After going through an injury-filled season last year, veteran Minnesota Lynx center Sylvia Fowles entered her 14th year in the WNBA looking to bounce back and show that she should still be viewed as a dominant player. She was healthy for the most part, playing in 31 of 32 regular-season games. And ultimately, she played a crucial role in lifting the Lynx to a 22-10 record and the No. 3 seed in the league standings.
Although the season ended in disappointment after the Lynx were eliminated by the Chicago Sky in the second round of the playoffs, Fowles looks to have found a fountain of youth as a veteran in the league. Along the way, she received honors such as being selected to Team USA for the Tokyo Olympics, earning another All-Star nod, and year-end accolades all while compiling a career-best year. How much longer that might last? That’s another story.
Defensive Player Of The Year
Before the Lynx kicked off postseason play last Sunday against the Sky at Target Center, the WNBA announced that Fowles was named the 2021 Defensive Player of the Year. She was also named to the All-WNBA Defensive First Team.
“(Fowles) is probably one of the biggest leaders and role models in this league who has still been dominant on the court and has absolutely been a mentor to younger players coming into the league,” WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert said during Fowles’ awards press conference. “In her 14th season, she’s still killing it. She’s really just an inspiration.”
By taking home the Defensive Player of the Year award, it marked the fourth time in Fowles’ career that she received that title, receiving 31 votes from a national panel of 49 sportswriters and broadcasters. Fowles, who won the award in 2011, 2013 and 2016, joined Tamika Catchings (five) as the only players in WNBA history to win the award at least four times, and she is the first player in history to claim it in her 14th season.
“I normally don’t set goals coming into the season, but I knew we had a pretty good damn team and I needed to focus on something that resonated with me from when I started playing this game and that was defense,” Fowles said. “I can recall me and (Lynx assistant coach) Plenette (Pierson) where we wanted to be before the season ended, and I think we accomplished that end goal.”
Throughout the season, Fowles finished second in the WNBA in rebounds (10.1), steals (1.8) and blocks (1.8) while playing in 31 games, becoming the only player to ever finish in the top two in all of those categories.
“A lot of this goes to my teammates giving me that will to come in every day to work,” Fowles continued. “Thank you guys for the love and support. Without you guys, I couldn’t do it.”
Could This Be The End For Fowles?
After wrapping up one of the best seasons in her career, you would assume Fowles would try not only to continue her stellar play but also help the Lynx make a deeper postseason run, right? Well, that might not be the case.
Entering the offseason as a free agent, Fowles somewhat surprisingly admitted this week during exit interviews with media that she doesn’t know what the future holds for her and if she is for sure going to return next season for what would be her 15th year in the WNBA. In October, Fowles will turn 36 years old and stated that she would eventually like to start a family. She has started to think about what life would be like outside of basketball, including pursuing her license in mortuary science.
“I don’t know, I can’t answer that,” Fowles said when asked how much longer she would like to play. “I mainly just want to go how my body feels. This season, I suffered through some nagging injuries but nothing too serious, so if this can continue for the next couple of years I’ll take it.”
Even with the admission that she doesn’t know what the next year will look like yet, Fowles said she will sit down with Lynx head coach and general manager Cheryl Reeve to talk about her future before she decides what to do.
“My future is still un-bright at the moment. We still have some things to talk about, Cheryl and I. I’m unsure at the moment,” Fowles said of her future. “We’ll see. I’ll keep you posted in the next couple of months.”
Fowles has been a critical piece to Minnesota ever since she joined the Lynx in 2015 and helped lead the team to two league championships during that span. If she did decide to step away, her career would still be considered Hall of Fame worthy, but it would leave a massive hole in the starting lineup and the locker room with her veteran presence.
“To say I learned anything about Syl would be crazy because we’ve been together for so long, but the more I had to talk about Syl the more you recognize I do ask a lot of Syl,” Reeve said. “I think I learned the ‘old dog, new tricks’ thing that Syl was capable of. Continuing to evolve, learn patience, and I didn’t know if that was possible to be honest. … That taught me that if Syl can do it, I can do it too.”
What Fowles ultimately decides to do is yet to be seen. But it was surprising to hear her be so open and honest about not knowing if she would return to the Lynx in 2022 or not just yet. If she does, Fowles could return to have another Defensive Player of the Year type performance. If she doesn’t, Minnesota has some decisions to make to fill that void this offseason.