Editorial: Lynx are among Minn.’s greatest sports champions

Published 9:43 pm Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The Minnesota Lynx won their fourth WNBA championship Wednesday, holding off the Los Angeles Sparks in a nail-biting, winner-taker-all classic at Williams Arena.

But there were no losers in that arena. The Sparks, who knocked off the Lynx last year in another thrilling championship series, played fantastic basketball on Wednesday, rallying time and time again. Every time the Lynx threatened to blow the game open, L.A. would make a run, hitting clutch shot after clutch shot until Minnesota’s Maya Moore finally hit a spectacular, off-balance, 15-foot runner to effectively seal the deal for the Lynx.

The 14,632 fans who packed The Barn to the rafters were treated to 40 minutes of remarkable basketball, as were fans who watched on ESPN. The Lynx-Sparks game got higher ratings than any WNBA game since 2003, despite being up against a winner-take-all National League wild-card baseball game.

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The quality of play was no accident. Lynx owner Glen Taylor and Sparks owner Magic Johnson have invested heavily in the WNBA. It’s one thing to give lip service to the idea that women’s professional sports can succeed, but it’s quite another to create organizations that are dedicated to excellence both on and off the court. Want proof? This year, with the Lynx forced out of Target Center due to ongoing renovations, Taylor spent $1 million on temporary air conditioning at Williams Arena for the playoffs.

Of course, to Lynx fans, the most important decision Taylor ever made was to acquire Lindsay Whalen in 2010.

Whalen already had put Minnesota basketball on the map. She led Hutchinson High School to three consecutive state titles before taking a formerly moribund Gophers squad into national prominence and a berth in the Final Four. The Lynx moved mountains in an unsuccessful attempt to draft her in 2004, then made a franchise-changing trade in 2010.

The rest is history. On any given night, Whalen might not be the best athlete on the court, nor score the most points, but she makes her teammates better and is utterly fearless when the game is on the line.

She’s not a great women’s basketball player — she’s a great basketball player. The Lynx aren’t a great women’s basketball team — they’re a great basketball team. Coach Cheryl Reeve isn’t a great female coach of a women’s basketball team — she’s a great basketball coach.

It’s worth noting that while the Lynx and Sparks were dazzling fans on Wednesday, much of the national sports media’s attention was focused on an NFL player, Cam Newton. No, the Carolina Panthers didn’t play that day, but Newton made headlines in an extraordinarily stupid way.

When a beat reporter for the Panthers asked the quarterback a question about a receiver’s route-running habits, he responded with a smirk: “It’s funny to hear a female talk about routes.”

Yes, that happened. An NFL quarterback openly and publicly laughed at the notion that a female reporter could know enough about football to ask a good question.

Late Thursday, Newton issued a well-delivered and much-needed apology, but the irony shouldn’t be ignored. In the not-so-distant past, more than a few football fans believed that while black athletes could play wide receiver, running back or defensive line, they couldn’t play quarterback at an elite level. Newton has helped to debunk that bias and stereotype — yet on Wednesday, he perpetuated the idea that women can’t speak and write intelligently about men’s sports.

Well, we might not be particularly well-versed in the intricacies of pro basketball or football, but we know this: When Newton played in the Super Bowl, he played scared. When he fumbled late in the game, he backed away from the ball, rather than risk injury by diving on it. But at any given moment Wednesday in Minneapolis, there were 10 athletes on the court who were willing to throw themselves at every loose ball, even if it meant they would fall from the arena’s raised floor.

Of such stuff are champions made.

Not female champions. Champions.

— Rochester Post-Bulletin, Oct. 6

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