Souhan: Sylvia Fowles, Lynx’s last champion star, says goodbye
Fowles may have played her last game at Target Center on Friday
MINNEAPOLIS — Leave it to a student of mortuary science to get the ending right.
Sylvia Fowles, soon to transition from basketball great to mortician, played what might have been her last home game for the Lynx on Friday night. The last of five Hall of Fame-caliber players who combined to win four WNBA titles for the Lynx, Fowles produced her 100th double-double with the team even as Minnesota lost, 96-69, to Seattle before an announced sellout of 12,134 at Target Center.
Fowles would play at Target Center again only if the Lynx advance, then extend the first-round playoff series to three games.
Her imminent departure signals the end of an era, as the Lynx culminate an era of endings.
The great Maya Moore retired in her prime to pursue social justice.
Lindsay Whalen announced her retirement to become the Gophers' coach during a difficult season.
Seimone Augustus left for Los Angeles even as the Lynx were contemplating the best ways to celebrate her career.
Rebekkah Brunson retired because of concussions.
Lynx general manager and coach Cheryl Reeve wanted Fowles' ending to be different, and better. She wanted Fowles to receive the farewell tour her other stars missed or dismissed.
"She said that was a point of emphasis for her return, is that the Lynx have not necessarily had a proper goodbye in terms of some of the other great players," Reeve said. "This is Syl being loyal and giving back to the fans. That's big for Syl. It's not necessarily what she wants, but she looked at our franchise and said you guys deserve this."
Reeve also wanted Fowles to stay healthy while playing for a successful team one more time. Both proved challenging.
Fowles missed time and played limited minutes because of a troublesome knee, and the Lynx started horribly for a second straight season, putting themselves at risk of missing the playoffs for the first time since 2010, Reeve's first year as coach.
Minneapolis declared Friday to be Sylvia Fowles Day, even if it wasn't to be her team's night. She passed Brunson as the all-time rebounding leader in Lynx history and recorded her 100th double-double with the team, finishing with 13 points and a game-high 12 rebounds.
She had the right kind of audience, even beyond the sellout crowd. Reeve and assistant coach Brunson were on the bench. The Storm brought Fowles' Olympic teammate Sue Bird, who is also playing the last games of a Hall of Fame career, as well as superstar Breanna Stewart, who wore a T-shirt honoring Fowles into the building.
"Without all that attention, all those farewells, most people wouldn't have known what the biggest part of her legacy is, and that's who she is as a person," Reeve said.
Before the game, Fowles presented flowers and gifts to Bird and Briann January, who is also retiring. On the game's first possession, Fowles scored with a classic back-to-the-basket move.
At halftime, Fowles, teammate Napheesa Collier and Reeve received rings commemorating their Olympic gold medal performance for the United States in Tokyo. After the game, Bird led the crowd in a cheer of "Syl's house," and Fowles cried while hugging just about everyone on the court.
In a postgame ceremony, Brunson talked about Fowles' powerhouse hugs. Whalen said the Lynx wouldn't have won their last two titles without Fowles, and said she looked forward to seeing Fowles' jersey hanging in the rafters.
Team owner Glen Taylor spoke, as did Minnesota lieutenant governor Peggy Flanagan and USA basketball CEO Jim Tooley.
Reeve led a chant of "One more year!" noting that the sentiment worked last year on Bird, then told stories about Fowles being a "weird kid" who liked funerals.
Fowles is becoming a mortician because she wants to help people through their pain. Her empathy made her a beloved figure throughout the league.
Late Friday night, Fowles held a towel to her eyes before speaking. "I just want you guys to know that I appreciate you," she said. "Minnesota will forever be home."
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