Saturday afternoon before the Lynx’s game with Los Angeles at Target Center, in what she has described as a final opportunity to throw off the archrival Sparks’ timing, Lindsay Whalen will have her No. 13 jersey retired.
It is the coda on Whalen’s WNBA career and her nine seasons with the Lynx, when the Hutchinson native helped her team win four WNBA titles.
This has been a long goodbye.
There was a news conference last season when Whalen — who juggled playing while coaching at the University of Minnesota for one year — announced her retirement. There was the official goodbye ceremony last Aug. 19, the date of her final home game.
And now this.
She deserves nothing less, of course. She is the WNBA’s all-time winningest player. She has 5,523 career points, 2,345 assists. She is in the Lynx top five in points, free throws made and attempted, double-doubles, steals and games played. First in assists.
After Saturday Whalen will have her jersey hanging both from the rafters at Williams Arena and Target Center.
“I don’t know how all this happened,” Whalen said. “I grew up watching teams play at Williams Arena and Target Center. So this is hard to put into words. How did it happen? But here it is, and it’s pretty cool.”
Turning the page with ease
That said, Whalen — about to enter her second season as Gophers women’s coach — has turned a page. She has not struggled with her decision to retire.
Indeed, the fact that only three players from last year’s Lynx team are still here — Sylvia Fowles, Seimone Augustus and Danielle Robinson — has eased that transition, as has the feeling that the championship core that also included Maya Moore and Rebekkah Brunson did all it could in its four-title run.
“That group was unbelievable,” Whalen said. “Four titles. But last year [an 18-16 season followed by a first-round playoff elimination] was hard. Last year was tough. Everyone was going through different things off the court.
“That wasn’t necessarily bad, but at times it took away from the Lynx. It was the last year of our run with that team and you could see it coming to a close.”
It’s been easy for Whalen to move on and be a fan of the 2019 Lynx, who have started the season 4-1. As a coach herself, she appreciates the job Cheryl Reeve has done retooling her roster while tweaking her approach to match a young, athletic group. Whalen has watched every game and has found joy in watching a team that reminds her a good bit of the 2011 Lynx that won the team’s first title.
“It’s a pretty cool group to watch,” she said. “They’re with the Lynx, with all the history here, and they’re trying to make their own way. There is something to that.”
Back in 2011, Brunson was the only member of the team that had won a title. Whalen remembers the collective chip the players carried and the motivation that came with it.
“You can’t make up that motivation,” Whalen said. “Not only did they get younger, they got people who want to prove themselves in this league.”
She pointed to Lexie Brown, who languished on the Connecticut bench as a rookie last season, and Odyssey Sims, who is with her third team.
“After you’ve won three, four championships, the third game of a regular season? You always play hard, try hard, but there is something different. But you look at this team, they have an energy similar to what we had in 2011. They’re finding different ways to win, and I love watching that.”
Reeve agreed, to a point. Would she still like to be coaching the championship core? Of course. But she sees players this year with something to prove. Fowles and Augustus to prove the Lynx can still be great. Brown, Sims and even Robinson feeling they have something to prove.
Invigorated? “You can say that about anybody who was around for last year,” Reeve said. “You have to be invigorated, because it wasn’t very invigorating in 2018.”
Bracing for emotion
Still, there will be emotion Saturday. Fowles talked this week about the memory of her forcing a trade here from Chicago midway through the 2015 season. At her first practice Whalen embraced her, made sure she was OK, tried to make her comfortable.
“That kind of thing you remember forever,’’ Fowles said. “She was the team’s quarterback. She was a caretaker, more than anything. Just being her, never selfish. She always made sure everyone else was all right first.”
For Whalen, the timing is right. Her retirement announcement came during the season. The team had to hop a plane to L.A. the morning following her final regular-season game. This time she can revel in the moment; the Gophers don’t start summer workouts till next week.
“It’s some down time now with me coaching,” she said. “A lot of family is coming. To take time and look back and reflect, it’s good.”