Fans bemoaning another 95-loss summer for the Twins, or wondering if a new Freeman will release them from Ponderous anxiety, should tune in to what is far and away Minnesota’s best sports story: the Minnesota Lynx.
The Lynx might be emerging as one of the best Minnesota sports teams ever. That’s “best ever” in any sport in the entirety of Minnesota history. Yet, you would never know it from reading our myopic and male sports pundits. Those paying attention saw this brewing months ago, and now that the Lynx have shown it to everyone by joining a small group of professional teams that have won championships without losing a single playoff game, let me celebrate what too few see: the astounding greatness of our WNBA squad. Among its splendid traits:
• Competitive drive: No team is tougher or plays harder. Three straight seasons with the WNBA’s best record proves their exceptional work ethic.
• Leadership: Orchestrated by Cheryl Reeve, a consummate coach, the Lynx are a team of leaders, each with individual strengths, who understand that leadership often means visible and unwavering commitment to each other.
• Selflessness: Contrary to popular misunderstanding, basketball is a team game that requires stars to subsume egos within a collective mission. While the Lynx have major stars — three of twelve U.S. Olympians — their dominance derives from playing beautiful, diva-free team basketball.
• Balance: The Lynx have outstanding players at every position, and one of the joys of watching them play is not knowing who will step up next to make the spectacular play.
• Composure: When pressure builds, and victory is on the line, there is no more clutch group of athletes.
• Local talent: Only two recent Minnesota basketball teams were nationally relevant, and the Lynx have two players from one of them — the 2003-04 Gopher team that reached the NCAA finals. Each grew up locally — Lindsay Whalen in Hutchinson, Minn., and Janel McCarville in Stevens Point, Wis. What a bonus to have the greatness of the home team grown directly from native roots. But why is the Lynx executive who built this team so less well known than David Kahn?
• Humility and magnanimity: A highlight of the 2013 playoffs was a Lynx team photo taken with defeated Seattle Storm player Tina Thompson, a founding member of the WNBA who is retiring. Maya Moore spoke for many when describing her inspiration as a girl watching Thompson play in what was then the new women’s professional league. The photo-op demonstrated the deep appreciation Lynx players have for simply playing professional basketball. This humility is widespread in the WNBA, and the Lynx show it in their rapport with fans, especially their dance with children after every home win. Try to picture Metta World Peace serving his community and sport in this way, and you’ll see why the Lynx are extra-special because they are pioneering female professional athletes.
Being cynical about big-time sports is easy, but we are lucky to have a team that exemplifies all that athletics should be. Plus, the Lynx kick ass, and have just won another championship, their second in three years, without even trailing in any playoff game for more than a few minutes.
Garrison Keillor assures us Minnesotans that we are above average, but with the Lynx, Lake Wobegon has something unusual: a group of übermenschen satisfied only with world-historical greatness. How good can this team become? It still isn’t perfect, and it’s fairly young. So might we want to pay more attention to the summertime doings over at Target Center?
Such marvelous alignments are rare and fleeting. How many long for Michael Jordan’s 1990s Chicago Bulls, who won six NBA titles and posted a remarkable 72-win regular season? A similarly magical once-in-a-lifetime sports moment is dawning in Minnesota, and we should cherish our good fortune while it lasts.
J.B. Shank is an associate professor of history at the University of Minnesota.