Monday’s Minnesota Lynx championship celebration looked more like a bon voyage send-off, especially given that every player soon will leave for off-season overseas jobs.
“It’s awesome having our fans out here and be able to say good-bye to them,” said Lynx guard Monica Wright, who heads to South Korea by month’s end.
Added Israel-bound rookie Sugar Rodgers of her first overseas assignment, “I’m going down to take care of a little business, to see my family before I head out.”
“It’s a long off season, and I will miss this group,” noted Maya Moore, who will play again in China.
Mounds of confetti became a temporary asphalt blanket on Monday as the procession that carried the 2013 WNBA Champions Lynx moved slowly along Nicollet Avenue, with adoring fans providing escort as they made their way to their downtown Minneapolis basketball home. There, inside, a large crowd impatiently awaited the arrival of the only local pro team that boasts a championship trophy these days.
Longtime season ticket holders of the 15-year-old WNBA club had reserved seating down in front of the makeshift stage and runway installed on the arena’s ground floor sans hardwood. “This is great,” proclaimed Danita Banks of Brooklyn Park.
Other fans meanwhile found their seats and cheered from the second level: Jessica Dunn, Minneapolis, said she can’t afford season tickets but attended as many games as she could. “I’m really excited to be here to see [the celebration],” she said.
“I’ve been watching the Lynx for awhile,” said Tina Jones, Minneapolis, who sat next to her goddaughter Makenzi Sims.
“The Lynx are the only ones in Minnesota that has won a championship,” said Mark Washington, Brooklyn Center, who boldly compared them to last season’s NBA champions. “They’re the Miami Heat of women’s basketball. The Lynx has represented Minnesota so well. It’s a beautiful thing.” He also brought his eight-year-old granddaughter. “Hopefully one day she will be here celebrating a championship,” predicted her grandfather.
“This team has more meaning [to him] because Maya Moore plays,” admitted Robert Moore of Chicago, Moore’s grandfather.
“It’s satisfying in finishing the way we did,” stated Moore’s granddaughter, the Finals MVP, “in how we prepared and in how we worked and the way we did it. It was satisfying all the way through.”
After individual introductions and selected short speeches, the Lynx players, coaches and staff joined the crowd, estimated in the thousands, and watched a slick packaged video of Minnesota’s 2013 playoff run, which according to Wright didn’t begin earlier this month but actually back in the spring.
“Everybody came into [training camp] with the same mentality,” she recalled. “You could just tell that jump-started our season and [anticipated] how our season was going to go.”
“It wasn’t easy at first because we battled with the girls, and basketball attitudes come out. But they accepted us and understood that we were there to help them get better and help them win,” recalled Travis Bledsoe, a member of the Lynx male practice squad, which was publicly recognized Monday for their invaluable assistance in preparing the team all season.
“A commitment from our leadership” also played a key role this season, added Minnesota Assistant Coach Jim Petersen. “Seimone [Augustus], [Lindsay] Whalen and [Rebekkah] Brunson came back completely engaged. We were engaged from day one.”
Lynx Assistant Coach Shelley Patterson added it was trust as well: “The trust that they had, not only in us as coaching staff but also in each other. They came in every day committed to do whatever it took to win a championship.”
“[We came] back better than we were last year,” commented Augustus on this year’s squad – she’s off to Russia in a couple of weeks. “You could see the evidence in Maya’s game and the maturity in each player.”
Former college teammates Lindsay Whalen and Janel McCarville reunited this season a decade later — it was Whalen’s second title and McCarville’s first. The two are off to Moscow and Poland respectively.
“It’s been 10 years since our Final Four run [at Minnesota],” recalled McCarville. “It’s kind of fitting that we’re together 10 years after that. We’re lucky to be part of the same organization again.”
Said Whalen, “It worked out very well. You hope that it happens one day to play together [as pros], but to have it come together this season…it’s an unbelievable feeling.”
Petersen said, “I’ve been around the NBA since 1984, and I have been around basketball for a long time. And I have been around a lot of teams… This is the best team I’ve been around.”
Meanwhile, as the players depart for foreign lands, Patterson — the only Black assistant coach who appeared in each of the past three Finals, including this season — will stay stateside and help get ready for the 2014 season, scheduled to start in about eight months or so.
“We will do our homework and watch a lot of video,” she said, expecting that Minnesota will be drafting near the end of the first round. “In the meantime, I will be keeping track of what my players are doing overseas and try to be supportive of what they are doing.
“I’m a champion,” said Patterson proudly.
More photos from the Minnesota Lynx Championship Rally:
Photos by: Onika Nicole Craven
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