From Hutchinson High School to the Minnesota Lynx, Lindsay Whalen left her mark on basketball in the state. And she left memories with those who’ve followed her career since the beginning. Here, we share some of our favorite Whalen moments. You can share your favorites in the comments below:
The Lynx, down two games to one in the 2017 WNBA finals, were down 4-2 early in Game 4 when, after a Lynx turnover, Los Angeles guard Odyssey Sims was going in for a fast-break layup. That is, until Whalen came in and fouled her. Hard. Like, flagrant foul hard.
“I was sending a message to the whole team — and to everyone — that we’re here tonight,” Whalen remembered. “We will not go down without a fight.”
Minutes later, with 3:49 left in the first quarter, the Lynx took the lead on Rebekkah Brunson’s three-point play. The Lynx did not trail in the series again.
This is doing whatever it takes to win. Whalen will tell you that, when she didn’t get much push-back from the Sparks after that play she knew they were going to win. And they did.
Like Mary Tyler Moore tossing her tam into the air, Lindsay Whalen had a signature move that endeared her to Minnesotans. And that’s how many of us will remember her: barreling fearlessly through the lane, impervious to contact, and muscling the ball to the hoop.
We watched her do it thousands of times over nearly two decades. Sometimes, you could see it coming. With the ball in her hands, directing the offense, she’d size up the situation and get that steely look in her eye. And you just knew, no matter how crowded the lane or how rough the opponent, she was going to risk the bruises and battering and fight her way to the basket. It might not have been the flashiest play in basketball, but the sheer guts of it made you smile in appreciation every time.
Greatest Lindsay Whalen moment is obvious: March 21, 2004. The Gophers senior star had suffered two broken bones in her right hand 38 days earlier. A crowd of 11,389 showed up in Williams Arena for the NCAA opener vs. UCLA with one question: Would Lindsay play?
Whalen’s introduction in the starting lineup brought a deafening cheer. There were two more hours of that, as she scored 31 points — without being able to shoot longer jump shots — in a 92-81 victory.
It was the start of a run to the Final Four, as well as the night Lindsay Marie Whalen of Hutchinson made the step up from local hero to all-time Minnesota great.
Lindsay Whalen had just won her first WNBA championship. I filed my column from Atlanta, then went back to the lockerroom, and waited in the hallway.
Whalen emerged, drenched with champagne and tipsy. “Oh, Jim! We did it!” she said.
Then she told me what the championship meant to her, as her teammates partied 20 feet away.
How do you forget that?
The Gophers women’s basketball team faced No. 1 seed Duke in the Midwest Region Final in 2004. Whalen, who had suffered a broken hand about two months earlier, was magnificent in a vintage performance to lead the Gophers to the Final Four.
She kept attacking Duke’s pressure with her fearless drives to the basket and finished with 27 points, six rebounds, four assists and four steals. It’s impossible to overstate the impact Whalen and that season had on the growth of women’s basketball in Minnesota.
Lindsay Whalen had just helped the Lynx win their fourth title last fall. A thrilling five-game series against the Los Angeles Sparks. Whalen had scored 17 points with eight assists and two steals, and then celebrated the victory on the Williams Arena court under the banner of her that hangs in the rafters.
Coming full circle.
Afterward, in the locker room lined with plastic and dripping with bubbly, Whalen celebrated, a bottle of champagne clutched in each hand.
“I never drank champagne in the Barn before,” she said. And then, a grin. Pure Whalen. “Not that anybody knows about, anyway.”
Given her new job coaching the Gophers, here’s betting that won’t be the last time, either.