Not since the 1995 NCAA Women’s Final Four championships, and not since the Minnesota Timberwolves played a couple of games in the 2004 Western Conference title series, has the downtown Minneapolis arena served as host of a national championship event. But Sunday the nation’s spotlight — well, actually, as much spotlight as the male-dominated sports media will allow — was on the Twin Cities as the 2011 WNBA Finals began.
The Minnesota Lynx and the Atlanta Dream have earned their places in the best-of-five series for the right to be the last team standing.
“I think this is going to be a very competitive series,” noted WNBA President Laurel Richie prior to the Lynx’s 88-74 victory on Sunday to take a 1-0 Finals lead over the Dream.
Game 2 is Wednesday; the next two games are scheduled this weekend in Atlanta.
It should be clearly noted here that just because Minnesota won Sunday, it’s not yet time to bring out the ticker tape and celebrate. This year’s W championship has all the makings of a series that could go the distance.
“It’s over and done and we’re moving on to Game 2,” said Lynx starting center Taj McWilliams-Franklin after the team’s first Finals victory.
Cheryl Coward of Dallas, who writes a women’s basketball blog (www.hoopfeed.com), surmised, “I think the Lynx overcame a lot of jitters” in Game 1, a back-and-forth contest that wasn’t finally decided until the hosts ran off 13 unanswered points at the beginning of the final quarter.
She added that Wednesday’s game will be much of the same between these two evenly matched clubs.
“I’m really excited to see these teams go at it in the Finals,” Richie said. “I have no predictions on who the winner will be, but I am absolutely confident that we are all in for a really exciting ride through the Finals. It feels like a fitting end to our 15th anniversary season.”
Sunday’s announced crowd of 15,258 was the most at a Lynx game this year and second-largest in team history. Instead of homer hankies or terrible towels, what seemed like a zillion white tassels were waved throughout the bull’s-eye arena from tip-off to final buzzer.
We climbed up to the second level, commonly known as the nosebleed section, and talked to several fans there prior to the contest.
Darlene Avery of Minneapolis was there with her grandson and several others — it was only her second time at a Lynx game. She said that she got tickets courtesy of a local program that works with schools.
“I’m up in the nosebleed seats, but I’m excited about this,” she admitted, hoping she wouldn’t get hoarse cheering for her favorite Lynx players: Seimone Augustus, Maya Moore and Charde Houston.
David Hyatt of Minneapolis and Dorothy Gray of Mounds View were among the fans at Sunday’s contest. Hyatt said it was his first time at a Minnesota women’s hoops contest.
“We like Maya Moore,” said Ramel Royster. He said he and his nine-year-old daughter Mykia both live in Queens, New York and plan to return home after they see Game 2 on Wednesday. “Go Lynx!” exclaimed Mykia.
“I understand that the upper deck usually is not open,” observed Alana Glass, a 2002 Minnesota graduate who was featured in an MSR sports article last week. She and Coward were among a handful of Blacks present, including this columnist who had media credentials for the Finals. “I loved the energy,” said Glass.
However, I didn’t see the type of energy that Glass referred to. Instead, I saw and heard too much prompting from the loud PA people to get the crowd more involved during Sunday’s game. It seemed like some sort of canned cheering, almost like they already knew the final outcome.
“They seemed to come here to party,” noted Lynx center Jessica Adair of the large crowd afterwards.
Maybe because there hasn’t been anything to cheer about in October at 600 First Avenue North. Usually at this time, the Wolves are in training camp preparing for another losing campaign. But this October, Minnesotans are finally seeing championship hoops inside the downtown red and white arena.
I penned way back in a June 7, 2007 View that the Lynx would see post-season play before their NBA counterparts. The Lynx was the best pro basketball team playing in Minnesota, I boldly said amidst catcalls.
As the only local reporter who has covered the team since its inception, I’ve earned such bragging rights. ESPN.com contributor and longtime women’s basketball writer Michelle Voepel recently noted that I have been around through good days and bad.
Finally — don’t you just hate it when someone says this? — I told you so.