The Minnesota Lynx already had historical significance. They had already achieved greatness.
They had three titles, a slew of already-set Hall of Famers, and a fan base that loved them. But that group is still together — and wanted more.
“We’re in it for life,” said an emotional Cheryl Reeve, head coach. “And that’s just an incredible blessing that I feel to be able to be around it every single day.”
The Lynx beat the Sparks on Wednesday by a score of 85-76, giving them their fourth title in seven years. This puts them in a category of absolute prominence in the WNBA – they are now tied with the Houston Comets for most titles by a team in league history.
But the history doesn’t simply lie with the team as a whole. Not even close. Maya Moore now has to have one of the most exquisite trophy cases in the history of sports. She now has four WNBA titles, three Chinese League titles, two Summer Olympic gold medals and two NCAA National titles.
She, along with Lindsay Whalen, Rebekkah Brunson, and Seimone Augustus, have experienced this entire stretch of success with coach Reeve, and they haven’t lost appreciation for what that means.
“I don’t know if you’re going to get a more deep, committed, selfless group that we have right now,” Moore said in the post-game press conference. “You have talent, but the people that make up this organization is — it would be really hard to find again, top to bottom.”
Brunson, now with five titles — four with Minnesota, and one in 2005 with Sacramento — has more championships to her name than any player in WNBA history.
“It feels good,” Brunson said in the champagne-filled locker room of Williams Arena. “I think it feels better because I get to share it with this amazing team. These amazing players. This amazing coaching staff. This amazing organization. I mean everybody in here deserves everything that we get.”
Whalen notched another title, and got to do it on the home floor of her alma mater. The 2004 Minnesota Golden Gophers, led by Whalen, made it all the way to the Final Four, but fell short. Thirteen years later, Whalen is three titles in, but got another chance to win at The Barn in the strangest of circumstances. Regardless, she took full advantage.
“I felt good about it,” Whalen said. “I felt good about our chances being in this building, because I know I’ve been a part of some special games here, and some special runs.”
Past Whalen’s unique circumstance, there was a common theme among the players’ reaction to their success: togetherness. Up and down the roster, every player who got a chance to speak to the media alluded to the close bond the team shares. Perhaps the best example of this came when their fearless leader, coach Reeve, came to the podium to speak, and was asked about that very topic.
It can be easy to understand why emotions like this would arise. Reeve has been with the core of this team for eight years now; and while they’ve almost certainly had hardship and strife, they’ve seen more success than just about any other group in the league’s history.
But as time goes on and the titles pile up, the Lynx core still gets older. Whalen and Brunson are now 35, and Augustus is 33. While Moore, 28, is in the prime of her career, the Lynx going out and getting Sylvia Fowles in 2015 kept this team’s dominance alive.
“At the end of the day, there’s nothing like seeing the transformation of a player like Sylvia Fowles,” coach Reeve said of her MVP. “And she’s the reason why we won a championship.”
Fowles already had her second set of regular season MVP hardware going home this year. Now, after winning her second WNBA title, she’s going home with her second Finals MVP to go along with it.
After a great debut with the Lynx in the 2015 Finals, last season’s Game 5 against Los Angeles saw a very different Fowles. She was skittish, and had her worst game in recent playoff memory.
“She was awful in that series,” Reeve said.
This year, it was virtually the exact opposite. She played with a level of dominance that few post players could take claim to, putting up 17 points, 20 rebounds, four assists, three blocks and two steals. She was, by all accounts, the best player of the series and the best player on the floor.
“Like I said, I fell on the court, that haunted me for a long time after Game 5 last year,” Fowles said, describing her motivation for this time around. “I just wanted to come in and I wanted to show my presence, and if that was rebounding, then rebounding it was.
But what made this team was far more than one player. It could certainly be argued that Brunson, who seemed to have huge nights every time the Lynx won, deserved the award. It could be argued that Moore, who always seemed to be there to hit the big shot, deserved the honor as well.
But what made them champions is that none of them cared about winning the Finals MVP. All they wanted to do was make more history together.
They wanted to be the first team since 2000, and only the second team in WNBA history, to own four championships. They wanted to crown the player with the most rings in WNBA history. They wanted to give a future Hall of Famer her 11th title in competitive basketball since college. They wanted to give a former Gopher her chance to win a title at The Barn. They wanted to give the 2017 regular season MVP a Finals MVP. They wanted to give the two-time WNBA coach of the year twice as many rings as individual honors.
They already had more history, both individually and collectively, than anyone. Now they have more.