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Sylvia Fowles Drops the Mic with Dunk in Her Final WNBA All-Star Game

Jacqueline PowellJuly 11, 2022

Kamil Krzaczynski/NBAE via Getty Images

CHICAGO — At halftime of the 2022 WNBA All-Star Game, eight-time All-Star Sylvia Fowles was given a new nickname: Tom Brady.

Her teammates on Team Wilson (named after team captain A'ja Wilson) told Fowles in the locker room that her planned retirement after this season wasn't an option after what she had just done in the first half of Sunday's game.

"She's going to come back for another year because you can't dunk and not come back," All-Star teammate Candace Parker said about the new nickname following Team Wilson's 134-112 win over Team Stewart. Fowles, who was sitting right next to Parker while she said this, replied immediately and said "absolutely not" with a laugh and a smile.

A day before the 2022 All-Star Game, Fowles was asked if the concept of retirement had actually sunk in now that the halfway point of the season has passed. She explained that it hasn't really hit her yet, acknowledging her desire to stay present.

"I think mainly because I'm just trying to be present in the moment and enjoy it," she said. "I know once it's all said and done, I'll probably be a big water bag, and who wants to do that every game?”

How did it all happen? How did Fowles earn her new nickname on the All-Star Game stage?

With over four minutes remaining in the second quarter, Jackie Young coughed up the ball after being swarmed by her Aces teammates Wilson and Kelsey Plum. Fowles was in the right place at the right time, corralled the ball and coasted past Emma Meesseman. No one was in the backcourt. Fowles dribbled the ball five times before going airborne and throwing it down with her right hand.

Team Wilson's starters and bench players were hyped. Rookie Rhyne Howard thought that the Fowles dunk was basically a mic drop. "She should have just walked off the court honestly and was like bam, like that's it, dunk," she said.

Even the opposing bench jumped for joy.

Fowles has always intimidated opponents with her size and strength, muscling her way in the paint and protecting it. She's a two-time WNBA champion, the 2017 MVP, and a four-time Defensive Player of the Year, all of which she accomplished without much media hype and celebration.

She's a 6'6" center with an arsenal of post moves that are unguardable. She can set a monster screen, rebound the ball at will and recover quickly enough to make sure guards and wings don't creep into her paint—the part of the floor that Fowles has owned for her 15-year career.

"You know it's going to be a battle every time you play against her," Parker added. "So on offense, you know you're going to have to guard the duck-in and then you're going to have to turn around and guard the rebound because she is an amazing offensive rebounder, and then you're going to have to come down and make things difficult for her on the other side."

Fowles, or "Mama Syl" as she's known around the league, has a reputation for taking care of those around her. She cooks Lynx teammate and new mom Napheesa Collier pork chops and knits for Collier's one-month-old Mila. She takes an interest in making sure the people she's playing with feel comfortable and like they belong in the W.

Jeff Haynes/NBAE via Getty Images

That was exactly who Fowles was for Courtney Vandersloot during her rookie season in 2011.

"She made sure we knew what the heck was going on and really took me under my wing, made me feel comfortable and that I deserved to be here, and they wanted me here," Vandersloot said. "I think that was the biggest thing, and my mom really appreciated it. She still loves Sylvia to this day because she knows she really did take care of me."

The all-time leading rebounder in league history also set a precedent for post players in this league and gave young women an example of how to be big but also embrace that size with grace. That's how Fowles has impacted Wilson, showing her what's possible for a big in this league.

"Syl has mentored me in a way that she probably doesn't even know," Wilson said. "Just coming into the league as a big girl and watching that has been amazing. … Like it's one of those things where Syl is always going to put a smile on your face. We don't call her Mama Syl for no reason, like the nurturing of it, she understands how to talk to us, and I love that about her, and I'm going to miss it."

After the game, Team Wilson head coach Becky Hammon walked through the tunnel of Wintrust Arena with her son Cayden. While it wasn't clear if he had asked about who dunked so emphatically in the second quarter or which player had all of the attention and admiration from the players on his mother's bench, Hammon was telling him about Fowles. She said her name, emphasizing each syllable. "Sly-vee-via." Hammon didn't want her child to forget Fowles' name.

But Hammon and Wilson shouldn't worry that much, as Fowles plans on being involved with the WNBA following her retirement. "Y'all aren't gonna get rid of me that fast,” she said.

Aside from the dunk, which Fowles decided to do on a whim because she "heard the momentum of the crowd," Team Wilson wanted to make sure Fowles didn't just get honored and recognized ceremoniously. Wilson and Hammon wanted to give Fowles the appropriate opportunity to shine. How would Hammon, a coach known for playing five-out, modern basketball, allow the league's most dominant back-to-the-basket, old-school center to shine?

At practice on Saturday, Team Wilson had joked about Fowles making a four-point shot, which was added only for Sunday's game. Fowles' teammates encouraged her to take that open look with confidence. "She didn't want to shoot it, but we were like, 'You have to shoot this though,'" two-time All-Star Natasha Howard told B/R after the game. "You are going to be open, so shoot it."

Hammon drew up the first play of Sunday's game specifically for Fowles.

Steve Jones Jr. @stevejones20

First play of the game being for a Sylvia Fowles three is fun. <a href="https://t.co/k5Ga3jKnWa">pic.twitter.com/k5Ga3jKnWa</a>

The play began when Sabrina Ionescu passed the ball to Wilson at the right wing, and then Wilson waited for Ionescu to set a screen for the 36-year-old Fowles on the opposite wing. Wilson passed the ball to Fowles outside the arc, and the center bent her knees and let the ball fly. Swoosh. Wilson jumped up and down, and Candace Parker ran over to give her friend Fowles a shove as the trio ran back to defend on the opposite end.

Parker reminisced postgame, harking back to that first play. She asked Fowles if Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve was holding her back from letting the long ball fly. While Fowles answered that Reeve gives her the green light to shoot, Fowles admitted that at the final All-Star game of her W career, she wanted to take a risk and get out of her comfort zone.

"They had been hyping me the whole time because it was the first shot of the game," she said postgame. "But I mean, getting out of your comfort zone a little bit, having fun, I think that's what's most important about this weekend."

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