The Minnesota Lynx headed into the WNBA finals Sunday at Target Center with a 27-7 season record, the league's best for the second straight year. If they win the best-of-five series against the Indiana Fever, they'll be the first WNBA team in a decade to capture back-to-back titles.
After years of so-so seasons, the Lynx brought a much-needed lift to sports-minded Minnesotans last year by taking the WNBA title with a lineup that included four WNBA All-Stars and a coach named the league's best. They opened this season with 10 consecutive wins, putting to rest any notion that the team was content to be a one-hit wonder.
Last month, President Obama welcomed the Lynx to the White House to celebrate last year's triumph. While the president championed the players as "great ambassadors for the game," Minnesotans know they're also great ambassadors for the state, especially Hutchinson native Lindsay Whalen, a phenomenal player who first garnered national attention at the University of Minnesota. Also among the beloved starters is 41-year-old Taj McWilliams-Franklin, affectionately called "Mama Taj," who joined the WNBA in 1999.
The Lynx are shining a spotlight on Minnesota sports in a year during which the WNBA is marking the 40th anniversary of Title IX, landmark legislation that opened doors for greater female participation in athletics. During a Target Center game in June, the teams wore special jerseys bearing the Roman numeral "IX."
Because of the Lynx success, it's time for the WNBA to give Minnesota serious consideration as All-Star game host. Last month, the league announced that next year's game will be at Mohegan Sun Arena, home of the Connecticut Sun, for a third time.
Lynx team owner Glen Taylor has hoped that the team's winning ways would generate a larger fan base. While this year's attendance has been better than most WNBA teams', the Lynx don't draw sellout crowds. Sadly, average attendance at this year's playoff games (8,583) was far lower than last year's (nearly 10,000). On the other hand, this year's season opener drew a record 12,611 people.
If professional women's sports are ever to move beyond surviving to thriving, fans must show their support. Taylor, who became the majority owner of the team in 2002, deserves credit for persevering in good times and bad. At times, however, the marketing and entertainment at Lynx games seem a bit out of touch with WNBA fans and underserve the team.
Yet in a sign that the Lynx have arrived as a newsmaking entity, it didn't go unnoticed when star Seimone Augustus took to Twitter last week to complain about being stopped by Roseville police. The ever-steady Augustus averaged a whopping 19.4 points during the playoffs. As a player, her shooting skills and warm, happy-go-lucky demeanor are breaths of fresh air.
What on the surface appeared to be a stink over an air freshener dangling from her review mirror -- a no-no in Minnesota -- may have been something more insidious. Augustus said the officer mentioned thefts at the nearby mall and noted her out-of-town license plates. Coach Cheryl Reeve said Augustus was a victim of racial profiling and was right to speak out. Roseville's police chief called the player to defuse the situation.
The incident appears to have strengthened rather than tarnished the team's well-deserved reputation. Rather than an air of elitism, Lynx players interact with fans in warm and playful ways, and repeatedly emphasize their gratitude for fan support. It's a team known for its unselfish attitude both on and off the court. Minnesotans, it's time to get behind this team in a big way and support its effort to build a women's professional basketball dynasty in the state.
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