You can measure the elation surrounding the Minnesota arrival of basketball star Alissa Pili in the beat of drums, the jingles of a dress and the tears streaming down a young mother's face.

"I'm gonna cry," Kayla Leo said. "No, I don't want to cry. Why am I gonna cry? No, I don't want to cry."

Spoiler alert: Leo cried.

The Plymouth mom was courtside at Target Center, dabbing away tears as she explained the significance of Pili's first-round WNBA draft by the Minnesota Lynx. Sitting beside her, Leo's 2-year-old daughter, Tala — in pigtails and a floral Samoan skirt known as a lavalava — fueled her mom's emotions.

What did Leo hope her daughter would see in Pili?

"That she can do it, too," Leo said. "Even the little Samoan girl in me is really, really excited."

Pili, the No. 8 overall draft pick, is from Alaska. Her family is Samoan and Iñupiaq, an Indigenous Alaskan people.

Everywhere she's played, Pili has drawn ecstatic crowds clamoring for selfies and autographs, particularly among local Indigenous and Polynesian communities, who rarely see themselves represented in these spaces. In the University of Utah shooting dynamo they embraced an athlete who exhibited both pride in her heritage and humility about her stature.

"Just this past season as my platform grew and I was being recognized more, I tried to acknowledge I am a role model to kids who share the culture," she told me. "It's a blessing to be in this position."

Pili had just set foot in Minnesota for the first time on Monday, still clad in her sweats and slides, when the Lynx threw her a surprise welcome party on the court. It entailed a drum circle and fancy shawl dancing, the presentation of necklaces, beaded earrings and a blanket, and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan, a member of the White Earth Band of Ojibwe, announcing that she was Pili's newest "auntie."

"There's a lot of weight on your shoulders, but we're all going to help you carry that," Flanagan told the player. "I got your back."

Flanagan said she and her 11-year-old daughter burst into tears when the Lynx drafted Pili, whom they'd been cheering for all season. She believes the star will galvanize Native and Polynesian communities in Minnesota like the way that Caitlin Clark has driven the popularity of women's basketball to a fever pitch.

Pili was put on the spot Monday when former Minnesota Vikings player Esera Tuaolo invited her to a traditional Samoan dance. Sporting a freshly gifted lavalava, she obliged. Pili held her own — thanks to years of performing those dances at countless weddings and graduations with her family.

"I was really surprised, I was not expecting all that," she said of the party. "It was a good surprise, a special moment. I felt very welcomed, especially coming to a place I haven't been before."

Tuaolo said one can't overstate the power of representation. He had the benefit of seeing other professional football players of Samoan ancestry break down barriers so he could pass through, such as quarterback Jack Thompson, aka "The Throwin' Samoan."

In 2002, Tuaolo announced he was gay, three years after he retired from the league, making him only the third former NFL player to come out. He said he did it to be happy, he said, as well as to inspire little boys in the closet they could navigate their identities and reach the highest echelons of sport.

Ultimately, of course, Pili will be judged for how she performs on the court.

Tuaolo's advice to her: "Don't let all the hype get to you. Just focus on what got you to the WNBA, and that's hard work, passion and love of the game."

He's hoping to someday welcome her to his family's condo in Bloomington for Hawaiian-style kalbi ribs and bond over their love of singing. (Tuaolo competed on "The Voice" and judging from TikTok videos, Pili can hit the notes, too.)

Pili said she does feel the weight of expectations but is excited to start her journey. And the adoration she's felt from her community is a mutual one.

"I try to show my respect to those who support me and look up to me," she said. "It makes me want to be better — a better person or player for them. It's pressure, but it's way more of a positive than anything else. It's an honor that they see me that way."

Many see a woman who embraces her identity. A tattoo she started when she was 15 runs the length of her right leg and bears Polynesian designs. On the night of the draft, she sported an off-the-shoulder dress with a gold tribal print skirt.

Lynx Coach Cheryl Reeve told me that the team wanted to assure Pili from the get-go that she can bring her whole, authentic self to the organization. That, Reeve said, "is the starting point."

Faamati Winey, a Dellwood business owner and high chief in her native Samoan village, said she and her friends plan to cheer on the Lynx at the home opener against Seattle on May 17. Winey estimated that the Samoan population in Minnesota is only in the several hundreds.

It's beyond her wildest dreams that her tiny community now has a sports icon they can call their own.

"With Samoans, you have a family everywhere you go," Winey said. "She's going to feel right at home. We're going to be her new family."