There in the beginning: recalling the Lynx’s first year

The Minnesota Lynx is celebrating its 20th year in the WNBA this season. In this 20-part occasional series we will take a year-by-year look back, featuring reflections from players, coaches, fans and others. This week: the year 1999

Minnesota at long last had a women’s pro basketball team in town in 1999 – and not another one-or-two (seasons)-and-done.

Brian Agler was hired as coach and GM. Five “rookies” were drafted – Tonya Edwards, Sonya Tate, Andrea Lloyd Curry, Trisha Fallon and Angie Potthoff, all of whom played for Agler’s two-time American Basketball League (ABL) champions Columbus Quest that had folded months earlier. Charmin Smith was among six players the WNBA allocated to Minnesota.

Charmin Smith
Charmin Smith Courtesy of Cal Athletics

“We had a real veteran group, and I was a rookie on that team. [It was] my first year in the league,” Smith recalled in a recent MSR phone interview. She also played in the ABL (Portland, 1997-98) and was a former star player at Stanford (1993-97), where she helped the Cardinals to three NCAA Final Fours and three Pac-10 titles.

Now California associate head coach, Charmin said, “It was a very special group of players, people like Katie Smith, Andrea Lloyd, Tonya Edwards, that made me feel like my value was there.”

 

The first-year Lynx won its first two games, both at home, and four of their first six contests, including road wins at Los Angeles and Utah (now Las Vegas). Although they played .500 or above ball for most of the summer, Minnesota ran into a rough August, finishing 15-17 and out of the playoffs.

“It was just cool playing at the highest level against the best players in the world night in and night out,” Smith continued. Playing in NBA arenas in L.A., Phoenix and Madison Square Garden among others was “really cool” as well, she remembered.

“I remember KG (Kevin Garnett) and Bobby Jackson coming to our games,” she said. “KG had the team hook him up with a Lynx jersey, and I was number 21 and KG was 21. I remember sitting on the bench with Adia Barnes (now University of Arizona head coach) – we sat there and talked: ‘KG is wearing my jersey tonight.’ He’s sitting at courtside wearing a [number] 21 Lynx jersey.

“One day after a game, I got to take a picture with him in my jersey. That was pretty cool for me. He was one of my favorite players in the [NBA],” Smith said proudly.

She saw action in just 13 games, barely a third of the 34-game season, with eight of her 10 total points coming from the free throw line (8-10). “I think they [Lynx fans] were appreciative of my energy – I was always sprinting off the bench and giving people high fives.

“I remember as the season went on, they were cheering my name when games got to the point they thought Brian should put me in. I’m sitting there trying to ignore it. I pretended like I [didn’t hear it]. It was really embarrassing, but it also was real appreciative.

“The fans showed me some love… I love that they recognized my passion for the game and the team,” said Smith, who after the season was picked by Seattle in the 2000 league expansion draft. The guard played another season in Phoenix (2003), and played overseas before retiring and going into coaching since 2003 (Boston College, Stanford and Cal).

Charmin Smith watches the present-day Lynx with pride, her name firmly in the franchise’s history books. “I’m happy to look back and say, ‘Oh, cool – you were there in the beginning,” she concluded. “I don’t claim to have any part of what’s happening now.”

“It was just cool playing at the highest level against the best players in the world night in and night out.”