This week: History meets history
The Katie Smith trade in July 2005 was perhaps the worst deal in both Minnesota Lynx and WNBA history. Then “The Franchise” arrived in town in April 2006.
If ever a Mt. Rushmore of Twin Cities first-name sports figures is erected, former LSU star Seimone Augustus rightly should be alongside Kirby and KG as players who transformed their respective franchises from local sad sacks to national significance.
In the spring of ’06, Augustus became the first overall draft pick of a Minnesota major league basketball team when the Lynx made the no-brainer selection in the 2006 WNBA Draft. Now in her 11th season, Augustus tops the team seniority list. It wasn’t too soon after her selection that history meets history.
“I can’t believe it’s been 10 years since Seimone came,” reflected Tonyus Chavers.
A member of this area’s first pro women’s basketball team, the Minnesota Fillies (1978-81), Chavers, introduced herself to Augustus at a neighborhood park. “We sat on the bench,” she recalled.
“I told her I really respected her game. I think my fondest memories as we sat on that bench for a couple of hours and talked” were about Augustus’ views on the game at the time, pointed out the former player, now a popular P.E. teacher at Green Central Elementary School in South Minneapolis.
Whether or not Chavers symbolically passed the baton to Augustus is unknown, but the former gave her blessing to the Lynx’s franchise player, who only a few years later hoisted the 2011 championship MVP trophy handed to her from the WNBA’s first Black president, Laurel Richie.
Chavers, a Minnesota season ticket holder and in-game “coach” whose loud teacher’s voice can be heard over the constant in-game noise, couldn’t be prouder both of Augustus and the only WNBA club she has played with since graduating college.
“Just seeing her grow and develop, and what [team owner] Glen Taylor did when she came” — promised her a winning team — “to see that come to fruition, it was priceless to get there but it definitely is a high.” said the female hoops pioneer.
There was a little luck involved as well.
Mainly because of the lottery’s existence, Minnesota’s lucky charm turned positive twice — first with Augustus in 2006 and again in 2011 with Maya Moore, the league’s first overall pick in that draft. When Sacramento earlier went out of business, then came Rebekkah Brunson from the 2009 dispersal draft. And we can’t forget a Lynx trade that finally did work — the Lindsey Whalen acquisition in the winter of 2010.
All four players are part of the nucleus of the team’s three WNBA championships in five seasons. All occurred during the Augustus era.
“There were the lean years before she got here,” noted Chavers of the Lynx before ‘The Franchise’ arrived. “There were a lot of real low lows.”
Furthermore, the WNBA at age 20 is a far cry from Chavers’ days in the Women’s Basketball League, just another in a long line of failed attempts to build a solid, lasting foundation in this country for U.S. females to play pro basketball stateside.
She watches the W with pride. “People ask me, ‘Do you think you could play in the W?’ I say yes, I had real game. But I don’t really dwell on that,” she said. “But to be a pioneer gives you a good feeling.”
As Chavers and fellow Lynx fans cheer their lungs and voices out on this area’s only winning pro team, she can sit back knowing that her generation’s vision now is fulfilled.
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.