I know the State Fair starts this week and most schools in Minnesota aren’t back in session until after Labor Day but put on your thinking caps because this Riff opens with a pop quiz!
Two WNBA teams share the record for most championships in league history. One of them is the Minnesota Lynx. What is the other franchise the Lynx share that record with?
A gold star to those of you who said The Houston Comets because that is the correct answer. For those of you who are now saying, “But wait a minute, there are no Houston Comets in the WNBA...”
You are also correct.
The Houston Comets were one of the original eight franchises who started play in the WNBA back in 1997. With a lineup that featured Cynthia Cooper, the league’s first MVP, college stars Michelle Snow and Tina Thompson, the late guard Kim Perrot, and the incomparable Sheryl Swoopes, the Comets were crowned champions in each of the first four seasons of the WNBA. They followed with three consecutive trips to the conference semifinals, only to be dissolved as a franchise four years later, in 2008.
Sunday night, Lindsay Whalen played her final regular-season game as a member of the Minnesota Lynx, and she received a farewell that was well-deserved and second to none. My concern is, will fans who supported Lindsay and the Lynx through four league championships still support the team when Lindsay is coaching over at the U of M?
Don’t get me wrong, I know this is 10 years later, and we’re not in Houston, or even Texas. Last week Bob Shaw of the St. Paul Pioneer Press published a post that pointed out that according to the National Federation of State High School Associations, Minnesota has more girls participating in high school sports per capita than any other state.
I’m also aware that publishing magnate Glen Taylor, who owns both the Minnesota Lynx and the Minnesota Timberwolves, is a passionate supporter of the Lynx and of women’s sports in general.
That said, you can’t be watching this team stagger to the finish line this season and not think that the Lynx aren’t headed for a major overhaul, perhaps as soon as this off-season.
As I pointed out in a piece I wrote about the club in mid-June, if the Lynx return otherwise in-tact next season, power forward Rebekkah Brunson will be 37. Off-guard Seimone Augustus will be 35, center Sylvia Fowles will be 33, guard Danielle Robinson, who underwent season-ending ankle surgery, will be attempting a comeback at age 30, and Maya Moore, the 2018 WNBA All-Star game MVP, will turn 30 next June.
It’s been said that age is just a number, but consider the numbers where this team is concerned. After going 15-2 at home last season, heading into last night’s regular season finale against Washington the Lynx were just 8-8 at home this season, including 0-3 in August, as the team was coming down the stretch.
There is clearly blood in the water, and the other teams in the WNBA clearly smell it.
With Target Center undergoing renovations in 2017 the Lynx, playing their regular season games at Xcel Energy Center, still managed to average 10,407 fans per game, and drew more than 14,000 fans to Williams Arena for the fifth and final game of the WNBA championship series against the LA Sparks.
This season, despite their problems closing out games at home, the Lynx are still averaging 9,850 fans per game heading into the regular season finale.
But will that continue if fans no longer recognize the players? Or the team isn’t playing or winning at the level we have become accustomed to in the Cheryl Reeve Era?
And what about Cheryl Reeve? Reeve has drawn well-deserved accolades for her coaching ability, but much of that success has been tied to Maya Moore’s arrival. We’re about to see how Reeve the general manager handles the restructuring of a team that, barring an unexpected playoff run, appears to have its best days behind it, and little on the bench.
During the last seven seasons the economy has been relatively healthy, and the Lynx have proven to be a worthy option for the discretionary dollar. Since Reeve’s arrival and Whalen’s return, the Lynx have been a model franchise. Fans have been rewarded with well-coached, well-played basketball that has produced four league titles. The roots are deep and well-established, but the competition is fierce.
The Twins play next door, the St. Paul Saints are always an option, and the newcomers on the scene, Minnesota United FC, will be playing in a brand new stadium next season, with 60 percent of their season ticket base going to fans between the ages of 18 and 35. Factor in that the Lynx are asking you to come indoors during the brief season when we all want to get outside, and "mother nature" will always be playing for the other team.
Enjoy Lindsay Whalen day, I hope this team still has something they haven’t shown recently, and they’re able to produce a little more magic in the playoffs. Short of that, I hope fans will appreciate what they had with Whalen, Brunson, Augustus, Fowles and Moore, but keep their allegiance to the sport and to this beacon of women’s professional sports.
Players come and go. Dynasties rise and fall. What we can’t do is let the Lynx go the way of the Houston Comets.