Sports Odds and Ends
The MSR is the only local media member that has covered the Minnesota Lynx from the start of its 25-year existence as the team became the Twin Cities’ most successful pro franchise. Before this season, the team chose its top-25 players in Lynx history and held their 25th-anniversary celebration the weekend of June 9-11, where the MSR spoke to several of the honored players. This week: Taj McWilliams-Franklin (2011-12)
Taj McWilliams-Franklin already had an impressive player resume when she signed with Minnesota in 2011. The veteran center came into the league in 1999, as a third-round pick by Orlando, and had played with five W clubs before becoming a Lynx.
She didn’t need to score to be effective. Instead, she did the less glamorous work along with providing her new teammates a seasoned voice on and off the court. That was what Minnesota needed more than buckets.
Affectionately and respectfully called “Mama Taj,” McWilliams-Franklin was a six-time All-Star and previously won a league title with Detroit in 2008. Three years later, she would earn a second title ring as McWilliams-Franklin became one of three centers, who manned the paint for the four-time Lynx champions.
She played her final pro season in Minnesota before retiring after the 2012 season, averaging 8.3 points, 5.7 boards, and 2.5 assists in 67 games for the Lynx. Overall, McWilliams-Franklin averaged 11 points and nearly seven rebounds in her 14-season career.
Being honored by the Lynx in June was a follow-up to another career-defining mark McWilliams-Franklin received this summer. Her uniform number was permanently retired by the Connecticut Sun (formerly Orlando), a franchise where she spent eight years, splitting time evenly in both locations—with four years in Orlando, and four years when the team moved to Connecticut (1999-2006).
McWilliams-Franklin is only the third Black woman whose jersey the Sun has retired. Now she has a 25-year anniversary jacket as a member of Minnesota’s All-25 Lynx players.
“I got into the league the year Minnesota got a team,” recalled McWilliams-Franklin after she and several greats conducted a youth girls basketball clinic at the team’s practice facility. “I’ve seen the evolution… All of us came in at different times. This franchise has been through so much.”
During her time with the Lynx and throughout her career, McWilliams-Franklin never was one for self-promotion. Instead she let her play do the talking—the 1993 NAIA National Player of the Year, two-time NAIA All-American, and setting school records in scoring for St. Edward’s University.
She won a gold medal with the USA team in the 1998 FIBA World Championship. She led the ABL in blocks and made the all-league’s second team. She played overseas for several off-seasons and won the finals MVP of the 2007 Winter League.
“It’s something being a poor kid from Augusta, Georgia,” said McWilliams-Franklin, trying not to be too emotional. “I never thought I could do anything [in basketball]. I got drafted in the third round. It’s really nice.”
After retirement as a WNBA player, Mama Taj did some coaching. She was a WNBA assistant coach in New York (2013), and Dallas (2017), where she was also interim head coach after Fred Williams was fired in August 2018. She was an assistant coach at three different universities as well.
“I never thought I would be recognized for anything,” McWilliams-Franklin said. “To be recognized by a community, an organization, and a franchise for my contribution. To have that recognition that I gave everything I had and they can appreciate that for what I’ve done.
“I’m thankful to be a part of Minnesota Lynx history.”