Lindsay Whalen’s body was so battered last season that she basically was held together for the WNBA playoffs by a mixture of duct tape, super glue and intestinal fortitude.
Anytime she was asked about her litany of leg injuries — even off the record — Whalen would smile and say, “I’m good.”
She hates excuses.
“You don’t want to talk about it and make it a big thing,” she says.
Whalen is 34 years old and in her 13th season, putting her among the WNBA’s most tenured players.
She has played in roughly 900 games in her pro career between the WNBA and overseas. Physically, she can’t do the same things on the court as she did when she was, say, 26 years old.
“Were you at the game the other night?” she asks, a hint of defiance in her voice.
Her comeback was like a crossover dribble that broke my ankles. It was classic Whalen, feisty and cutthroat competitive.
“Just kidding, just kidding,” she says, laughing.
She wasn’t wrong, though. Her boxscore from the Lynx’s 37-point thumping of Dallas on Saturday read thusly: 22 points on 11-for-13 shooting, seven rebounds, five assists.
It was a turn-back-the-clock performance by Whalen, sage point guard who last week became the first player in WNBA history to reach 5,000 points, 2,000 assists and 1,500 rebounds.
All three milestones reflect her longevity in the game. Her longevity reflects more than just supreme talent. Her reaction to the honor says everything about Whalen as a competitor and teammate.
She didn’t celebrate.
“I haven’t had time,” she says, noting she may treat herself to a nice dinner after the season.
The accomplishment came in a bad loss at Connecticut. Whalen woke up at 5 a.m. still ticked about her team blowing a late 11-point lead that included a turnover and missed layup by Whalen in the closing seconds of regulation.
Given more time to reflect, Whalen says she takes particular pride in the rebounds and assists.
“Rebounds take hard work and determination, and assists [involve] teammates,” she says. “That’s what makes it really special.”
Whalen’s scoring ability always has been transcendent, a flair that earned a legion of new fans in Minnesota during her storybook Gophers career.
The thing I admire most about the way she plays is her toughness. Even now, in the twilight of her career, she brings fight to every game, every possession.
Her competitive spirit burns white hot. She believes she still plays at an elite level. Just differently now.
“It’s less flying in there and taking a pounding,” she says. “You have to be more calculated.”
Whalen’s forte has been drives to the hoop followed by an acrobatic shot. She has to pick her spots more now because she’s not as quick and nimble. Her body doesn’t recover as easily as it once did.
“When you’re able to bounce off and nothing ever hurts, you can keep doing it,” she says. “But you’ve got to be smart. I want to be there for the whole season for the team.”
Whalen has modified her approach in the late stage of her career. She improved her midrange game as an alternative to constant divebomb drives to the basket. She also skipped playing overseas last winter for the first time in a decade to recover from injuries.
Her body feels fresher this season. Her desire for basketball remains just as intense.
She had numerous conversations with Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve before the season about enjoying this period of her career. She’s taking time to appreciate everything.
“It’s such a short time that we have to play,” Whalen said. “Sometimes I try and give myself a perspective of what I’m going to be thinking when I’m 40 or whenever it is that I retire.”
“We have such a great situation here,” she continues. “Amazing facility, amazing team, great coaches. Just enjoy that time and not get too down, too low with losses.”
OK, that part is not easy. Whalen still hates to lose.
She relies on her mental acumen on the court as a trade-off to any physical decline. Young, speedy guards test her, especially on defense, so Whalen uses her strength and angles to try and counter that.
“That’s a fun challenge,” she says. “You see some moves where I’m like, ‘Whew, I haven’t seen that in a while.’ You’ve got to want those matchups and still test yourself.”
One thing’s certain, Whalen won’t back down.
She never does.