Plenty of good storylines filled our sports columns in 2017

The coverage of another Lynx championship run earns our top-of-the-list status

(Courtesy of the Lynx)
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2017 was not a bucket list sports year, but in so many ways it wasn’t any less memorable for that reason. Both “Another View” and “Sports Odds and Ends,” the two columns I am responsible for filing each week, once again stayed true to our overall mission to avoid game stories in favor of other sports-related news and information.

Our first “View” of 2017 featured Rachel Banham as only the second Black female basketball player at Minnesota to have her jersey put in the Williams Arena rafters. “That’s something I can tell my kids,” she told us.

Rachel Banham (Photo by Sophia Hantzes)

We used the same column to continue our campaign for the school to duly honor our late senior columnist Kwame McDonald in a meaningful and lasting way. McDonald has done more in this town than any other local media person can attest to, such as personally counseling Blacks to attend and stay at the University of Minnesota, and he set the standard for real women’s sports coverage.

Our first SOE of 2017 spotlighted Minneapolis native Nia Coffey, who was in town to play the Gophers in her last trip as a collegiate at Northwestern. She joined Minneapolis native Jenna Smith as Big Ten players with 2,000 points and 1,000 rebounds for their career.

It’s hard to rank columns, especially over 100 of them, but certainly the best professional team in town, the Minnesota Lynx, which I have covered during its entire existence, has earned our top-of-the-list status. Their successful championship run gave our readers plenty of storylines.

What could top the best three minutes of sport that I witnessed in the 2016 WNBA Finals between Minnesota and Los Angeles but another five-game epic battle against the league’s top two clubs this year? At the start of the fifth and deciding game in Williams Arena, both teams scored the exact same number of total points. But unlike a year ago, the final result went to the host Lynx.

We capped our 2017 Lynx coverage with “Tribute to a dynasty” in “Sports Odds and Ends.”  Minnesota joined Boston and the Los Angeles Lakers of the NBA, NHL’s Montreal, the New York Yankees of Major League Baseball, and the old Cleveland Browns of the NFL as franchises that reached consecutive finals in multiple seasons. We also talked to each member of the Lynx’s history-making nucleus, hugely responsible for four championships in seven years.

“Getting here is not easy!” exclaimed forward Rebekkah Brunson, now the only WNBA player with five titles on her resume. “I’m happy to be able to share this with these women.”

“We did everything we could to prepare, and it paid off,” said forward Maya Moore, who won Sports Illustrated’s first Sportsperson of the Year earlier this month.

“We made it, man,” added center Sylvia Fowles, the first player to win three MVP awards in the same year (regular season, finals and Chinese league).

Sylvia Fowles (above) and Lindsay Whalen (below) during the Championship game. Chris Juhn

“Here we are speaking in the same breath with Sheryl Swoopes and Cynthia Cooper and the great [Houston] Comets team,” guard Seimone Augustus pointed out. “They motivated every one of us [to] want to be here.”

“I feel it was cemented,” guard Lindsay Whalen told us the day after game five on the Lynx’s now dynasty status.

Last year’s “20 in 20” WNBA series was replaced this year with “In The W.” Our nearly 30 league-related pieces this year included the three Black women who filled three WNBA head coaching vacancies after the 2016 season, a rare feat in pro sport.

Lindsay Whalen (Chris Juhn/MSR News)

We also introduced this year a three multi-part series: “Forgotten,” “Diversity Conundrum” and “Greatness.”

Former Atlanta sports talk host Doug Stewart was among our “Forgotten” subjects. “I’m all right, but it’s been over four years” since he and brother Ryan were the highest-rated show in Atlanta radio and was once syndicated as well.

Former Gopher coach Clem Haskins and his 1996-97 team was highlighted in “The Last Big Ten champion” column on its 20th year anniversary run to the Final Four semifinals in March 1997.  “The majority of my players who played for me I think I got the most of their ability and [they] reached their full potential playing for me,” the coach told us from his Kentucky home, who admitted that he wasn’t aware that two decades have gone by since that run.

“The Jackie Robinsons of the NFL” was on Kenny Washington and Woody Strode who in 1946 integrated the NFL, as well as Halley Harding and a group of Black sportswriters. The Los Angeles Rams “don’t admit to the fact that they had to get pushed to do it,” author Gretchen Atwood told us in a phone interview — her book Lost Champions chronicles the overlooked events.

The “Only One” this year returned again with new “episodes.” We searched for Black fans at hockey and baseball games and non-connected Black fans (not related to players or friends of the players) at college football games this season. We criticized press boxes as becoming more like coffee shops where everything but covering the live game occurs.

And we quizzed Blacks at a St. Paul Saints game on who was Larry Doby and why was the team honoring him — only one of 10 Blacks we asked knew of the first Black player in the American League.

“If you’re a baseball fan, you got to know who Larry Doby is,” Saints Co-Owner Mike Veeck stressed. His father Bill Veeck signed Doby from the Negro Leagues to play for his Cleveland club.

Our “Gopher 100” series this year featured gymnasts, a baseball player, and two Gophers who worked as interns at two downtown Minneapolis locations, among others.

We kept our diversity spotlight on locally and nationally as well throughout the year. Both the Twins and the Wolves made diversity inroads by hiring Torii Hunter and LaTroy Hawkins as baseball operations special assistants and John Thomas as community engagement vice-president, respectively.

A Minnesota State Legislature committee this spring published a report that found the MSR was the leader in women’s sports coverage over the Star Tribune, Duluth News Tribune and Sports Illustrated by a wide margin during the month of March, college sport’s busiest month.  Lynx Coach Cheryl Reeve made it known, first during a speaking engagement and then in a Star Tribune Sunday edition, that over a one-week span only one reporter — this reporter in this town — covered her team in a deserving fashion.

An annual look back prior to the start of the New Year gives one a brief pause. But there always are more storylines to fill our two columns non-stop each week for our readers.

 

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