Not a seat to be found in the deciding game of the tight best-of-five series that brought a new, exciting look to women’s professional basketball
By ARNIE LESHIN
Santa Fe Today
In the beginning, the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) was giving away tickets, searching for places to place, paying very little to its players. It was not the NBA.
That was 2002. It continued until the NBA stepped in and helped financing the struggling league. Still, many of the original franchises couldn’t keep up and dropped out. Despite the freebies, there were costs to be paid wherever they played. They didn’t receive much coverage.
Now, in its 21st season, it’s look at me now. For now, they might not draw capacity crowds, but players are paid more, coverage has improved each year, and fan support has never been better.
At the Target Center in Minneapolis Wednesday, the place was packed, not an empty seat in the house. Also the home court on the campus of the University of Minnesota, the capacity is 14,632, but the crowd was announced at 14,635. Who knows, maybe three people were standing?
The exciting, well-played best-of-five final went to the Minnesota Lynx, 85-76, over its archrival Los Angeles Sparks, the first champion in 2002 and the defending champions who edged the Lynx in game five at the same arena last year, 77-76, on a buzzer basket by Nneka Ogwumike.
For the Lynx, it was the fourth title in five years, tying it with the Houston Comets for most association championships. It has been in the finals six of the past seven seasons.
For 6-foot-6 center Sylvia Fowles, it was the second Most Valuable Player award after also winning it with Minnesota in 2015. She also became the second player to win both the regular-season and post-season MVPs.
An All-America at LSU whose No. 34 was retired by the Bayou Tigers, she hasn’t given up the number, but who knows, she’s 31 now and might be thinking of retiring at age 34. She broke her own record with 20 rebounds and tossed in 17 points as part of a well-balanced Lynx lineup.
Four other Minnesota players scored in double figures, versatile Maya Moore with 18, point guard Lindsay Whalen, who was playing on the same court she did at University of Minnesota, added 17 to go with eight assists, Selmone Augustus, who played alongside Fowles at LSU, contributed 14, and Rebekkah Brunson tallied 13 in winning her fifth championship.
Augustus was the MVP in 2011 and Fowles joined Diana Taurasi as the only players to twice win the post-season MVP.
Owned by the popular Glen Taylor, who was the first to hoist the championship trophy, Cheryl Reeve has been head coach the last four years. It’s been a team that has won every odd year, in 2011, 2013, 2015, and now.
With Fowles, it controlled the backboards 46-29. It converted 21-of-23 free throws (Sparks made 16-of-20).
Amazingly, the Comets, who folded in 2008, never had a post-season MVP. Now the Lynx have three. It was only 2-for-10 from the 3-point range, but Los Angeles was worse with but 2-of-18,
As for the Sparks, looking to become the first team to repeat in 15 years, they took game on in LA, 85-84, but back home the Lynx came out on top 70-68. But after the Sparks took a 2-1 lead by winning game three at home,
Minnesota surprisingly won game four on the road 80-69, and came home to win it all.
Candice Parker had 19 points, 15 rebounds, and five assists for Los Angeles, Chelsea Gray tallied 15 and was credit with eight assists, and Ogwumike scored 11 but fouled out with 5:29 to play. The Sparks also hurt themselves with 17 turnovers.
For years, dominant teams of the college, pro and Olympic level took some of the drama out of basketball’s biggest moments, but the sharply played, bone crushing all out heavyweight bouts between Minnesota and Los Angeles are just what game needed.
They have met 16 times since the start of the 2016 season. They’ve each won eight, with the Sparks scoring three more points to bring the total to 1,221-1,216.
As for the WNBA, it’s hey, look at us now!