Sylvia Fowles hasn’t decided how long she intends to play in the WNBA, but she’s already preparing for her second career.
She wants to become a mortician.
The idea of preparing dead bodies for funeral first came to her when she was 5 years old after the death of a family member.
“I’ve got a lot of friends who think it’s pretty unique,” Fowles said. “They don’t think it’s weird at all.”
Basketball is her immediate focus. She needs to help the Lynx respond with a better performance in Game 2 of the WNBA finals on Tuesday after losing the opener to the Los Angeles Sparks.
The Lynx were in this same position last season, trailing 1-0 in the finals, and won the championship in five games.
“There’s no need to panic,” Fowles said.
Fowles doesn’t seem like a worrywart anyway. The 31-year-old center plays tough on the court but describes her personality as “chill.”
She believes being a mortician would fit her laid-back nature.
“It gives me a sense of relaxation when I think about it,” she said.
Her interest began as a child after her grandmother died. Fowles’ older siblings encouraged her to give her grandmother a final kiss before the funeral.
“I think I had an allergic reaction when I went to the burial site,” Fowles said. “My lips itched the whole time. I always felt they did something wrong. That was always my main focus of wanting to be a mortician.”
She started taking online classes through the American Academy McAllister Institute in New York several years ago. She already has completed courses in anatomy, ethics, embalming and funeral directing.
Dealing with the deceased might seem impersonal, but not to Fowles.
“I have a warm side in dealing with families in tough times,” she said. “That’s just my nature. I feel like if I can give them a good [service] that would make things a little easier.”
Fowles’ basketball schedule forced her to take a break from classes this semester. The WNBA season coupled with the Rio Olympics made it difficult to find enough time for course work and tests.
Fowles studied long hours every day between her basketball responsibilities — on planes, bus rides to airports and especially late at night after games when she was too excited to sleep.
She plans to resume online classes next semester when she returns to China for her overseas season. She has 42 credits remaining and also must complete in-person course work. She hopes to finish her program within a year and a half.
“I’m fascinated with the human body,” she said.
Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve had the same reaction as others when she heard about her center’s post-career plans.
“I was like, huh?” Reeve said. “And then I was like, she would be great for the families when you really think about it.”
Reeve loves Fowles’ temperament, the way nothing ever seems to bother her. Fowles said she finds interest in things that “soothe my soul.”
She loves to draw and knows how to sew. She’s teaching herself how to play bass guitar. She prefers bass over electric guitar because of the sound.
“I like the soothing part of it,” she said. “It’s very mellow. That’s me. The bass guitar suits my soul.”
Reeve admits she occasionally crashes a figurative cymbal in Fowles’ ear, hoping to make her angry because she likes to see “mean Syl” on the court.
“She’s hard to tick off,” Reeve said, using a different word choice. “She has such a great spirit. And you kind of feel bad when you do it. I feel like a bad person. She’s just amazing.”
The trade for Fowles last season has provided the Lynx a physical presence in the post and an anchor to their defense. Fowles was named WNBA Finals MVP in 2015 and Defensive Player of the Year this season.
“I think Syl gave us this buoy effect,” Reeve said.
Once her basketball is done, Fowles hopes to lift spirits of families in her next career, as well.