For six seasons, the Lynx promoted their one home game with Connecticut each year with ads featuring the same visiting player. The message was to come see the Sun's Lindsay Whalen.
Now No. 13 will play at Target Center all summer.
The Lynx, who always coveted the former Gophers star, announced a blockbuster trade Tuesday to obtain the veteran point guard and the No. 2 overall pick in the WNBA draft in April. In exchange, the Sun acquired second-year point guard Renee Montgomery and the No. 1 pick.
"[This has] always been in the back of my mind. Some day I would love to play professionally in Minnesota," Whalen said via a teleconference call from the Czech Republic, where she plays for USK Prague between WNBA seasons. "Obviously, just being from there and everything, I thought it would work out some day. I just wasn't sure when."
Whalen, whose family still lives in Hutchinson, has become one of the top WNBA point guards after an amazing college career at Minnesota. She was a three-time All-America pick and led the Gophers to their first Final Four as a senior in 2004.
The Sun took her with the fourth overall pick in the draft that year, then asked for a king's ransom when the Lynx inquired about trading for her.
Roger Griffith, the team's executive vice president, wouldn't pay the price at the time. Since then, the Lynx have missed the playoffs the past five seasons and announced attendance has stagnated at about 7,500 per game for four years in a row. The actual crowd count usually has been several thousand fewer than that.
But the dark cloud over this franchise might be drifting away. Everyone connected with the Lynx is predicting this team, with Whalen and four other All-Stars, should contend for the Western Conference and league titles -- lofty dreams for a team which has never won a playoff series in 11 years.
"We are happy for Lindsay and her family," new Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said. "But this [trade] is about basketball. And, as a coach, I am excited [to get] a playoff-tested point guard who averages five assists a game. Give her the ball and let's have some fun."
Whalen led the Sun to the WNBA Finals in 2004 and 2005 and has played on five playoff teams.
Nancy Lieberman, a former Hall of Fame player and coach, called Reeve when she heard the news. "Cheryl, you've outdone yourself," Lieberman told her. "You've been there [a month] and you get one of the best players in the game. To have an experienced point guard with Seimone Augustus and Candice Wiggins, are you kidding me?"
Augustus, the face of the Lynx franchise since her arrival in 2006, is thrilled, too.
"Now people are like OK, the Lynx are for real and we can contend," Augustus said. "I feel great about it. I am excited about it. It's about time."
Augustus actually kidded with Whalen about joining the Lynx in October when both were at the USA women's basketball team trials in Washington, D.C.
"Whenever you are ready to come home, you can come home," Augustus told her. "She was like, 'I have a year or two left on my contract.' And now everything went in fast-forward."
So what happened?
The Sun approached the Lynx this time and made a reasonable offer.
"The stars aligned," Griffith said. "[The Sun] did not make the playoffs. Our draft picks were very close together. They are needing to make changes for their future. And obviously they have somebody targeted who they want with that No. 1 pick."
By all accounts, that would be 6-4 center Tina Charles of the University of Connecticut. Montgomery is a former UConn player, too, so those two should help the Sun sell tickets.
Whalen also should draw more fans to Lynx games. The ticket phone line at Target Center was ringing steadily Tuesday, according to a Lynx media relations member. Hutchinson radio station KDUZ carried the Lynx news conference live. Media members and cameras packed the room.
Griffith said there has been constant speculation about what Whalen's presence could mean for ticket sales. That will be determined soon, he said, but he already knows what Whalen can do on the court. "We know [she] will raise the level of excitement, intensity," he said.
And probably raise attendance, too. Gophers crowds increased from an average of 1,100 during her freshman season to 9,900 her senior year.
"I still have kids wearing No. 13 at my camps," said Gophers coach Pam Borton, hired when Whalen was a junior. "... She elevated Minnesota girls' basketball and our program. It was the way she played, with so much passion and energy."
Whalen always has played with skill and flair. She can draw two or three defenders to her in the lane, then spin and score or find an open teammate.
Asked if she could reinvigorate the Lynx at the gate, Whalen said she is just worried about the team playing hard, playing well and winning.
"If we do those things, for the most part, things will take care of themselves," Whalen said.