Jace Frederick: Lynx’s Sylvia Fowles deserves her big night, and then some
The WNBA’s all-time best center will be celebrated Friday after what may be her final game in Minnesota
Napheesa Collier desperately wanted to return to action this season, just months after delivering her first child. Why push it? Because Collier wanted so badly to suit up alongside Sylvia Fowles in the all-world center’s final WNBA season.
Collier wanted to return. Lynx coach and general manager Cheryl Reeve wanted that, as well. Ditto for Minnesota fans.
Not so for Fowles.
“Me and her fought about this for a very long time,” Fowles said. “I really didn’t want her to come back, because I felt like it was unsafe.”
Finally, Collier was able to convince Fowles that she was taking the proper precautions and care to safely return to play — something she did on Sunday in Minnesota’s win over Atlanta.
But the situation sums up Sylvia Fowles: It’s not about her. It never has been, and never will be. For her, it’s about you.
For everyone else, Friday will be about Fowles. Target Center will be flooded with Fowles admirers Friday for what could be the last time the best center in league history puts on her No. 34 Lynx jersey in Minneapolis when Minnesota takes on Seattle.
The Lynx are pulling out all the stops for the send off, which will conclude with a postgame ceremony. Fans — all of whom will receive a commemorative Fowles’ bike license plate at Friday’s game, some will also receive a Fowles’ shirt and poster — are flocking to buy tickets and pack the arena. Her teammates are trying to cap a mad dash to the regular-season finish line by securing a once-unlikely playoff berth so Fowles gets one more postseason appearance.
Teams across the league have showered Fowles with parting gifts and tributes as she goes stop to stop, possibly making her final appearance in each individual arena. The red carpet has been rolled out and the spotlight has shined.
And yet still none of it seems like enough. Not for Fowles. Not for the player who has dominated the game now in three different decades. She’s the best center ever, the best defender ever and one of the best players ever.
On top of that, she is perhaps the most unassuming superstar ever.
Her nicknames range from “Sweet Syl” to “Mama Syl,” her genuine, caring nature shines through in every interaction with teammates and fans. That’s also on display in her endless community work, some of which is publicized and much that isn’t.
Reeve and other Lynx players built up this season as an opportunity to send Fowles out with a championship. Fowles never viewed it that way.
“I didn’t think about myself coming in here and sending myself out on a good note,” she said. “My biggest thing was how can I teach my teammates how to deal with Cheryl, how can they cope, how can they be good teammates to each other? That was my biggest thing coming into the season.
“But personally, I wasn’t thinking about playing in the playoffs or making it to the championship. My thing is, how can I be a great teammate and pass on the knowledge that I’ve learned over these past couple of years in this league?”
Fowles practiced what she preached throughout the first half of the season, which seemed to be torpedoing her swan song with a brutal 3-13 start. Through it all, Fowles expressed little to no frustration. Her message was consistent: The Lynx needed to stick together.
That was not how Fowles expected her final season to go, but she embraced the struggle. She said the best part of this season was she and her teammates “just figuring each other out.” Not only is she glad she returned, she said if she had the choice to do it all over again it would be the same.
“Everybody loves when things are going good, but when stuff hits the fan and it’s not so glamorous, you tend to stray away,” Fowles said, “and I think this group has done a tremendous job making sure we appreciate each other and we’ve got each other’s backs.
“Everything is not going to be perfect. … But at the end of the day, I am grateful to go through these challenges, because I’m also, too, still learning about myself and how I can be better.”
In that way, Fowles is something of a unicorn. Since she arrived in Minnesota in 2015, she’s done everything in her power — from personal evolution to guiding teammates through injuries — to help the Lynx succeed. Thanks in part to those efforts, Minnesota won two WNBA titles.
That was all likely underappreciated to some extent over the past seven years. Her kindness, consistency and dominance were so reliable that they were taken for granted.
So it’s about time everyone takes a moment to stop and appreciate what Fowles has done and, more importantly, who she’s been throughout her illustrious career. If they pull out a few extra stops and perhaps go a little over the top in their efforts to display their adoration, well, good.
Because it still won’t be enough.
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