Cheryl Reeve can remember the scene as if it were yesterday.
A meeting room in a New York hotel, Nov. 2, 2010. There is a lottery ball machine being attended to by folks from Ernst & Young. League officials. Representatives of three WNBA teams.
“It was quiet,” Reeve said. “Really quiet.”
Reeve had just finished her first year as head coach of the Minnesota Lynx.
The pieces were coming together. The Lynx had acquired Lindsay Whalen, via trade, before the 2010 season. They had taken Rebekkah Brunson in the dispersal draft after the Sacramento Monarchs had folded. They had Seimone Augustus. But she was coming off two injury-marred seasons.
And 2010 had been a disappointment.
The Lynx finished tied for fourth place in the West with Los Angeles at 13-21, with the Sparks winning the tiebreaker and earning the conference’s final playoff spot. The key: a 78-77 loss to the Sparks at home in the 29th game of the season when Tina Thompson hit a shot on a side-out pass from Ticha Penicheiro with 1.1 seconds left. (This, too, is a moment Reeve will never forget.)
That, as it turned out, was the first break.
It put the Lynx into the four-team lottery for the top pick in the 2011 draft, which was widely thought to be University of Connecticut star Maya Moore.
The Lynx entered the lottery with their slot and one acquired from the Connecticut Sun. Their own gave the Lynx 276 chances out of 1,001 to win the top spot. The Connecticut pick had 104 chances out of 1,001. Cumulatively, they had a 38% chance. The Tulsa Shock had a 44% chance and the Chicago Sky 18%.
Reeve and Roger Griffith, Lynx executive vice president, were in that quiet room, as 14 balls numbered 1-14 were put in the machine. They were standing just inside the doorway; Reeve remembers Griffith, hands in his pockets, gently swaying as the numbers came out.
Then the announcement: Lynx. No. 1 pick.
“The rest of the room is quiet,” Reeve said. “They all had a big investment in this, too. I let out a ‘Woo!’ Roger, he’s reserved, he’s smiling. It was just unbelievable, exhilarating.”
The Lynx had won the lottery.
But what if they hadn’t?
Reeve is willing to allow that what ensued — four WNBA titles in the following seven seasons — likely wouldn’t have happened, though she’s confident the Lynx would have been in the mix. Whalen and Brunson were in their primes. Augustus came back healthy. In 2011, anyway, Moore was the fourth option on a team that went 27-7 in the regular season and 7-1 in the playoffs on the way to its first championship.
The way Reeve puts it, the Lynx couldn’t have won without any of the Big Four that were a part of the title run. “Take any of them out and we’re not great,” she said.
We wouldn’t be talking about a Lynx dynasty without that lottery draw in the fall of 2010. Moore was Finals MVP in 2013. Her buzzer-beating three in Game 3 of the 2015 Finals was the play of the series.
“And then her bailing us out when L.A. is making the run and we’re throwing the ball all over the place,” Reeve said, referring to Moore’s game-clinching shot in Game 5 of 2017.
If they hadn’t won the lottery? Reeve said, if they’d picked second, they would have taken center Liz Cambage, a three-time All-Star who currently plays for the Las Vegas Aces. The big center went No. 2 to Tulsa. Chicago used the third pick on Courtney Vandersloot, a two-time All-Star for the Sky. The Lynx, picking fourth, chose post player Amber Harris, a reserve on two title teams.
But the prize, of course, was Moore.
“Maya was the perfect fit in every possible way,” Reeve said.
Do you have any suggestions for great “what-if” moments in Minnesota sports history? Send them to email@example.com.