for next season and, at such affordable family prices, mixed with the fact no other team in the state is winning right now, it's not hard to see why.
Anything less than 10,000 per game next year would be unacceptable. If you can’t draw an additional 1,600 curious fans the day of game, combined with the fact that stars Whalen, Seimone Augustus, Moore and Rebekah Brunson are all signed to long-term deals, foreshadowing a dynasty, than it's likely never going to happen. Still, the 8,447 was good for fifth in the 12-team WNBA this past season, suggesting room for improvement.
Also, Minnesota fans have shown, evidenced by Whalen’s 2004 Women’s Final Four run with the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers, that they can and will support not only women’s sports, but also anything that wins. Once they have the championship banner unveiling and should they get off to a fast start next year, I think attendance could peak as high as perhaps 12,000-12,500 fans per game. Remember, this is a franchise that once drew 16,000+ for Whalen’s first game back home in the WNBA while with the Connecticut Sun.
For most markets, like Chicago, Phoenix, San Antonio and Tulsa, what you see is what you get. But next year I think Minnesota’s attendance knows no limit. It could get startlingly high if the bandwagon effect takes over. For thousands of little girls in the state (and region) this is their team, this is what they strive to be and these are their role models. The men’s teams could learn something about winning, teamwork and finishing games from this close-knit group.
Happiest for Augustus, Taylor
While it's easy to feel happy for hometown hero Lindsay Whalen, the tears and emotion that seventh-year player Seimone Augustus displayed after winning Finals MVP were impossible to ignore. Originally drafted by the Lynx, Augustus was Maya Moore before there was a Maya Moore, having the same leadership at LSU that Moore showed at UCONN. On top of that, she never even got close to the playoffs, worked her way through multiple injuries and chose to re-sign with the team a couple of years ago anyway.
As for Taylor, let’s be real here, this is probably the only title he’s ever going to get, as the NBA isn’t structured for small market teams like the Timberwolves to succeed. It's just not. That is doubly why I feel so good for him, and how he spoke following the game when he said, “I am just so proud of our family, our players, or staff and our fans.”
Taylor then proceeded to pose, over-sized championship t-shirt and all, at center court of Phillips Arena with his team, looking like an overgrown kid. No one could tell this was a billionaire businessman that for one night only, could act like the fan-owner he is. What’s not to like about that? He could have killed this niche team off so many times over, for never turning a profit or making the playoffs, but he didn’t. Now he has a chance to win multiple championships, which I obviously hope is the case. Nothing, however, will compare to the first.
Information and references from YouTube.com, Minneapolis Star Tribune, WNBA.com, Wikipedia.com, ESPN.com, directly contributed to the content of this article.
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