MINNEAPOLIS — As the crowd at Target Center chanted “Syl’s House!” and teammates and opponents alike filled with pride, Minnesota Lynx center Sylvia Fowles soaked up the affection Friday night.
Fowles, a former MVP and the WNBA’s all-time top rebounder, will retire at the end of the season, and the Lynx and her fans wanted to make sure she felt valued. Fowles has spent the final eight seasons of her 15-year WNBA career in Minnesota, a location that has proven perfect for the Florida native.
“What hit me hardest about the ceremony was the fans,” Fowles said of the post-game celebration that took place on the field after the Lynx fell 96-69 to Seattle in Minnesota’s final home game of the regular season and give me my flowers, we say. It was nice.”
Fowles was one of the most dominant centers in women’s basketball of all time, drawing on her collegiate career at LSU, her seven years in Chicago after being drafted No. 2 in 2008, her Lynx tenure and her success in USA basketball goes back four Olympic gold medals.
Whether this will be the last time fans will see them play at Target Center Court is not yet certain. Even after the loss, the Lynx are clinging to a playoff shot. Minnesota is now 14-21, a game behind Phoenix and New York, who are tied at 15-20 for their last two playoff spots.
The Lynx need to win Sunday in Connecticut and then hope that either the Mercury (playing Chicago) or the Liberty (playing Atlanta) lose that day. If they all go 15-21, the Lynx will have the tiebreak against Phoenix and New York based on a head-to-head record.
“We have one game left,” said Fowles, who had 13 points and 12 rebounds on Friday. “We still have a small lifeline. Tonight wasn’t our night so hopefully on Sunday we’ll go out and play better.”
While it wasn’t a great game for the Lynx, who allowed the surging Storm to shoot 52.8% from the field to control the game’s start to the end, it was a night to remember for Fowles. Before the game, she and the Lynx honored Storm Guards Sue Bird and Briann January, who will also retire at the end of the season. Fowles and Bird, the WNBA’s all-time assists leaders, have been teammates on four Olympic rosters.
“It just hit me: how blessed am I to have had the chance to be with these great players in my career?” said Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve, who is now Team USA’s head coach and was previously an assistant. “Sue and Syl, this generation, took the baton from those who started the WNBA and they took this cause to another level.”
Another longtime Olympian, Seattle center Tina Charles, joined Bird and several other Storm players who stayed on court for Fowles for the ceremony after the game. As much admiration and respect as the Storm players have for them, the reality is they had something to play for Friday as well: the No. 4 seed and home field advantage in their first-round series with Washington. Seattle got that with the win.
“It felt bittersweet,” said Storm coach Noelle Quinn. “As a fan of Syl and knowing how amazing she is, you don’t want to ruin her night, but it wasn’t ruined at all. So much love in the stadium for her. Win or lose it would be their night and a great night. Even though we won, it was still very special for her, for the organization, for the city, for us who love her as a competitor but also as a friend and teammate.”
Fowles reached the Women’s Final Four in all of her four seasons at LSU and then helped Sky to the 2014 WNBA Finals. But she wanted a chance to play for the Lynx and was waiting for a trade for the first part of the 2015 season. That happened in July of that year, and Fowles then helped Minnesota win its third championship. The Lynx also won the WNBA title in 2017. Fowles was both years Finals MVP and league MVP in 2017.
Former Lynx guard Lindsay Whalen, now the University of Minnesota women’s basketball coach, was on hand Friday to pay tribute to Fowles, whom she jokingly nicknamed “Sylvester Flowers.” Whalen, a starter on all four of Minnesota’s title teams, said that while the Lynx were a championship roster before Fowles came along, they became a dynasty with her.
Another former member of the Minnesota championship core, current Lynx assistant coach Rebekkah Brunson said Fowles embraced her after the two faced each other as opponents years ago. Brunson joked that at first she wondered if Fowles was mocking her. Then she realized Fowles was exactly that: a fierce competitor during the game and a compassionate friend to everyone once it was over.
“I wasn’t disappointed for a moment,” Brunson said of meeting Fowles as a teammate. “She was exactly what that hug said: ‘I care for you, I support you, I want you to be successful. I’m here for you no matter what.’ She was also that ‘hug’ to this community.”
Lynx owner Glen Taylor told Fowles at the ceremony he’d watched her play with the sky and wished she was with Minnesota. Then, when the Lynx were able to trade for them, Taylor said he met Fowles and they rarely spoke about basketball. Their conversations focused on opportunities to work in the community and help people.
“What hit me the hardest about the ceremony was the fans. Just listening to them scream and give me my flowers we say.”
Reeve teased Fowles by intoning a “One more year” chant at the ceremony, then said she knew the answer would be, “Not no, but damn no.”
Fowles, who turns 37 in October, averages 14.6 points, 9.7 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game. She is still one of the most feared post players in the WNBA. Reeve said Fowles goes to the top of her game because “she never wanted to look bad. She didn’t want to be one of those old players who should have retired maybe two years ago.”
Fowles said she’s ready to move forward in her life whenever this season ends, but she’s glad she’s returned for another year. Initially she didn’t want to make a fuss about her departure, which Lynx dubbed “Syl’s Last Ride”. However, it turned out to be a sweet experience for her.
“I’m very fortunate to have gone through this whole process this year,” said Fowles. “I wasn’t too excited about it at first because I didn’t want the attention. But you have to be aware that people understand the work that you have done in 15 years.
“I never look for an easy way out. Whatever needs to be done this evening, I think I’ll be the first to show up ready to do it. Taking that responsibility has shown throughout my career and I’m very proud of that.”
https://www.espn.com/wnba/story/_/id/34392415/minnesota-lynx-celebrate-sylvia-fowles-last-regular-season-home-game-ahead-wnba-legend-retirement Minnesota Lynx celebrate Sylvia Fowles in last regular-season home game ahead of WNBA legend’s retirement