The Lynx arrived as a WNBA expansion team with Orlando in 1999, growing the league to 12 teams for its third summer season. There was much chaos with both the Lynx and the WNBA over the next decade. The league reached 16 teams at one point, before losing a few and settling in at the current 12 franchises in 2010.
The WNBA has left 11 cities in the years since Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor added the Lynx. The Twin Cities franchise is fifth in market seniority behind Los Angeles, Phoenix, New York and Washington.
There wasn’t much reward for Taylor (who also owns the Star Tribune) in underwriting the Lynx for the first 11 seasons. They reached the playoffs twice and totaled one victory.
Cheryl Reeve, part of a WNBA operation that had won two titles in Detroit, was hired as coach in December 2009. The Minnesota hero, Lindsay Whalen, was brought home in a trade with Connecticut.
Whalen, Rebekkah Brunson and Seimone Augustus were on the 2010 team, yet the Lynx went 13-21, continuing the tradition of not being among the eight teams in the WNBA playoffs.
At that point, the average Lynx season had produced a 14-20 record, and they were 1-3 in the playoffs. In eight seasons since then, the average record has been 25-9, with four championships and a 40-15 playoff record.
What changed in 2011? Augustus getting healthy was important, but what happened most of all is that Maya Moore — a two-time National Player of the Year and two-time national champion — came in from UConn as the first overall draft choice.
Never in Minnesota history has a player done as much for a franchise. The 6-foot forward has started 326 of 327 games (including 55 in the playoffs), while also winning titles in Europe and China, and two gold medals apiece in the Olympics and world championships.
Moore turns 30 in June and might want to take off the WNBA season while deciding a next career move.
Whatever she chooses, she will remain Minnesota’s adopted Maya, because she caused a franchise to be embraced — and history shows that’s harder to do in the WNBA than most any sports enterprise.
When has Minnesota had the best player in the world in a team sport?
George Mikan: Basketball’s first great big man, voted the sport’s Player of the Half Century in 1950, winner of six championships (five NBA) with the Minneapolis Lakers from 1948 to 1954.
Maya Moore: The ultimate winner in women’s basketball, the best player anywhere from the 2012 Olympics to the fourth Lynx title in 2017.
Nominees: The Twins’ Rod Carew in 1977; the Vikings’ Alan Page as a defensive tackle in 1972; and, by legend, Bronko Nagurski, for Gophers seasons (1927-29) that included All-America honors at tackle and fullback.