We shouldn’t be surprised that the most prolific rebounder in WNBA history knows how to seize, and squeeze, a moment.
With 7 minutes, 19 seconds left in the fourth quarter of the Lynx’s latest showdown with Los Angeles, forward Rebekkah Brunson grabbed the ball as if it were made of gold, pulled it to her sternum with textbook form — elbows out, eyes up — and set the league record for career rebounds.
She already had a firm grip on the game. With coach Cheryl Reeve in the locker room after being ejected, and star Maya Moore in the midst of a strange two-game shooting slump, Brunson and fellow post Sylvia Fowles dominated the Sparks during the Lynx’s 83-72 victory.
Brunson already held a career record for team play, last year becoming the only WNBA player ever to have won five league titles. Thursday, she earned her greatest individual achievement in her 15th season, in front of a raucous crowd of 9,303, in what might have been her team’s most important victory this year.
Brunson earned a standing ovation, a congratulatory tweet from former record-holder Tamika Catchings, and a courtside kiss on the cheek from team owner Glen Taylor during a stoppage in play later in the fourth quarter. “Sorry I missed the celebration,” Reeve said, wryly.
The costs and rewards of Brunson’s feat were on display after the game in the locker room. She sat with huge icepacks on her aching knees, the basketball she grabbed to break the record in her locker, and her phone buzzing with incoming messages of congratulations.
How do you compare collecting five rings to grabbing 3,318 rebounds?
“This is a great feeling, individually,” she said. “You know, this feels really good to kind of have your work pay off. I feel like I’m the type of player that I don’t necessarily get the shine, the spotlight, the attention, so it feels good to be recognized for something that you feel you contribute all the time.
“The championships, that’s about us being able to play together. So it’s two different things.”
Brunson finished with 15 points, 12 rebounds and two assists. She and Fowles finished with game-best plus-14 ratings, an indication of their strong defense.
If there was anything shocking about Brunson’s line, it was that she played a game-high 37 minutes at the age of 36, weeks after Reeve decided it was in the best interests of the team to save Brunson’s knees by limiting her playing time.
Reeve changed her mind when she saw what her team looked like with Brunson on the bench. “She didn’t love the idea,” Reeve said. “She understood it. She was playing 17 minutes, then 15. We just said, ‘Scrap it.’ I need her out on the floor.”
The 6-2 Brunson is a four-time All-Star and has been named to the league’s all-defensive first or second team six times. She began her career as the 10th pick in the 2004 draft by Sacramento, and the Lynx selected her in the dispersal draft before the 2010 season.
Thursday, former Sacramento teammate Kara Lawson was in Target Center, announcing for ESPN. “I remember watching Sacramento when they won the title, because I’ve been following the league for a long time,” Lawson said. “I didn’t know ‘BB’ the way I do know. Very early on, I saw the professionalism that she came with every day, the defensive intensity — and it was fun! I fed off of that. As the years went on, I wanted to be with her in that way — with defense and rebounding, and being hard to play against.”
Reeve said there are no analytics or unique talents that led to the record, just Brunson’s will: “She’s a vegan who feasts on the meat and potatoes of basketball.”
Where does Brunson keep the spoils of 15 years of awards and titles? “Safe-deposit box,” she said. “I should probably put them someplace more special.”
But there is something fitting about a great rebounder putting her faith in the bank.