Minnesota Lynx, a Model W.N.B.A. Franchise, Eye Another Title
Tuesday - 03/10/2017 20:18
The Lynx have been beneficiaries of equitable support from Glen Taylor, who owns the Lynx and the N.B.A.’s Timberwolves.
MINNEAPOLIS — An 18A city bus stops downtown, flashing “GO LYNX” from its destination sign. An Acura driving outside Williams Arena at the University of Minnesota turns heads with its blue and green panels and a giant Minnesota Lynx logo on the hood. Before a recreational women’s hockey practice in suburban Richfield, players discuss the Lynx, calling them the only local professional sports franchise worth investing their emotions into.
For the sixth time in seven years, the Lynx are in the W.N.B.A. finals, where they are tied, 2-2, with the Los Angeles Sparks heading into a decisive Game 5 on Wednesday here. Minnesota hopes to claim its fourth championship trophy since 2011 for a city that is unrivaled in its embrace of women’s professional basketball.
Followers of the league, and even the Lynx’s foes, acknowledge that an engaged ownership and fan base — not to mention the competitive advantage of having a core of Maya Moore, Sylvia Fowles, Lindsay Whalen, Rebekkah Brunson, Seimone Augustus and Renee Montgomery — have made Minnesota the envy of the W.N.B.A.
“I have seen people tend toward saying, ‘We want what you have,’” Lynx Coach Cheryl Reeve said. “We understand on the business side probably more than anything that we have a model franchise for others to follow.”
Motioning with her right hand, Reeve added, “If we’re up here and we can pull up the rest of the league and they’re shooting for us from a business standpoint, it’s really, really good.”
When Reeve was hired before the 2010 season, the Lynx had missed the playoffs for five consecutive years. Since their 1999 inaugural season, they had two playoff appearances, never having won a series.
Lackadaisical results equaled dwindling attendance and rumors of relocation. In 2006, the Lynx drew an average attendance under 6,500. They were embodying the worst stereotypes about the business of women’s pro basketball.
Reeve won two W.N.B.A. titles as an assistant under Bill Laimbeer with the Detroit Shock, but all that success could not keep the franchise in Michigan. The Shock relocated to Tulsa, Okla., and are now the Dallas Wings.
The Lynx missed the playoffs again in Reeve’s first year, but an organizational cleansing had begun. Carley Knox, who also worked with the Shock, arrived with Reeve in 2010 and is the Lynx’s director of business operations.
The team fostered new relationships with community groups throughout the Twin Cities, while targeting new audiences. It was not uncommon to see fraternity brothers sitting next to fathers and sons for Games 1 and 2 of the finals in Minnesota.
Players like Whalen, who grew up in Hutchinson, 60 miles west of Minneapolis, and starred in college at Minnesota, held dinners at her home for season-ticket holders.
As fan devotion grew, Reeve emphasized strong, pointed relationships with her players. Veterans had input on the team’s construction. Emotion was openly encouraged.
“This is certainly not all rosy,” Reeve said. “Seimone eye-rolling or Syl getting frustrated and sucking her teeth looking the other way, it’s not personal, it’s not about me. This is their career.”
She added: “For me to accept mediocrity in any way, in anything that we do, would be so far below them. They would want to go somewhere else.”
Basketball superteams often fail without a careful balance of personalities. After acquiring Whalen and Brunson before the 2010 season, the Lynx drafted Moore, a Connecticut star, first over all in April 2011. Reeve believed she had the personas fit for a rebuild.
Six months later, the Lynx were W.N.B.A. champions.
As accolades piled up, other teams and players took notice. The Lynx created an aura similar to what Gregg Popovich and R.C. Buford have developed around the San Antonio Spurs. In 2015, Fowles forced a trade to Minnesota from the Chicago Sky. She was named most valuable player last month.