WNBA Finals preview

This series will cover the WNBA’s 21st season with at least one story on the league weekly from the season’s May 13 opening to its closing on September 3 and through the 2017 playoffs.

The Minnesota Lynx’s sixth WNBA Finals appearance in seven seasons is in less than seven days. This is the first Finals rematch since 2000, and the second-ever in league history, as Minnesota and defending champs Los Angeles prepare to square off as the league’s two best teams. Many predicated this rematch since the start of the season.

(Chris Juhn/MSR News)

One would think as a result the Lynx would be the talk of the Twin Towns. They should be. Story lines  should abound, creating a gradual media buildup similar, if not nearly equal to, this season’s Cleveland-Golden State NBA Finals rematch earlier this year. The two oldest teams in terms of average age: Minnesota (30.2 years) and Los Angeles (28.5 years), as well as experience (7.5 years for the Lynx; 5.1 years for the Sparks) facing each other, renewing the W’s hottest rivalry where each team draws the competitive best out of each other.

One team, Minnesota, driving all season to get back to the championship stage, which eluded them a year ago in perhaps the most exciting league finals in history. The other team, the Sparks, desperately wants to prove that they can successfully defend last season’s crown.

But if the latest Sports Illustrated is any indication, finding WNBA Finals lead-in stories in mainstream publication and sports radio will be as absence as ever. The word “WNBA” was found just once in the 68-page weekly sports magazine — on page 68 in Steve Rushin’s tribute to his wife Rebecca Lobo, one of the first three players signed by the league 21 years ago and her Hall of Fame induction.

It’s the ‘shadow’ championship, put on the media attention back row behind the NFL, Major League Baseball and college football. The NBA on Monday released its latest promotional campaign, and that will get more ink and face time than their sister stablemate.

Minnesota — the new league standard 

(Mitchell Palmer McDonald/MSR News)

This longtime league reporter vividly remembers the W’s first dynasty, Houston, winners of the first four championships. Many now see Minnesota as the new standard of excellence and the following stats clearly presents a very good augment.

Most consecutive 20+ wins seasons: 7 — Minnesota (2011-2017)
Most wins, seven consecutive seasons: 182 — Minnesota (2011-2017)
Longest current playoff streak: 7 — Minnesota (started in 2011)

“It’s always great to see [the Lynx] play,” proclaimed W President Lisa Borders.

If you take this year’s MVP Sylvia Fowles out of the equation, the Lynx boast the WNBA’s winningest foursome in history — 129 career wins by Seimone Augustus, Rebekkah Brunson, Maya Moore and Lindsay Whalen.

Whalen in June moved into the top spot on the individual career win list with over 300 wins, and Brunson is fourth on the list, closing in on 290. And for more ‘string music,’ the Lynx soon will occupy four of the top five spots in career wins as trio of teammates: Brunson-Moore-Whalen will be tops, with Augustus-Moore-Whalen; Augustus-Brunson-Whalen; and Augustus-Brunson-Moore in the third, fourth and fifth spot respectively, and still continuing to add wins to their career totals.

This standard is not only remarkable league wise, but should be the envy in pro sports, regardless of gender.

Sylvia Fowles winning this season’s MVP award capped the league’s individual awards for the year, all first-time winners: top coach (Connecticut’s Curt Miller), top executive (Miller), defensive player (Alana Beard, Los Angeles), sixth woman (New York’s Sugar Rodgers), and most improved (Jonquel Jones, Connecticut)

Sylvia Fowles (Charles Hallman/MSR News)

“It speaks to the breadth and the power on the court and off the court,” league President Lisa Borders told the MSR after her final “big announcement” Sept. 14 at Williams Arena.

An emotional Fowles told reporters, including the MSR that her best season ever, in terms of being named the league’s top player actually began after her exit interview with coaches last fall before leaving for China. “I worked every day to be the best I could be,” she said humbly, fighting back tears. “I just want to thank you guys.”

When asked, Fowles told me that the mental part of her game is where she has made her biggest improvement this season, especially “learning that it was OK to mess up but what is your reaction after you mess up.”

Borders called Fowles’ MVP season “unique” — the 6-6, 10th year center started all 34 games in her third year in Minnesota, and posted her fifth career double-double in season stats (nearly 19 points and 10 rebounds a game), a career-best .655 field goal percentage, fourth best in league history, which led the league in FG accuracy; a three-time Western Conference Player of the Month (May, June, July) and five-time Player of the Week honors this season.

She also surpassed the 4,000 point mark in her career in mid-July, and grabbed her 2,500th rebound in Atlanta in August, a game in which Fowles scored 27 points and had 13 boards — she topped the league in a dozen 20/10 efforts, and has 52 career such efforts as well.

“A broad consensus on who she is and what she’s done,” Borders noted as Fowles received 35 of 40 total votes for this year’s honor.

Furthermore, Fowles might be the first W player in history to win both an overseas and league most valuable player award in the same calendar year — she won it in China in March. “She is now a global champion,” declared Borders.

“She earned it,” says Augustus of her Lynx teammate. “I’m proud of her.”

“I got the call last weekend,” Fowles told the MSR last Thursday when she learned that she’d won the honor but had to keep it to herself for several days leading up to the official announcement. “I had time to sit down and reflect. It was very emotional.”

Check MSRNewsOnline.com for WNBA Finals coverage.

Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to challman@spokesman-recorder.com.