More than a minute before the buzzer sounded, a hometown crowd that filled Target Center to the rafters got to its feet, watching the seconds count down as the Minnesota Lynx clinched their third WNBA title in five seasons on Wednesday night.
It was a decisive 69-52 win over the Indiana Fever on the Lynx’s home turf — a franchise first and in front of a record and raucous crowd of 18,933, including hometown rocker Prince. Both of Minnesota’s previous WNBA titles, in 2011 and 2013, were won on the road during three-game finals sweeps.
“It makes me feel like I’m part of the championship,” said Donna Spikes, who has followed the team for five years. As fireworks went off, she looked around the sea of white T-shirts, soaking in the energy.
For the longtime fans and the newbies sprinkled among them, the game was more than just a championship. It was a celebration of strong, athletic women who have become role models for their daughters and who have drawn admiration and respect from men.
“I watch them more than any other Minnesota team,” said Jerome Barbee. “They play so hard — just like men. But they don’t get paid like them. Look up there,” he said, pointing to the championship flags. “Those other [Minnesota] teams can learn a lesson from these women. Championships don’t take money. It takes will. … There’s just something special about that team.”
And on Wednesday night in the best of five, the Lynx put a stamp on their legacy as one of the WNBA’s top dynasties. The team played in its fourth finals series in the last five seasons. Only the Houston Comets (four straight titles, 1997-2000) and Detroit Shock (three times in six seasons, 2003-08) have had runs of success to rival the Lynx’s current reign.
Season-ticket holders Mary and Tim Sheehan never doubted the outcome even before Minnesota walked out on the court. The couple are die-hard Lynx fans who moved from Forest Lake to downtown Minneapolis in part so they could walk four blocks to the Lynx games.
Sure, the Sheehans are Minnesota sports fans. But the Lynx are special. They’re not just amazing athletes, they’re tremendous role models who attract a diverse fan base, Tim Sheehan said.
Look around and you see families and diversity, Mary Sheehan said. “I see people in wheelchairs and young men cheering these women on. It’s pretty amazing.”
With the team’s last game of the season being played on the court, Mary Sheehan suddenly became wistful.
“It may be one of the last times we see this old group together,” she said. “I don’t know when we’ll see the likes of this group again.”
The Lynx’s recent success has been built around coach Cheryl Reeve and a veteran core that includes Lindsay Whalen, Seimone Augustus, Maya Moore and Rebekka Brunson. Sylvia Fowles, a former all-star center, joined the starting five this season.
But there was a sense of urgency for the Lynx to win the title again this season, because age and injuries appear to be taking a toll. Moore is the only member of the starting five younger than 30, and Whalen and Augustus have been hobbled this season by a series of injuries that, at times, seriously limited their effectiveness.
All of which added an air of uncertainty about what lies ahead for the team — and made the players believe winning this season was extra important.
Season-ticket holder Martha Nause twirled her Lynx roar towel and began cheering for a win even before the opening tip. And with 5:57 to go, Nause was nearly hoarse. “You can’t let up. You have to yell until the final buzzer and until I can’t yell anymore.”
With the Lynx up 59-44 with 4:39 left, Nause refused to get cocky. “Indiana is too good,” she said. “They can make a run for it.”
Eventually, as the clock ticked down, the crowd — bigger and louder than most any other Lynx game Nause has been at this season — couldn’t hold back. Fans raised their smartphones, capturing video of the final seconds, and Nause stayed on her feet, yelling to the end as the buzzer sounded and confetti rained down on the team.
Out on the street, the celebration continued as Timothy Thomas walked through the crowds, slapping high-five’s all around. “Boom!”
Montrell Johnson and Karim Vance reveled in the win. “They played for us, baby,” Johnson said.
“They proved they can be better than the men,” Vance said. “It was beautiful. They brought it right to Minnesota.”
Staff writer Dennis Brackin contributed to this report.