I always instinctively seek out Blacks and other people of color at big events because their thoughts and views are often overlooked by mainstream media. That’s how I worked last week’s parade crowd celebrating Minnesota’s first pro basketball championship in 57 years.
Cece Mcalester of Brooklyn Center and her children were among the estimated 16,000 people who lined Nicollet Mall to enjoy the victory parade. “We had a good time” watching the Minnesota Lynx play this season, said Mcalester.
“I went to school before I came here,” admitted 14-year-old Judy Brunner of Minneapolis, whose older brother Brian told me that she was going back to class as soon as the event concluded. “We were out in the parade, then came right here,” said Brian.
Unlike many who acted like longtime fans but were actually disguised bandwagoners, St. Paul’s Debbie Montgomery and her husband have been Lynx season ticket holders since day one. “We were here cheering when there was nothing here to cheer for,” noted Montgomery.
She was tickled green and white (the Lynx’s team colors) over watching the majority-Black female team. “They are such good role models. That’s the thing for our young people to see and for the rest of the state to see. That shows that there is a character about the women, and the women of color,” Montgomery pointed out.
Danita Banks of Brooklyn Park is another longtime Minnesota season ticker holder. She also boasted on the 10 Black women who, along with Lindsay Whalen, represented the city and the state well and ended up as WNBA champions.
“I embrace Lindsay to be here with our group of sisters… Look at what young African American women can do,” said Banks. “They have sent a message that it’s OK to be respectful, humble, have a skill and give back. I think it speaks volumes for our culture.”
This year’s WNBA Finals between Minnesota and Atlanta, who finished runners-up for the second consecutive year, was an exciting finish for the league’s 15th season. Besides being perhaps the first WNBA team to have so many Black players on one title-winning club, other Lynx firsts include:
Minnesota being the first team since Phoenix in 2007 to win a championship in their first-ever trip to the Finals .
The Lynx being the first champions to have two rookie-of-the-year winners on the same club (Seimone Augustus in 2006, Maya Moore in 2011).
“I’ve been doing this for a long time, and this is by far the best experience I’ve ever had with any organization, any group of women and staff in my entire career, including college and my pro [coaching] career,” said Lynx Assistant Coach Shelley Patterson, the only Black member of the coaching staff. “I give the players much credit for entrusting us to get this done.”
As with any championship, there are key behind-the-scenes folk that played a role as well. Tommy Franklin and Mike Pettis were two of several local males who regularly played on the Lynx’s practice squad, serving as “opponents” in preparing the team for contests.
“You are really rooting for them on how great each individual person is,” said Franklin. “It is great to be a small part of that.”
“[Minnesota] worked our butts off to get where we are at, and we deserve every bit of it,” added Pettis. (Wonder if they will get a championship ring?)
Jessica Adair earned her first championship ring in her first full season as a pro. As with most WNBA players, the 6-4 Adair has headed overseas to play — she left for Turkey last weekend. She admitted that being a champion “took me a little while” before it finally sunk in.
“I’ll be back in May,” promised Augustus, the Finals MVP, who’s off to Russia.
“I’m so happy for Seimone,” said Montgomery.
Augustus (six years), Candice Wiggins (four years) and Charde Houston (four years) are the three Lynx players who have been on the team the longest. While holding the league championship trophy, Houston noted, “My first three seasons we didn’t have winning seasons. It’s an amazing feeling.”
Center Taj McWilliams-Franklin and guard Alexis Hornbuckle are the two Lynx players who now have played on championship teams in each conference. The two were teammates on Detroit’s 2009 title winner when it was located in the Eastern Conference before relocating to Tulsa in the Western Conference.
McWilliams-Franklin, who signed with Minnesota as a free agent last winter, said, “I had a feeling when we beat Seattle at the beginning [of the season] and beat them so bad with all of their team healthy and everybody was there… I felt really good about our chances.”
Now the players are gone and the confetti has been swept up and discarded. The Lynx have proven that they are the league’s best team this season. “This is the greatest character team I’ve ever been associated with from top to bottom,” concluded Patterson.