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Maya Moore of the Lynx drove to the net during a playoff game last week.

Jeff Wheeler, Star Tribune

Minnesota Lynx -- the most exciting team in town

  • Article by: NANCY BARNES
  • Star Tribune Editor
  • September 27, 2011 - 5:31 AM

One good-natured and well-intentioned staff member stepped right into a minefield the other day when we were discussing whether to put a story about the Lynx as one of our dominant page 1 promos -- the ones right at the top of the page.

"Aw, nobody cares about them," he said, quite innocently.

To which I responded, vehemently, "They are the only team in this town that's winning! The only team!"

Now, to be fair, his comment reflects a common attitude in newsrooms around America. With a few exceptions, women pro sports have historically generated a small fan base and little money.

As we all know, the big money and interest goes to the National Football League, the National Hockey League, Major League Baseball and the National Basketball Association.

I spent many years in North Carolina, which gives birth to some of the best pro basketball players in the country; I get it.

And yet, many of our female professional athletes play with an intensity and passion that equals and sometimes exceeds the men. If you love sports, how can you not admire that effort?

The depth of this inequity hit me in the spring when Maya Moore, the top college player in the country, went to the Lynx in the first round of the WNBA draft for an annual base salary of less than $50,000. Her pay, based on the WNBA collective bargaining agreement, is actually high for a rookie in the league.

Compare that with Kevin Love, a first-round NBA draft pick who signed with the Timberwolves in 2008 for $5.47 million over two years.

This year, the Lynx have been on a remarkable run for a team that won only 13 games last year. In the regular season this year, they ran up a 27-7 record.

As they headed into their historymaking playoff season, Coach Cheryl Reeve was named the WNBA coach of the year, while Moore was named rookie of the year.

Roman Augustoviz, who covers the Lynx for us, says that it's easy to point to the reasons for their success this year: "Quite simply, they have stockpiled a lot of talent the past few years, were lucky enough get the No. 1 overall pick in this year's WNBA draft (Maya Moore) and stayed healthy this season (a starter never missed a game)."

As we sat down to assess our coverage plan for the playoff season, Sports Editor Glen Crevier was already ahead of me when I expressed the opinion that we needed to cover the Lynx with the same spirit as if it were the Twins or the Vikings headed into the playoffs.

"In a city starved for a sports winner, we are treating the Lynx as a big story," Crevier said, noting that several of the Lynx stars are among the best women players in the world.

So, on Wednesday, the day after the Lynx won a playoff series for the first time in their 13-year history, the sports staff rightly made it their centerpiece story, with a dominant photo, news story and column.

For Monday, the sports staff will produce two covers -- one that will highlight the Vikings-Lions game, and the other that will feature Game 2 of the WNBA Western Conference finals.

And if the Lynx make the championship round, columnist Jim Souhan will join Augustoviz in covering the team and we will further ramp up our coverage plans. We have also produced video and photo galleries, have conducted some live chats and have tweeted about the Lynx.

We know the fan base for the Lynx is small, but Augustoviz says this is a likable team that should be good for several years to come; they hope their success will help them grow attendance.

This is not to suggest that we expect women's sports to equal men's sports in the amount of love and money thrown their way for a long, long time.

But in a metropolitan region that loves sports as much as this one does, the Lynx deserve our respect -- and they deserve a little time and attention from their hometown newspaper whether or not they go all the way.

Besides, it's a lot more fun to cover a team that's winning than one that simply cannot.

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